Red Glass, by Laura Resau (2007, 288pp)
Sophie drives an hour south from her home to sit alone in the desert, where she thinks of her life as an amoeba -- a nobody, sickly and pale. 5 year old Pablo was in the desert alone too, found there by the boarder patrol after his parents died of thirst. "We will take him," says Sophie's aunt, herself an immigrant from Bosnia. Now, living with Sophie's family, he will barely speak. Waiting for Pablo to unclench himself, Sophie hopes that she too can somehow find an identity.
A year passes--Pablo sleeps outside, next to the chickens, Sophie reads to him from The Little Prince. Then one day, a chicken lays its first egg, and Pablo, so proud and happy about it, is able to tell who he is. Now that he has a name and a place again, he must go back to his family in Mexico- for a visit, hopes Sophie, who does not want to lose him. So Sophie and her aunt set off to take Pablo over the boarder, sharing a van with teenaged Angel and his father, off on a quest of their own. They are on their way to Guatemala, which they had fled in fear for their lives about 10 years before. They are looking for the wife and mother they lost, and the jewels she buried.
Leaving Sophia, her aunt, and Pablo in Mexico, Angel and his father continue south. But disaster strikes them. Sophie must set out on her own, following Angel and his father into Guatemala. She must leave Sophie the sickly amoeba behind, and become, as she tells herself, Sophie la Fuerte, the strong and brave. She must find her beloved and bring him safely home. Which she does, and I won't say anything more about her journey and what Angel finds on his own quest because I don't want to spoil it, but it is nerve racking and rings absolutely true. I'm not going to say what happens to Pablo either, but this storyline is also treated in a tenderly realistic way.
I've been reading a lot of YA recently--lots of books set in and around high schools. Red Glass is a different sort of book--it is an Epic Journey, into wonderful, scary new places (very well described), where ghosts from the past and present dangers must be confronted (don't leave the path to see the beautiful flowers more closely, warns one character. There are land mines).
Picking up this book again to refresh my memory before writing this, I found myself reading it all over again. And poo to anyone who says blog reviewers don't think deeply about the books they read. I seem to have been thinking so deeply about Red Glass that I dreamt last night that it had been made into a movie, and I grew quite agitated as they veered from the story as written.
Here are some specific things I liked lots:
--I am a great believer in learning through fiction reading. This is a great book for providing information and provoking thought about immigration, Mexico, and Guatemala.
--The fact that some people speak Spanish and English interchangeably is treated matter of factly, with enough actual Spanish thrown in to make the reader aware of it without being overwhelming.
--I liked Sophie's introspection, and I liked the budding romance between her and Angel, which was tender and suitable for all ages.
--I liked that Sophie had a stable, loving family life in which conflict with parents was not an issue.
Here's Laura Resau's website, which is well worth visiting!
This Week's Edition of Fun with Metaphors
The piece of red glass that gives this book its title was brought to American by Sophie's aunt, who held tightly to it while a prisoner of war in Bosnia. It is metaphor for many of the themes of the book -- it is the color of blood, with a sharp edge--a weapon, a treasure that gave a trapped mind strength, an echo of the buried jewels of Angel's lost mother. And I like to think that it's a metaphor for a window into the past, with the glass colored by memories of violence and loss. At the book's end, when peace has been made with the dead, there is a celebration of bright colors and new beginnings. Sophie wears a white sundress she bought on impulse in Pablo's home village, with metaphorical implications of its own...
Which leads to another thing I really like about this book--it pays re-reading. The second time through I found myself finding still more images and metaphors to ponder. And I liked the characters as people so much that it was a pleasure to spend more time with them.
Red Glass has been nominated for the YA Cybils award.