The Things We Didn't Know: A Conversation with Elba Iris Pérez


Today’s book is: The Things We Didn’t Know (Gallery Books, 2024), by Dr. Elba Iris Pérez. A cross-cultural coming-of-age story, The Things We Didn’t Know is inspired by the author’s own experiences growing up between Woronoco, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico. It explores Andrea Rodríguez’s childhood between Puerto Rico and a small Massachusetts factory town. Andrea Rodríguez is nine years old when her mother whisks her and her brother, Pablo, away from Woronoco, the tiny Massachusetts factory town that is the only home they’ve known. With no plan and no money, she leaves them with family in the mountainside villages of Puerto Rico and promises to return. Months later, when Andrea and Pablo are brought back to Massachusetts, they find their hometown significantly changed. As they navigate the rifts between their family’s values and all-American culture, and face the harsh realities of growing up, they must embrace both the triumphs and heartache that mark the journey to adulthood. An evocative portrait of another side of life in 1950s and 1960s America, The Things We Didn’t Know is Dr. Elba Iris Pérez debut novel.

Our guest is: Dr. Elba Iris Pérez, who is from Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico, and spent her early childhood in Woronoco, Massachusetts. She taught theatre and history at the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo, and now lives in Houston. Her semi-autobiographical debut novel, The Things We Didn’t Know, was an instant USA TODAY bestseller and the inaugural winner of Simon & Schuster’s Books Like Us First Novel Contest. She is also the author of El teatro como bandera, a history of street theater in Puerto Rico.

Our host is: Dr. Christina Gessler, who is the creator and show host of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in history, which she uses to explore what stories we tell and what happens to those we never tell.

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Christina Gessler

Dr. Christina Gessler is the creator, show host, and producer of the Academic Life podcast. She holds a PhD in U.S. history.
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