The USA TODAY bestselling inaugural winner of Simon & Schuster’s Books Like Us contest, Elba Iris Pérez’s lyrical and “wonderfully compelling” (Judith Simon Prager, author of What the Dolphin Said) cross-cultural coming-of-age debut novel explores a young girl’s childhood between 1950s 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.

A heartfelt, evocative portrait that “breathes with narrative magic” (Harry Youtt, poet and author of I’m Never Not Thinking of You), The Things We Didn’t Know establishes Elba Iris Pérez as a sensational new literary voice.

About the author(s)

Elba Iris Pérez 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 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. 


"Elba Iris Pérez’s debut novel, The Things We Didn’t Know, breathes with narrative magic ... Andrea's coming-of-age as she searches for a stable sense of family will resonate with readers as if it were their own reality."

—Harry Youtt, poet and author of I'm Never Not Thinking of You

"The Things We Didn't Know will sweep you up from Massachusetts to Puerto Rico and back again in a whirlwind of unfamiliar cultures, betrayals, cruelties, and loves. Elba Iris Pérez delivers a wonderfully compelling read."

—Judith Simon Prager, co-author of The Worst Is Over and author of What the Dolphin Said

“Elba Iris Pérez gifts us with rich and powerful storytelling, the triumphant intelligence of the heart.”

—Elidio La Torre Lagares

The Things We Didn’t Know, Elba Iris Pérez’s debut novel, flows along two rivers: one in Woronoco, which means ‘the winding river,’ and the other in Aguas Buenas, or the ‘untainted waters’ of Puerto Rico. As Andrea moves from a working-class, all-American town to the great disparities of American colonization and back, she must tame even wilder waters, coming to terms with self, race, and personal identity in the shadow of history.”

—Elidio La Torre Lagares, author of Wonderful Wasteland and other natural disasters