Laurel Leaf, 2006 (2006)
Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke
is the story of teen Milly (for
, meaning miracles) Kaufman, who was adopted as an infant by an American couple serving in the Peace Corps in Latin America. Milly now lives in Vermont with her parents and siblings. When Pablo Bolivar enters ninth grade at Milly's school after immigrating from the same country with his family, she becomes uncomfortable. She has never told any of her classmates about her adoption. Pablo recognizes Milly's eye color (brown with yellow flecks) as common to people in Los Luceros. Pablo's country is in revolt against a cruel dictatorship and he has relatives in the midst of the turmoil.
hen the Kaufmans invite the Bolivars into their home, Mrs. Bolivar also reacts to Milly's eyes. Dad converses with the Bolivars about '
the state of the world ... and people living sub-human lives under oppressive regimes
'. Milly asks her Dad, '
Is that what might have happened ... to my birth family?
' Unable to sleep that night, Milly ponders: '
I felt itchy inside, as if I was allergic to myself
', while '
feeling helpless and adrift not knowing my story, who my birth parents had been, why they had given me up ... the longing hurt too much and I was afraid of falling into a big black hole of sadness!
elevision newscasts of elections in Latin America announce a triumphant
, with the dictator fleeing the country. When the Bolivars decide on a return visit, Milly joins them. The Bolivars take Milly to the mountains, where they visit with an old blind woman, Dona Gloria, who knows the history of Los Luceros. Dona Gloria shares memories of past years, and of raids which sent the people '
to the mountains into caves and shelters we constructed out of whatever we could find
'. Milly begins to feel '
a sense of herself
', discovering that the story of her birth is intertwined with that of a country recovering from a brutal history.
ulia Alvarez examines the emotional complexity of familial relationships and the
of everyday life in
. The ending is not a drum and bugle parade, but rather gives a gratifying peace to
Kaufman. Alvarez's other books for young readers include
Before We Were Free
A Gift of Gracias
. She tells us that '
I really did not want to specify Milly's birth country. My point was to underscore the fact that throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Latin America was rife with dictatorships, police states, horrible repressive regimes ... Thousands upon thousands of people lost their lives, and the verb form 'to be disappeared' entered our vocabulary.
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