This moving middle grade novel starts with the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010. 15 year-old narrator, Magdalie, and her cousin Nadine survive, but their mother and their home do not.
The novel covers the aftermath of this tragedy, checking in with Magdalie over the next two years and I appreciated that there is no suggestion of everything getting back to normal quickly. With little option but to live in a makeshift tent in a camp, the girls are thrown into a completely different life: they can’t go to school as they can’t pay for it, food is scarce, and camp life is crushing. And then Nadine is able to move to Miami as her father lives there, sending Magdalie further into a spiral of hopelessness.
Over many months, Magdalie’s anger, despair and depression at her downturn in circumstances build. It takes a visit to her mother’s hometown, an isolated rural community, to bring back the vitality, resilience and hopefulness she has lost, mirroring Haiti’s gradual healing and recovery. The novel concludes with a rosy-tinted epilogue, for the young women and their country, set in 2020
The author, who lived in Haiti between 2009 and 2012, manages to convey the camaraderie of the camps, as well as of urban and rural family life, without ever glamorizing them, and shows how the well-meaning aid organizations came to be perceived as laughably superficial, patronizing and inadequate. In a powerful historical note, she describes the background to the poverty and strife that combined to make the earthquake all the more destructive and the structural damage much more long lasting.
This debut novel is a challenging and eye-opening story for readers interested in perspectives from other countries.