by Erin Estrada Kelly
Soledad Elia Madrid thinks she knows how the world ticks. It’s complicated, just as her family is. Mama’s dead. So is Sol’s sister Amelia, who drowned when Sol was seven. Evil stepmother Vea married Papa only because she wanted to come to the United States, and now Papa’s gone back to the Philippines, likely for good. Magnolia Towers, in Giverny, Louisiana, where Sol and her sister Dominga (Ming) live with Vea, is a dump. There are rats in the walls and the bathroom mirror has a bad luck crack. Class lines are drawn, with Sol and her friend Manny yelling insults at the parochial school kids. Adults in the neighborhood display their own distinctive quirks. And then there’s the story world that Mama left, with tales of Auntie Jove—is she real, or did Mama make her up? Kelly (Blackbird Fly) has created an array of well-honed characters. The plucky young narrator must learn to navigate the sometimes blurry borders between truth and fantasy, reality and longing. The prose is simple, often striking. Vea “talks in thorns.” A balmy afternoon is “the kind that makes you thirsty all day.” Past and present, real and imagined, intersect in this touching middle grade novel about friendship, community, and the power of sisterhood. The book ends on a note of hope while avoiding an overly tidy resolution.
Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami