I purchased this book for my school library after reading about it on some random blog (wishing now I had kept track of just which blog). Even though the content is more middle school I thought I had fifth graders whowould handle the subject matter.
What is the subject matter your asking? Child abuse and the plight of immigrant families are the overriding themes of this well-written novel. The author does a brilliant job of writing in the voice of an eighth-grade young girl.
- The book begins in a startling way, with Karina telling us what it feels like to walk the halls of her school after killing her step-father. I think everyone should read this book; just as I believe all humans should work in the service industry...it is important to know how the world works; really works and this book describes how child abuse works in many families!! Karina has two sisters; Enid and Delta and all three suffer beatings from their large Haitian step-father. Here the three sisters discuss how they are going to save each other as adults:
"We should all make a pact and swear that when we get married, we'll never let our husbands treat our kids like Daddy does. We should prick our fingers and press them together and become blood sisters and swear." (Karina says)
"We're already sisters, Katu," said Enid.
"Oh, yeah, I know," I said. "but we should swear anyway."
"How would we ever stop someone like Daddy?" Delta asked.
I shrugged. "It's just an idea."...
..."I think that's a very good idea, Katu." whispered Enid. It was all the encouragement I needed. "All you'd have to do is call for help. We could have a signal, like...like..."
"Like the eagle has landed," said Enid.
"No!" yelled Delta as she jumped up suddenly and began twirling around and flapping her arms like a bird. "Your guardian angel has landed!"
"Yeah, something like that," I continued.
The girls are just looking for someone to save them; saving themselves has proven to difficult. The pattern is that one girl gets a "beat-up" from Daddy and then they are forced to lie about it to any authority figure, with the girls taking the blame. It isn't like anybody has a gun to their head to cover for "Daddy" but they know the routine. Mama needs "the Daddy" to be there in the house to pay the bills and even though, the mother is upset with the severity of the beatings, she feels the kids need his discipline to stay in line. Daddy works as a taxi driver and Mama works at a factory; often overtime to make ends meet. In any kind of abuse there is always an unwritten code to not get the offending parent in trouble and this family has the system down.
Here is another quote describing this vicious circle:
"Don't worry, Mrs. Gaston," said Mr. Levinson as her reached over and patted her arm. "We will do everything we can to get your family back together."
I could not believe what I was hearing. Yeah, I knew what I had just told Father Sanon and Mr. Levinson. (the lie that she beat her sister, Enid) But if they couldn't tell I was lying, then they were major retards. Why did I keep thinking some adult somewhere was finally going to start acting like one? Why did I think that Aunt Merlude would know what else to do when she found Enid half dead besides collapsing into a babbling heap of drool? Why did I think Uncle Jude would drive us all to the police station and rat out his brother instead of dunking Enid in a scalding salt bath, then letting the Daddy crash at his apartment? Why did I think that Mr. Levinson would listen to me tell him how I'd beaten Enid so badly she was still limping this many weeks later, then nod his head and pat my arm and say "Bullshit, Karina"?
Yes, there is a small amount of swearing, some kissing between Karina and a girlfriend, which will probably freak some people out. It fits with the story though and as the reader, I came away cheering for Karina, Delta and Enid for making their lives work amidst all the chaos. This is a wonderfully well-written tale about a harsh topic that had me racing to the end to see if any guardian angels show up to help.
Check out The Brown Bookshelf review.