Sometime in her twenties, Jennifer De Leon asked herself, “What would you do if you just gave yourself permission?” While her parents had fled Guatemala over three decades earlier when the country was in the grips of genocide and civil war, she hadn’t been back since she was a child. She gave herself permission to return—to relearn the Spanish that she had forgotten, unpack her family’s history, and begin to make her own way.
Alternately honest, funny, and visceral, this powerful collection follows De Leon as she comes of age as a Guatemalan-American woman and learns to navigate the space between two worlds. Never rich or white enough for her posh college, she finds herself equally adrift in her first weeks in her parents’ home country. During the years to follow, she would return to Guatemala again and again, meet ex-guerrillera and genocide survivors, get married in the old cobblestoned capital of Antigua, and teach her newborn son about his roots.
About the Author
JENNIFER DE LEON is author of Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From and editor of Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education. De Leon has published prose in over a dozen literary journals, including Ploughshares, the Iowa Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review, and is a GrubStreet instructor and board member. She is assistant professor of creative writing at Framingham State University and makes her home in the Boston area.
"De Leon explores her identity as a writer and a Guatemalan American in this affecting essay collection . . . This empathetic, wide-ranging look at De Leon's growth as a thinker is a journey worth checking out."—Publishers Weekly
“Jennifer De Leon represents the new generation and exciting voices of Latinx storytellers who are writing our way into American literature. Readers who accompany her through these pages will feel inspired and heartened by her journey, her determination, her grit, her compassionate imagination and capacious heart. White Space makes space for all of us: it’s the book we need to be reading now as we create a more united América, which includes north and south.”—Julia Alvarez, author of Afterlife
“White Space is a book that will be highlighted, underlined, dogeared, gifted, and borrowed—in other words, beloved—by loyal readers who will recognize themselves, some for the first time, truly reflected in literature. De Leon trains her gaze on the gaps in our conversations and conscious thoughts; she writes the invisible into existence, the awkward, even painful silences into language, and in that rendering, creates a new space where what was felt, but unacknowledged can be discussed.”—Grace Talusan, author of The Body Papers
“Jennifer De Leon chronicles with poignancy and humor the ways that she and her immigrant parents navigate everything from higher education and job searches to reproductive rights and the lasting impacts of Guatemala’s civil war. This is the book I have been waiting for—a moving dispatch on family, country and creativity from a daughter of the Central American diaspora.”—Daisy Hernández, author of A Cup of Water Under My Bed
“As a daughter of immigrant parents, I feel seen by these essays and the prose is stunning—they read like a blanket that I can cuddle up to underneath. White Space keeps us company as we ourselves face the unpredictable, straddling multiple realities.”—Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana
“De Leon takes the register of fierce familial love, built and held onto upon the harsh ground of dislocation like nobody else can. What is dark she illuminates, what is radiant she complicates until we are left with nothing less than the truest account possible. This is a collection not only for her ancestors and children but ours—De Leon writes a singular world large enough to contain us all.”—Ru Freeman, author of A Disobedient Girl
“The essays that make up White Space are astonishing, sometimes centered around the hustle of becoming a writer, sometimes about a daughter's connections to her parents, the language and country they were forced to leave behind, and the pieces they brought with them to the place they would eventually call home. De Leon is a sharp observer and storyteller, and her essays are devastating, hopeful, inquisitive, honest. What a joy to read!”—Jaquira Díaz, author of Ordinary Girls
“De Leon writes with such sly power, rendering intimate family moments with humor and compassion, uncovering her identity in what was said and unsaid. The essays in White Space are lyrically deft and thrillingly honest, yes, but reading them what I felt most acutely was joy: the joy of watching a young woman write her way through the world and write her way into her own story, her own space of being.”—Alex Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
“White Space documents a life in flux, a life in the throes of becoming, and we applaud its subversive, metaphoric depth. We were both struck by Jennifer De Leon’s lively writing and engaged consciousness. We see her as someone who might well join the ranks of our leading essayists, such as Roxane Gay, Samantha Irby, Michelle Orange; soon, we hope. She is well on her way.”—Madeleine Blais and Kathy Roberts Forde, Juniper Prize for Creative Nonfiction judges