From the Abuela's Window by Nancy Toomey 2005
IQ "both mother and daughter contemplated the unknown path to freedom, knowing they could do everything right but still danger might find them." pg. 170
Maribel's Papa has disappeared. It's Chile, 1974 and many people are starting to disappear after General Pinochet seized power. At first Mama told Maribel and her two younger sisters Fabia and Sarita that Papa was visiting Argentina but Maribel learns the truth first. Marta, Wilfreda and Marta are the abuelas who live next door and they watch over Maribel's family. They convince Mama to tell Maribel's sisters the truth about Papa. The abuelas also give the girls a magical bicycle and plot how they are going to rid their small town of Anunciata of the soldiers.
I know this may seem petty but I wish that Maribel not the abuelas had come up with the plan to get rid of the soldiers. I just felt that as a middle grade book, it would be nice for the twelve year old protagonist to come up with a rather simple (but magical) solution. I understood why Maribel would not have thought of the solution due to the magical realism but still. However that is not a serious issue. I actually wish the magical realism had been left out because I feel like it gave the author of the book an easy way out of some tricky situations and I would rather see the main characters use the spirit of invention! The story is slow moving and could use some whittling down. The dialogue is used to provide long explanations to the reader which can be annoying. I appreciated all the information but I would have liked it to be presented in a more interesting/entertaining manner.
I had begun to give up hope on self published novels but this book has a strong plot and what's even better, relatively few typos (pg. 27 and pg. 75 are oddly similar) or contradicting information. What gives this book such potential is that it is a unique middle grade novel with a good plot. I can't think of many middle grade novels set in the '70s in another country, let alone one set in Chile in 1974. The plot is an engaging one between wondering if Papa will make it back to be with the family and learning about how Mama and Maribel help people imprisoned at the local jail (used to be a school before Pinochet took over). The author does a good job of describing daily life in a small Chilean village, I could imagine the mysterious door, the local general store, the beautiful but simple church, etc.
From the Abuela's Window gives me hope for self-published books. With some finer editing this book could be quite good. The dialogue needs to be improved to sound more natural and the constant switching back and forth of multiple character narratives could use some clearing up. Also the information about life in Chile under Pinochet needs to be shown (or even told) in a smoother kind of dialogue or in the actions of the characters. Maribel is a fine main character, resilient but prone to worrying and not doing what her mother says (which I appreciated!), she also fears strangers. These characters all make her a genuine twelve year old living during a scary time. Life in mostly idyllic small Chilean town is described vividly and helps bring this time period and country to life. And of course, once your child is older, I recommend Gringolandia.
Disclosure: Received from author. Thank you!