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Author's story hits home for many students

  • Author Reyna Grande talks to students in the library at Petaluma High School about being a writer and about her book "The Distance Between Us" a story of a girl's immigration journey from Mexico on Tuesday January 29, 2013. Scott Manchester / The Press Democrat

Prize-winning author Reyna Grande told a crowd of students at Petaluma High School on Tuesday that her new memoir "The Distance Between Us" isn't just her story, but her family's.

But for many of the students in the audience, it's their story, too.

"The Distance Between Us" tells the story of Grande's family after her father leaves their hometown in Mexico for the U.S. to find work, after her mother also leaves, and what happens to a family left behind in deep poverty and emotional turmoil. It also tells the tale of what happens to that same family when they are brought back together after years have passed and lives have changed.

"It was really hard to reconnect," Grande said of life in Los Angeles with her father, eight years after he first left their hometown of Iguala. "There were so many things he didn't know about me and there were so many things I didn't know about him."

Grande spent more than three hours Tuesday speaking with Petaluma High School students, followed by a community reading at the high school Tuesday night. Grande will speak with students at Casa Grande today.

The author's visits were paid for by both high schools.

Petaluma High School librarian Connie Williams likened Grande's visit to that of a rock star after the reaction the book got in Christina Lee's English language development classes, where select chapters were read.

"Ms. Lee said she was reading with the kids, they were so incredibly taken by the book that they wanted to read the whole book," Williams said.

That's when Principal David Stirrat stepped in and offered to buy a set of 25 books for Lee's classroom at a cost of about $600 from the campus discretionary fund.

"When you think about education budgets, when you have kids who say, 'Hey, I really want to read a book,' that becomes priority one," he said. "They said, 'Those are our books.' You don't hear that with 'Lord of the Flies' or 'Macbeth.' "

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