{Review} THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Erin Entrada Kelly

O P E N I N G   H O O K:

The Land of Forgotten Girls
   SOMETIMES I STARE into the dark corner of my bedroom and see the ghost of my sister Amelia. She's ten years old—the age she would be now, if she hadn't died—but she doesn't talk like a ten year old. She has the eyes of a grandmother and the voice of a saint. She's raven haired. Her skin is like cream. The perfect color skin, people always said.

"You sure have made a mess of things," she says, and then she disappears.

After she leaves, the room is quiet except for the steady breathing of my youngest sister, Dominga—who everyone calls Ming—and the sound of the rats in the walls of Magnolia Tower, which is the name of the apartment building where we live. I've never seen a single Magnolia on my street and it's not much of a tower. Maybe the people who built it thought we wouldn't notice, so long as it had a good name.

(Page 1-2, US Hardcover Edition)

     “She has to believe in something. Everyone has to believe in something."


My go-to genre for books is normally fantasy. But sometimes you can find a contemporary fiction that reminds you of the very  human place inside of us where fantasy is born. THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS by Erin Entrada Kelly is one of those books. While the events within the story itself are very real, the theme of storytelling and escaping into vivid worlds of make believe is strong, and beautifully present. As an only child I've got to admit I live for stories that feature the bonds between siblings, because while I'm turning those pages I get to live vicariously through the characters and get a taste of what it's like. 

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.


Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG (Sol's best friend has an obvious crush on her but given the age range of the characters in play romance is not really involved in this story.)
Language: PG ( No cursing )
Violence: PG13 (Sol's stepmother is physically rough with her several times in the book, and while these scenes are not particularly graphic I will say that they are heavy hitting in an emotional sense because it's clearly abusive behavior.)
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

Storytelling is one of the key themes in this book, and that is reflected in the cover in it's entirety. The sky above the two girls' heads turns into the ocean connecting them to their old home. Sol is animatedly telling a story to her little sister Ming and there's something sweet about the obvious bonding going on between the siblings. But the longer you look at the cover the more you feel concern for the fact that these two children are under the sky by themselves, and the side of bittersweet comes into play.
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Release Date: March 1st 2016
Publisher: Greenwillow Books / Harpercollins
Received: Purchased

Two sisters from the Philippines, abandoned by their father and living in impoverished circumstances in Louisiana, fight to make their lives better.

Soledad has always been able to escape into the stories she creates. Just like her mother always could. And Soledad has needed that escape more than ever in the five years since her mother and sister died and her father moved Sol and her youngest sister from the Philippines to Louisiana. Then he left, and all Sol and Ming have now is their evil stepmother, Vea. Sol has protected Ming all this time, but then Ming begins to believe that Auntie Jove—their mythical, world-traveling aunt—is really going to come rescue them. Have Sol’s stories done more harm than good? Can she protect Ming from this impossible hope?