Close your eyes and imagine an island in the Carribeans with white sandy beaches, lush avocado groves, a town with its own farmer’s market, school, town square filled with laughter and joy. This is the setting for Milagros Girl From Away by Meg Medina.
Milagros, a twelve year old girl has lost her father to the pirates. No he wasn’t killed by the pirates. He joined them, abandoning her and her mother, Rosa, to the tongue-wagging community of Las Brisas. Petulant in her own way, Milagros finds a rebellious sense of delight in surprising people she detests with unexpected encounters with lizards and frogs she snucks in unlikely places. This gives her somewhat of a reputation with her teacher, who is a lovely lady very much in love with the town doctor who also is the school doctor, well attuned to Milagros’ pranks. Milagros adores her teacher in return but she is not willing to leave behind her prank playing. A good thing that she has an excellent mind then.
Her mother, Rosa, is a quiet, stoic woman who is not like other mothers. Where other mothers fuss over their children having dirty clothes or out playing too long, Rosa lets Milagros do pretty much as she pleases. Milagros, fatherless, feels as if her mother doesn’t care about her, and this is how the mother-daughter relationship is set in this story.
However, her mother takes her to the beach one day and proceeds to teach her daughter one life lesson through an experience Milagros will never forget. Both mother and daughter wade into the sea, and out of nowhere a group of manta rays of many colors surround them. These are no ordinary manta rays though. Milagros will see these manta again in her journey throughout the book.
One day, Milagros finds a red bottle by the beach, and in it, is a scroll of paper on which is written,
Happiness and jealousy are bad cousins. Beware.
She hides this from her mother. When the town prepares itself for an annual festival, Milagros encounters a group of Rubians (who are from another island and usually come to perform in the parade every year) who act rather suspicioulsy. She senses danger from them, and for some reason, the red bottle and its message nags at her. Listening to her gut feeling, she tells her mother and sure enough, tragedy takes place on Las Brisas.
Milagros escapes on a dinghy out to sea and she is reunited with her pirate father, only to be separated again. The story is beautifully written, such that it actually made me wonder if it was based on a true story. The magical mantas have a significant role in the story, and I couldn’t help but shudder at the thought of having a manta ray as your friend. They are after all, in the same category as sharks in the animal kingdom.
I have a personal phobia of the ocean, and sharks in particular. This story has the ocean as its central setting, and along with that, magic is also a tool used to carry the theme. In a way, this story seems to blend two cultures and two different era, or so it seems to me.
Milagros ends up alone on another island near North America where people speak English. Thanks to her teacher, Milagros has no language barrier as she lives among the English-speaking people on the island.
She yearns for her mother, yet she is alone on a foreign land with no way of looking for her mother. She doesn’t even know if her mother is alive. The torment of that feeling caught up with me. I felt her pain, and thus I admire her strength and tenacity to find a way to look for her mother. The mantas come again, as a connection to her mother.
Meanwhile, her mother is also tormented in wondering if her little girl is alive, while she is in shackles. I also feel the mother’s pain, though her mother presents herself as a rather mysterious figure to me. She possesses an out of ordinary power that is never really explained in the story, yet it is this ability that finally brings about an unexpected ending.
Anyone who likes to read mother-daughter relationship story would enjoy this book. I have to say the setting really did it for me. I love this book. Oh, and as for any allusion to romance, the only thing I found was the teacher and doctor relationship, which is not really expounded on visually, but it’s just the allusion of the handsome doctor having another admirer. So I’d rate this AR1, which is in the same rank as VM.