“She has to believe in something. Everyone has to believe in something."
~Soledad, THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS
Soledad, our main character, is twelve years old, but her mind is focused in a way that tells you she's had to grow up very fast in a short period of time. Loss has become a heavy theme in her life; loss of her sister, Amelia, loss of her mother, loss of the familiar Philippines she once called home, and then the loss of her father. Vea, the girl's stepmother, is the epitome of the evil stepmother from a fairytale except she's raw, and very human, and it makes her moments of cruelty directed towards the children all the sadder because you know there's no fairy godmother coming to turn a pumpkin into a one way carriage out of there. Sol is such a strong character, and I fell in love with the way Kelly represented the character through the formatting of the narration. The story is told in first person, and there are these seamless moments where Sol's stories bleed into her reality, and the sentences get slow or fast depending on how Sol's thoughts might be calm or racing, confused or determined. It's what sucked me into the story, and for an added bonus, Kelly still does a fantastic job of telling a story around Soledad herself. Her internal dialogue is fitting for a twelve year old, but in the action and the words of the characters around her you can feel the plot gathering depth and potential.
Like I said, the storytelling itself is beautiful and sad. Most of them involve Soledad feeling guilty for the passing of her sister Amelia, and a longing for happiness for herself and her sister Ming. A very palpable fear starts to develop, because stories have been Sol's way of combating the world around her, finding hope and strength and the ability to keep going on. However, a story about her mother's mythical sister gives Ming a level of hope that Sol worries will be detrimental. It's heartbreaking, the palpable way you can feel that Sol needs her fantasy stories in order to keep herself together, and the way she starts to tremble with fear when she worries that her coping mechanism might hurt the only family member she has left. THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS will make you tear up, it'll remind you that sometimes when you least expect it you can find sources of strength and kindness in the real world too. It'll make you wonder what Cinderella's story would have looked like if she'd skipped the pumpkin carriage and the prince and had stood up to her evil stepmother all by herself. Most importantly it'll remind you of the times that escaping into your mind for a little while got you through a hard time.
If you want a story that is equal parts sweet and sad, with a side of raw creativity and a look at the world through the eyes of a young immigrant, THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS is a book for you.