TW: domestic abuse, religious maltreatment
It took me a while to formulate my thoughts on this one. On the one hand, I am so pleased and overjoyed by the representation in this novel. In YA, the background and overall atmosphere of novels is so often the same. Often, I tell myself I relate to it, because it’s what’s repeatedly portrayed in the media, but the truth is understanding something and relating to it are two different things.
I don’t come from a White background, yet the constant exposure to it has made me accustomed to its portrayal in books. However, the matter of fact is I can’t relate to White homes, White parents, White people norms/rules. It’s never bothered me, nor does it bother me now, but reading this book reminded me of my own community. I couldn’t see myself in Xiomara, but there was still that sense of belonging. That sense of understanding from the culture we share. At times I even found myself getting emotional from reading her words and just getting it, rather than trying to reformulate certain white issues to match my own in order to understand a character’s perspective.
However, that’s not to say this book bore my own reality. I feel like it’s important to mention that there’s a lot of modern religious persecution. For me, that was particularly difficult to read since that’s never been my experience. I’ve always found religion to be comforting and liberating, but in this book religion becomes oppressive and suffocating for the main character. Representation of this is definitely vital for those who are stifled by their religion and religious homes, but if you’re sensitive to the questioning of religion, or religion being viewed in a negative light, I would tread lightly.
Additionally, my mother and I have a very close relationship (a Rory/Lorelei hybrid), so the relationship between mother and daughter in this book was another difficult aspect to read. Xiomara’s mother is blindsided by her religious views, and prejudiced towards anything that might stray from her religion. As a result, she fails to understand Xiomara and goes as far as to emotionally,verbally, and even physically abuse her.
However, despite all of these difficult subjects, I enjoyed my time with this novel. Diversity and representation are so incredibly important for young readers (and really ALL readers) to experience. Seeing glimpses of my background, upbringing, language, and culture was beautiful. It wasn’t something I realized I was missing/wanting until I was presented with it. Ultimately, that’s an experience every person should feel, and I honestly hope that more marginalized entities and minorities get to be represented the way that they should be, and that more diverse authors get the opportunity to share their experiences with the world.