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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review--Queen of Water

I was going to give you another list of books to consider using for your summer library program, but I started in on the Queen of Water and realized it needed its very own post.

Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. Delacorte, 2011.

(grades 6-adult) Based on the true life story of Maria Virginia Farinango, this novel follows Virginia from her early childhood in an indigenous village in the mountains of Ecuador to her experiences from the ages of 7 to 12, working for an abusive mestizo family for no pay. She secretly teaches herself to read, does science experiments and writes poetry on the sly, swipes lip gloss and listens to the stereo in between cleaning, cooking, childcare, and laundry. We see her back home in the village, which doesn't feel like home anymore, and on to follow her dreams, dealing with internalized and overt racism to learning to accept herself and her whole identity.

Virginia is a sparkling young woman, and has been recognized as lively and spunky since her early childhood. Though her story pulls no punches in the description of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, it is funny and hopeful, too, as Virginia struggles to make sense of her world in a terrible situation. She is inspired by singers on television, but even more so by secret agent MacGyver, and even uses some of his strategies to thwart the advances of the man of the house. As the book progresses and she follows her dream of attending high school, she discards her indigenous heritage, and the story of her finding a way to integrate all the strands in her life is compelling and moving.

I spent several months in Ecuador, probably at about the time this story was happening. I really liked getting another perspective on race and class issues, which were always evident but not frequently discussed by the locals. My ninth-grade daughter galloped through the book before I read it, and now I'm reading it with my sixth-grader. It opens lots of doors to discuss power, race, oppression, self-image and problem-solving, to name a few things. I think this would make a terrific discussion book, though some boys might be reluctant to read it. And I'm pretty sure you (whoever you are) would like it!

For more information about the book, see author Laura Resau's website.

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