Christy Ottaviano Books/ Henry Holt and Company
IQ "The sun was about to dip into the sea, its reflection igniting the skies in purples and oranges. It was the time of day Miguel most loved, when the sky seemed to throw out its last, futile war whoop before plunging into the ink of night." pg. 96
Milagros de le Torre's parents are unusual. Her father left her and her mother to be a pirate. Milagros' mother rarely disciplines her and seems to forget about her. Sure she remembers to feed her and make sure she gets to school, but she never asks any questions about Milagros' life. The kids at school tease Milagros because her father became a pirate and her mother is so odd (she gardens and is a skilled healer of sorts) but Milagros still loves her home, the island of Las Brisas where she can roam freely. When a band of marauders destroys Milagros' beloved island, her mother sends her away to keep her safe. Guided by the mysterious manta rays, Milagros ends up in America, a foreign world to her. Alone and lonely, all Milagros wants is to be reunited with her mother.
I wasn't fond of the ending of this novel. There weren't many loose ends, but I felt there was a hole in the story with Old Woman Perez (especially concerning her daughter). Add to that my general confusion over what happened with Milagros' mother and I wasn't a fan of the plot. The story seemed to largely drift at parts, searching aimlessly for a course of direction. Maybe I just don't really understand magical realism but I didn't understand how the story went from made-up Las Brisas (aka Away) to Maine. Also the villaness was unrealistically evil. Yes she was jealous but after awhile her actions bordered on extreme and I just didn't think it was plausible. I also found it odd that Milagros goes to school but it's never mentioned. She only has one friend, Old Woman Perez and I wished she had more interactions with people her own age.
Even with all my issues with the plot, it's the writing that truly carries this story and makes it beautiful. The writing is alluring and definitive. I was easily able to picture the lovely (yet fictional) Las Brisas (which is in the Caribbean) and the very different world of Holly Pointe, Maine. The author easily captured how shocking it would be to go from the warmth of the people and setting of Las Brisas to the colder and grayer Maine. The feelings of alienation Milagros feels is one that many can relate to and I liked her small acts of rebellion. Milagros is feisty and seeks revenge on all those who tease her and treat others unjustly (I liked that she sought revenge not only for herself but for others as well). I was also fond of the frayed mother-daughter bond. Milagros' mother, Rosa, does not pay fit into the conventional mother mold that Milagros has. She envies the other girls whose mothers scold them about their bad behavior and ask about their report cards. Rosa doesn't appear to care, but she does care about Milagros. As is often the case, too late, Milagros realizes that her mother does indeed love her and she wants nothing more than to leave Maine and find her mother (who put Milagros in a dinghy to escape and Milagros hasn't heard from her since).
Milagros: Girl From Away is an enamoring read. The creative aspects of magical realism were somewhat lost on me since they resulted in confusion (on my part) but the writing and descriptions are so delightful I didn't really mind. I also loved the incorporation of manta rays into the story. Such an usual element. I don't think I knew anything about manta rays (I didn't even know they were referred to as manta rays which is the overall name. Sting rays are a certain type) and while this book doesn't provide much information about manta rays, it does explain that they really aren't that dangerous and are pretty creatures to observe. I wish the plot had been stronger with more details but the slower pace suited me because it allows time to revel in the writing. I also really liked that Las Brisas incorporated only the good of all the (Latin) Caribbean islands, it was sunny with nice beaches and a relaxed atmosphere. A perfect place.
Disclosure: Received from the author. Thank you Meg!