My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Received: Raincoast Books
Published: October 2nd, 2018
Publisher: Starscape Books
Recommended Age: 10+
Genres & Themes: Middle Grade, Family, Real Life Matters, Poverty
After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today. When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone. With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
Nora is a young Filipina living in a cemetery with her mom. Her ‘‘house’’ literally contains dead people inside, notably her father, who died in the fire that caused them to move to the cemetery in the first place.
It certainly isn’t the ideal place for a child or adult for that matter. But it’s all Nora and her mom have, and it could be worse. It’s more than others have. At least they have a roof of a sort over their heads.
But Nora’s life is turned even more upside down when her mom suddenly disappears and she is left all alone. Well, not quite. She does have Jojo, her friend, who will do anything to help her find her mom.
As unique as this story may sound, it isn’t exactly so. Of course, I did like the author’s idea to talk about people living in cemeteries, because that is reality in different places, but everything else – her mom’s disappearance, the villains, the rich-vs-poor thing – all of that was explored in a rather typical way.
There’s a lot of money talk and debts to be paid and people getting mad at other people for borrowing too much money. Lots and lots of characters are ‘‘introduced’’ (here, I use the word loosely), but never actually made three dimensional.
I felt for Nora. Her family was reduced to two members after the tragic fire. She lost her dad. Not only that, but she also lost her school. She and her mom don’t have the necessary means to buy her school supplies and a uniform to attend school, so she receives very little education now.
I cared about her and was rooting for her from the first chapter until the last. The author created a sympathetic and strong-willed heroine. I couldn’t imagine anyone else narrating this book. But I can, however, imagine it going differently. I believe if the author had started the story with the fire itself, or even before that happened, and showed us more vividly what brought mother and daughter to end up in the cemetery – instead of simply summarizing the situation to us – it would have been more eventful and interesting and far less ‘‘typical.’’ But still, not bad.
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