Who doesn’t love a Brazilian treasure hunt set partway in the sands of Copacabana, brushed through the natural Amazon forests where Araguaia freedom fighters leave their protests on the knives of military forces, and a slow drive through the sucked dry beds of New Mexico. The coyotes come at night. The military darkens the bolded words of “SECRET” at the top of folders marked with the deaths of guerrilla fighters. A young girl, Vanja, finds a home on the signature line of a birth certificate. This is Adriana Lisboa’s first publication from the UK and is on sale in the US TODAY! Get excited, people. Don’t listen to my unhappy rantings about the missing double-fs in every word that had them like, coffee, official, suffering, but instead look at the positives. Let’s start there as this is a Tuesday filled with happiness and a globally-important young adult release called Crow Blue.
I was so enamored with this book for one of the very reasons that I didn’t really enjoy it. Like To Kill A Mockingbird, I find it hard to read young adult books (which TKAM really isn’t) that write from the perspective of the adult looking back. It almost isn’t truly young adult because the author is no longer in the shoes that they were in and can’t really tell the story as accurately as a teenager with teenage notions. I look back on my fourteen-year-old self, in love with a boy named B. Jones who was bad news and blues and would pick fights at football games and I think, how silly that little girl was, what “a beautiful little fool,” to make this a full out allusion day. (Thanks, Daisy, owe ya one). In the time I was that girl, I thought myself a funky fashionista who needed to hide things from my mother and acted as a witty damsel in distress to earn the affection of “hot” boy-faced boys. That’s probably not true either though, as I write this my from my adult, NPR-listening, eat alone in restaurants perspective.
Books like this are sometimes hard to read, but what made this accessible for readers like me was the BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE. I have no time to regret the point of view when I experience language as powerful and persuasive and philosophical (had to finish off the alliteration) and truly thoughtful as this. It was like the author was in my head and putting my “Explainer” qualities into words. And this book is a translation from Portuguese so that says a lot about both the translator, Alison Entrekin, and the reasons behind my wishing to speak every language in the world so I could read books in their true form and their true beauty. Just take a look at some of these quotes and more importantly thoughts on the world and thoughts on writing (clearly this writer has an artistic gift).
- “Elegance? I wondered. No, not elegance. Perhaps a certain mistrust of the act of walking. Perhaps she was trying to remind us that we need to be ceremonious with the world, that this here is no joke, that this is something serious and dangerous, and that the mere act of walking on the ground bestows an unimaginable responsibility on you.”
- “The mountains of Rio de Janeiro were laughing, deep in their intimacy of earth and stone and roots and organic matter from dead leaves and animals and dumped dead bodies: they were laughing at all that anxious human drama: people love one another, kill one another, roll boulders, and at the end of the day none of it makes much difference. The mountains’ time is different; so are their time frames of reference.”
- “A curious phenomenon happens when you have been away from home for too long. Your idea of what home is – a city, a country – slowly fades like a colorful image exposed to the sun on a daily basis. But you don’t quickly acquire another image to put in its place. Try: act like, dress like, speak like the people around you. Use the slang, go to the “in” places, make an effort to understand the political spaces. Try not to be surprised every time you see people selling second-hand furniture and clothes and books from their garages (the sign on the street corner announces: garage sale), or the supermarkets offering tones of pumpkins in October and tolls for sculpting them, or corn mazes. Pretend none of that is new to you. Do it all, act like.”
Her thoughts on the world were just so aligned with this stagnant, spongy place that I think it is. And if we have souls, and they float when we no longer lay claim to our scarred, nicked, and stretched skin, then my soul likes this book because it believes in this world where it must try to fit in all its odd shaped and shifting glory.
There are also elements of this book that were really interesting in young adult literature. The author didn’t dumb-down her information for a young audience, she faced dead-on history that most Americans wouldn’t know. I had no idea that Brazil contained a guerrilla army in the 1960s and 70s. Lisboa is almost sympathetic with the guerrilla movement in the story, but she also shows the terror in plan-lacking military force. Using one of the main characters in Vanja’s story, Fernando, Lisboa tells the untold story of Fernando’s experience as a guerrilla who walked away and only learned the outcome of his groups’ fight after he deserted them in the forest. He moved to Colorado and never thought of the experience again, after years of training in China, following a communist doctrine, and leaving a woman that he loved and continued to love in all the elements that she left in her daughter. Fernando takes Vanja in and they share their stories with one another. A young girl who is lost in a world she is forced to understand in its grandness and its hesitance in sharing it’s own story (land wise and people wise), and a man who has been lost his entire life and needs someone to call home.
I loved this book as a road trip collection. The journey was far better than where I ended up at the end. I trusted Fernando, both rebel and keeper of secrets and I trusted Vanja in telling the story of her country and the story of herself. Instead of being a girl lost and forced into a bubble of a forced freedom, she becomes a girl with a story so thick with characters that she creates a map of family. Plus, there’s a boy who believes in the power of papers to create a hometown and he gets to discover it’s people, not papers that make you a citizen of the world.