On These Magic Shores, by Yamile Saied Méndez

On These Magic Shores, by Yamile Saied Méndez (middle grade, Tu Books, June 2020), blends real world problems and fairy magic to create a compelling story of a 12-year-old girl doing the best she can to keep her family together.

Minerva (in her mind, and at school she's Minnie) might be in 7th grade, but she has her long range plan in place--get the part of Wendy in the school's yearly production of Peter Pan, use that as a springboard to leadership at school, and from there on up to becoming the first Latina president of the United States. In the short-term, her primary responsibility is looking after her two little sisters while their mother, an Argentinian American, works two jobs. Money is tight, and their basement apartment is unlovely, but the family is managing.

Then the night before Minnie's audition, Mamá doesn't come home, and Minnie is overwhelmed by worry for her, and for herself and her sisters. Will the girls be sent to separate foster homes? Minnie can't leave her much younger sisters home alone, but she can't stand to miss the audition. So she brings her sisters, and it goes badly.

Then comes a week of trying to pretend everything is normal, though Minnie has a hard job of it--a 12- year-old can't go to school and look after kids at the same time, and without Mamá, what will they eat? And how can Minnie come up with the $50 audition fee for the play? (aside--do public schools really charge that much for kids to be in the play? This surprised me lots).

But Minnie and her sisters aren't exactly alone. Their mother has filled their ears from babyhood with stories of the fairies who came first from Europe to Argentina, and then from Argentina to the United States. Her little sisters believe, and insist on leaving saucers of milk for them. Minnie's a skeptic. But when little bits of glittery luck start coming her way, the evidence becomes undeniable that there's magic at work.

And with the help from magic, and with a new friend, a quirky kid named Maverick and his wealthy family, and with some help from their landlord, who is kinder than Minnie had thought, things are held together. But Mamá is still missing, and Minnie decides to take action, contacting the grandmother in Argentina she's never met. The grandmother had had a premonition she'd be needed (possibly thanks to the magic), and is able to come to the US. And Mamá comes home from the hospital.

With huge relief, Minnie is able to shed her responsibilities, and her Mamá, still gravely ill, is able to as well, now her own mother is there. And Minnie now believes in fairies just as much as her little sisters do.

In the meantime, there's the play--Minnie isn't cast as Wendy, but as Tiger Lily (because of her brown skin, she wonders?) and she puts her foot down about the racism of the story, refusing to take the part. She's able to convince the school to tweak the play, finds another girl, a newly arrived immigrant, to take the part of Lily, a leader of Amazons. There are many other bits that speak to the experience of being a browned skinned, Spanish-speaking, child of immigrants in the story, including a nasty run-in with a racially profiling cop, that make the story relevant to the real world.

This is a great one for readers who are fascinated by stories of kids coping on their own without grownups! It's believable and scary, but the magic of the fairies leavens the darkness with its subtle sprinkles of gold, and the ending is warm and comforting. Because the magic is so subtle, this is also a great one for the fan of realistic fiction who has to read a fantasy book for school!

I personally enjoyed it lots, though I wasn't certain at first; Minnie starts of as a rather unsympathetic character, but as the story unfolds she grew on me lots. And I loved the magic, and didn't even mind that there was no big reveal of fairies (it stays subtle, but undeniable, till the end).  I hadn't heard about this one until it was nominated for the Cybils Awards, and I'm glad it was so that I was compelled to read it!


  1. I liked this author's Random Acts of Kittens a littler better, but of course a student checked it out the first time and then left the district! The play details bogged this one down a bit for me, although I enjoyed other parts of it.

  2. As soon as I read about the $50 audition fee, I was stopped. I know in the state of California, that would be illegal. I can't speak for other states, but I would be surprised. Otherwise, this sounds like a terrific book. Thanks for telling me about it. I will be looking for it.


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