Two sisters from the Philippines, abandoned by their father and living in impoverished circumstances in Louisiana, fight to make their lives better.
Soledad has always been able to escape into the stories she creates. Just like her mother always could. And Soledad has needed that escape more than ever in the five years since her mother and sister died and her father moved Sol and her youngest sister from the Philippines to Louisiana. Then he left, and all Sol and Ming have now is their evil stepmother, Vea. Sol has protected Ming all this time, but then Ming begins to believe that Auntie Jove—their mythical, world-traveling aunt—is really going to come rescue them. Have Sol’s stories done more harm than good? Can she protect Ming from this impossible hope
The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Published: March 1st 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Source: My bookshelf
I couldn’t ask for a better Expecto Patronum book than this one for #DAReadathon.
Sol weaves stories for herself and her sister Ming in order to cope with loss at different points in their lives. Her family are from Cebu in the Philippines but move to America to support her father. However, they are left with Sol’s emotionally abusive step-mother Vea when their father leaves them all behind.
As they struggle to make ends meet, Vea resents their neighbours for having better jobs and adopts a racist excuse and line of thinking around Chinese people, which is challenged when Sol begins to talk to her neighbour, Mrs Yeung.
Mrs Yeung is more than a pillar of strength as she shares her memories with Sol. Small kind acts and conversations between people can cause a person to question internalised biases. Perceptions can be challenged. This viewpoint is what I loved most about this book.
Though Sol’s journey to understand the people in her life is a slow and rocky one. Her internalised prejudices are repeatedly confronted when she begins to talk to Catherine, a girl she had previously bullied. Catherine shares her experiences of isolation due to being albino and Sol also begins to share and delve into her repressed experiences of grief and loss.
On a different note, it was just as hard for me to read the parts where Sol couldn’t see the beauty in her physical features because I could relate to these cultural pressures. She describes herself with negative language drawn from colorist comments that are pervasive in our culture. Sol’s shame around her ‘slanted’ eyes, her dark brown skin and rejection of her flat nose are experiences shaped by colorism. These common internalised beauty standards hit close to home.*
Despite these grim moments, I appreciated how Sol’s family’s different natural skin tones (both dark and light) are shown in other parts of the story as it reminded me of my own family where our skin tones naturally vary. Sol’s bond with her sister Ming was also a beautiful thread in this quiet book. There is no fairytale ending to The Land of Forgotten Girls but Sol gains something more valuable – the ability to recognise the humanity of other people, which is the starting point for empathy.
The Land of Forgotten Girls is one of those quietly powerful middle grade books with a realistic approach to change, and therefore, hope.
*Content warnings for scenes with racism, bullying & colorism.
*When I was a kid, my mum used to pinch my flat nose because she wanted it to be pointed, so I would look more like a mestiza. Though I cannot speak for those who have directly experienced colorism in terms of skin tone despite witnessing it (since my morena skin tends to be on the lighter side for a Filipinx). Therefore, I support these own voices: #StopColorism, Colonialism’s continuing influence: Colorism in the Philippines and this reflective history on privilege + the hierarchy of beauty in Asia. I also support the recent social media push back against colorism and skin whitening.
*I wish the illustrated book cover reflected the sisters’ actual skin colour as they have brown skin in the story.
*I like how Sol’s family speak Cebuano as it shows the diversity of languages across the Philippines. I don’t speak Cebuano because my parents speak Tagalog as they are from a province near Manila.
*Thanks to Nafiza from The Book Wars for passing on this book recommendation.