The Atlantic Monthly

“In this, her first book, Thorpe, an accomplished journalist, vividly chronicles the coming-of-age of four Mexican American teenagers in Colorado. The young women struggle to reconcile an elusive American dream with the irony of their situations—only two of them have immigration papers, an invisible distinction that sets them at odds with one another and with the nation they consider home…. By casting the girls’ experiences, and her own, against the larger policy debate, Thorpe personalizes an often generalized problem, and delves into questions of opportunity and identity to examine the ‘intersection between the terrible mystery of our being’ and the ;inevitably flawed fashion’ in which we govern ourselves.”

The New Yorker

“Over the course of several years, Thorpe shadowed a group of four friends from immigrant families in Denver. Two of the girls hold legal documents, two do not. Against the odds, each finds her way into a good college, but the hurdles only mount from there. Student loans are not an option when you don’t have a Social Security number, and if your parents face deportation your siblings may be moving into the dorm…. Thorpe is meticulously observant, always attuned to the poignant ironies of her topic….”

The Miami Herald

“Just Like Us is a deeply affecting tale of four Mexican girls from poor immigrant families in Denver, two legal and two undocumented, and the myriad ways in which their lives are dominated by their legal status. Journalist Helen Thorpe spent four years, from 2004-2008, with her subjects, their families and their teachers, focusing on the issue of immigration and higher education. Her thought-provoking and fluently written chronicle is a major work of narrative journalism…. “

Andrea Gollin

The Washington Post

“Thorpe, a veteran reporter, brings a journalist’s eye to her story. Her narrative is quick-paced and full of incident and clamor. Like her predecessors, she goes across the border to bang around in trucks and cough in the dust clouds. Yet her attention to ambience and detail lends a vibe that is enriched by her empathy. ‘We . . . lurched back onto the smooth blacktop that led to Durango,’ she writes. ‘Despair lurked back at the dusty crossroads . . . but why should we linger there, when the sun flared in the endless sky and crops flourished all around?’ Both the journey and the destination haunt the book, and the United States can seem as alien as the distant landscapes from which the immigrants have come. Rather than finding this whole scene enervating, Thorpe finds it exhilarating…. These are the stories of the new America. I say, Sí.'”

Luis Urrea

O Magazine

“When she embarked on her galvanizing book, Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America (Scribner), Helen Thorpe had a policy wonk’s interest in immigration, leavened with her own ‘odd sense of dual identity’ as someone who herself arrived in the United States as a child. As her eyes are slowly opened to the catch-22 aspects of American immigration law, ours are, too, and we become conscious of how achingly complex the whole question of who we punish for entering the country illegally really is. Her engaging protagonists, Yadira, Marisela, Clara, and Elissa, are the offspring of Mexican parents living in Colorado at or below the poverty line. All four finish high school with distinction and go on to college. But there’s a profound dividing line: Clara and Elissa have papers; Yadira and Marisela are illegal. As the years go by, the consequences of being undocumented multiply: no getting on a plane ever, no driver’s license, no financial aid, no good way to convert that degree into a profession. Without a nation, practically speaking, to return to, these are the limbo children. Thorpe intelligently drills away at the harsh reality of such facts—what should we do, deport half a family? Through the girls’ heart-tugging struggles, Thorpe puts a human face on a frequently obtuse conversation, and in so doing takes us far beyond the political rhetoric.”

Elaina Richardson

New West

“Just Like Us is as entertaining as it is important, packed with memorable scenes that Thorpe records with clarity, in three-dimensions. Thorpe places into the foreground the people who usually disappear into the background, such as the kitchen workers and janitors at restaurants and society events. She follows the girls to dance clubs, family parties, and sorority meetings, and attends many of the girls’ classes at DU in which immigration or issues of class are discussed. Marisela and Yadira do not share with their classmates or professors the fact of their lack of citizenship, and the reader feels how cutting the remarks of students from more privileged backgrounds are to the girls. In one of the most moving episodes of the book, Thorpe travels where Yadira cannot, to visit Yadira’s mother in rural Mexico after she has been deported for using another woman’s social security number to work. Yadira misses her mother desperately, but can’t visit because she can’t cross the border….  Just Like Us is an accomplished book that should be added to the short list of essential works of journalism investigating the lives of underclass people in America, such as Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here and the Pulitzer-Prize winning reporting of Katherine Boo. Thorpe plumbs, as she puts it, ‘the intersection between the terrible mystery of our being and the inevitably flawed fashion in which we govern ourselves.’ This sharp and intensely personal narrative provides a riveting portrait of the city of Denver from the perspectives of all its inhabitants, legal and illegal, revealing the intimate lives of some human beings at the center of the fraught political issue of illegal immigration.”

Jenny Shank

New West named Just Like Us one of the top five books of the West in 2009.

Denver Post

“Somewhere in this very city, four Mexican-American women are living their lives, struggling with the same passions, worries and ambitions as any young women finding their place in the world. In Helen Thorpe’s first book, the longtime writer (and wife of Hizzoner John Hickenlooper) demonstrates her mettle as a storyteller by weaving their stories through an insightful meditation on the issue of immigration, legal and illegal, in America…. By positioning herself not as an apologist, but as both journalist and participant in events, Thorpe — a naturalized citizen originally from London — raises huge questions while simultaneously offering an uncommon insider’s look at the ramifications of citizenship for communities coping with the issue…. By the time the book ends, it’s easy to feel as though we know these four women, which may cause even the most uncompromising opponents of immigration reform to reconsider their outlook. And that, after all, was probably the point in the first place.”

Clayton Moore


“In 2004, Denver journalist Thorpe met four Mexican girls—two legal, two undocumented—and began a five-year journey of chronicling their lives and the lives of their families against the backdrop of growing tensions on immigration issues. She follows the girls—Marisela, Clara, Yadira, and Elissa—from their high-school proms through college graduation, documenting the huge differences between the challenges and uncertainties faced by those with documents and those without. Thorpe also chronicles the family dynamics and economic struggles as the girls tentatively move into the middle class, the tensions of assimilation as the girls become increasingly American, and the emotional challenges to maintaining cultural ties to their families and communities…. Thorpe does a masterful job of exploring issues of class, race, and culture in the American amalgam through the lives of four young Mexican women.”

Vanessa Bush

Kirkus Reviews

“Random Family moves west in this incredibly human investigation of illegal immigration. Taking a page from Adrian LeBlanc’s 2003 book, journalist Thorpe spent several years with her subjects—four Mexican girls, two legal, two undocumented. Elissa and Clara have endured many of the problems of immigrant life, including poverty, absent fathers, mounting familial responsibilities and intense pressure to succeed. But for Marisela and Yadira, who crossed the border with coyotes as babies, the hurdles are much higher…. Through the lives of four fascinating young women, Thorpe creates not only a moving examination of a complicated American issue, but a well-told, inspirational story as well.”

Publishers Weekly

“By the time Marisela, Yadira, Clara and Elissa—four girls of Mexican descent from the suburbs of Denver—entered their freshman year in high school, they were inseparable, but four years later, their fundamental difference threatened to divide them: Clara and Elissa were legal residents, but Marisela and Yadira had begun to suffer the repercussions of their parents’ choice to illegally enter the U.S…. ‘It was hard for Marisela and Yadira to see why they should labor over their homework if they were just going to end up working at McDonald’s,’ Thorpe writes. ‘Marisela slid into trouble with ease, but Yadira found the experience profoundly disorienting.’ With striking candor, Thorpe chronicles the girls’ lives over four years, delineating the small but arresting differences that will separate them and shape their futures. She personalizes the ongoing debate over immigration and frames it so compassionately and sensibly that even the staunchest opponents of immigration liberalization might find themselves rethinking their positions.”

Library Journal

Verdict: Thorpe’s work raises hundreds of questions and will be a good choice for book clubs and readers interested in narrative nonfiction. An excellent, in-depth study of immigration policies gone amok.”

Linda Beck