17 August 2007

6. The Guardians

The Guardians: A Novel by Ana Castillo

As a member of LibraryThing I was fortunate to be selected as an Early Reviewer for this book!

In this compelling exploration of illegal immigration and life on the Mexican-American border, Ann Castillo introduces the reader to four characters and their musings on their life and culture. The story, which develops in rather brief sections narrated alternately by each character, revolves around one family's search for a brother and father. The author brings the reader into this world of chaos and mistrust through the language and descriptions of everyday life on the border.

Regina, a legal immigrant through marriage to an American soldier who died before consummating the marriage, tried desperately to leave behind the migrant life of many illegal immigrants. Her brother Rafa could not as he needed the work to support his son and new wife. Regina has the strongest voice in the book and the sporadic use of Spanish words mid-sentence illustrate how she is straddling two cultures, both perhaps broken. Regina is devoted to her family and seems to have lost herself in the difficulties of her life. Through her search for her missing brother, she begins to find herself again.

Regina takes in her nephew Gabo and helps him to stay in school and out of the gangs that roam the border stealing from their own people and anyone else. It is when talking about Gabo that Regina utters my favorite line in the book: She says, "One day I am going to take him to Washington, DC. To see where the Devil makes his deals." These deals with the Devil continue to make poverty and desperation a constant in the lives of many legal and illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the people who are trying to live a good and simple life in the border towns are beset with more than one devil. The scavengers, or coyotes, who traffic in human desperation have become another Devil to deal with and one which perhaps would exist with or without the Devil's deals in Washington.

Gabo lost his mother, who was murdered when trying to cross the border, when he was young and lives with the fear that he has also lost his father. He is consumed with love for the Lord and hopes to become a Catholic priest. He is also consumed with finding his father and often finds himself pulled between the two.

Regina seeks assistance in finding her brother, bringing in the other two main characters - Miguel and el abuelo Milton, who is Miguel's grandfather. These two men play a role in the final resolution of the story and serve to remind the reader of the importance of heros and political activism. While the resolution of the story is rather surprising, I think it shows the anguish of the characters and hopefulness in the face of extreme adversity.

I was in a unique position to like this book because I speak Spanish rather fluently, am Catholic, and share the author's political leanings about "our" immigration problem. I would recommend this book to anyone who was interested in this culture or societal problem - or maybe just for an interesting and thought provoking read.

15 August 2007

5. Missing May

Missing May -1993 Newberry Winner
I finished reading this book quite some time ago - ummm, about two months ago. At the time, I was reading Torey Hayden's book One Child as well. Strangely, the books both revolve around a child who for one reason or another had been moved from one home to another after the loss of their mother. In Hayden's book, which is a true story, the young six year old girl was abused by her family and showed her distaste for the world by setting a neighborhood toddler on fire. The story told by Hayden, the little girl's teacher, is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Slowly, Hayden was able to break through the barriers the little girl had surrounding herself to protect from all the horribleness in the world. She did not know love until she met this teacher.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant is nothing like One Child because the young child in this story was able to pull from the inner love she remembered from her own mother (who died) while she was passed from family to family. Then, a miracle happened, and Summer went to live with May and Ob. The story unfolds after May has died and both Summer and Ob are trying to come to terms with May's absence. Like so many children in stressful situations, young Summer is worried that she has to put her grief on hold to help Ob cope with his. With the assitance Summer's quirky classmate Cletus, Summer and Ob find peace without May - knowing that she remains a part of their lives. Seen through the eyes of the young girl, the author helps us to realize that love does not have to come in shiny big boxes or cost any money - it can be in the form of an old trailer filled with whirlygigs and whatnots!

After finishing both books, I wondered what in the world made me think they were related at all. So I reread Missing May and found myself weeping at the fictional comments of young Summer, who had everything that Hayden's real-life child did not. Here are two paragraphs that show you what I mean:

I know I must have been loved like that, even if I can't remember it. I must have; otherwise, how could I even recognize love when I saw it that night between Ob and May? Before she dies, I know my mother must have loved to comb my shiny hair and rub that Johnson's baby lotion up and down my arms and wrap me up and hold me all night long. She must have know she wasn't going to live and she must have held me longer than any other mother might, so I'd have enough love in me to know what love was when I saw it or felt it again.
When she died and all her brothers and sisters passed me from house to house, nobody ever wanting to take care of me for long, I still had that lesson in love deep inside me and I didn't grow mean or hateful when nobody cared enough to make me their own little girl. My poor mother had left me enough love to go on until somebody did come along who'd want me. (p. 4)

Torey Hayden's child must not have had that reserve - or maybe when awful, awful things happen to you it is difficult to remember the good. At any rate, these books made me want to thank everyone who loves and cares for children who might not otherwise have love in their lives.

Also, just to set this post straight - this book was not depressing in the least - it was really very uplifting and funny.

Flusi Cat