Milagros: Girl from Away reminds you from the get go that, even in their own stories, Latinos are from “away.” Heh.
Anyways, Milagros is from Las Brises, a super-small and super-secret island in the Caribbean, where it’s so peaceful and awesome that Spanish colonizers just rolled up on it and did their thing without pesky slaves or natives yucking up their creamy complexion. The people of Las Brises are happy, and Milagros is happy, even though she’s kinda weird and sometimes hides frogs in other girls’ dresses (she believes in punishing people, particularly girls and women, for being arrogant/small-minded. I believe the author thinks this is charming and a sign of harmless rebellion? Because no one else ever disciplines women for getting above themselves? Ooookay.) Anyways, so Milagros loves her teacher, her mama, and the only darkness in her life is that her dad left Las Brises to become a pirate. PAY ATTENTION, FOLKS: Weak-minded people abandon/forget their loved ones in order to try and feel better about themselves.
The people of Las Brises are so happy that they eventually attract a ton of jealousy from the Rubians, who apparrently live on the other side of the island? Or something? Anyways, the Rubians pretend to be cool, but then during Carnavel, they start setting shit on fire and destroy Las Brises. Milagros and her mother escape, but are separated. Milagros has to rely on the remnants of her mother’s magic (the manta rays her mother summons to protect her and her mom’s magic rose-scented balm) to survive. She eventually ends up on a small island in Maine, where she’s still hunted by jealousy, greed, and the evil spiritual forces unleashed by people who are jealous of her joy. HATERS GONNA HATE, amirite?
Anyways, Milagros learns some important lessons about love. She learns that when you love the white Americans who’ve taken you in, you tolerate their mean, bitter daughter who’s onto the fact that you don’t have parents of your own. When you love older Mexican women, they get that sometimes you ditch them to hang out with your same age peers. You also learn that when you love your mom, it’s okay to be angry at her, and hurt, because you miss her. That last is the only love lesson I really liked out of this book. I gotta say — I was expecting more from from Milagros, particularly since it was nominated for an ALA best YA book award. While it’s striking in its use of magical realism, I gotta say it’s pretty traditional — Milagros’ likes and dislikes map out onto conventional understandings of gendered norms, and she’s presenting her foreignness and nostalgia for home as essential components of her identity, as though this facet of Latinidad is its whole. Plus? The book vibes like something ABOUT a Latina WRITTEN FOR a white/American audience. Milagros never crosses over into EveryGirl status, and instead just gets stuck as this perennial “girl from away.”
Ah, well. Medina’s got another book set in a mining community. I’m probably gonna give that a flip through, just in case some of the stuff that bugged me are addressed there. I don’t QUITE want to give up on her as a writer… I am just hoping that her version of a Caribbean idyll doesn’t ALWAYS depend on the discursive absence of a substantial portion of the history of conquest in the islands.