Kelly's Reviews > The Earthquake Machine

The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry
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Dec 29, 13

Read in April, 2012

The Earthquake Machine has one of the best opening paragraphs I've ever read.

"Everything in Rhonda's house was beige. Beige rooms, beige couch, beige table and chairs. Even the painters whose landscapes hung on the walls had been stingy with their palettes."

When I was a kid, my sister taught me a game called The Stupid Test. The Stupid Test had four questions. One of them went like this: "There is a blue one-story house. Everything in it is blue. The carpets are blue, the walls are blue, the silverware is blue, the furniture is blue. Everything is blue. What color are the stairs?" I have no idea where my sister heard this, or where she heard about The Stupid Test (for all I know, she just made it up completely--we lived in a blue house for a while, but now that I think about it, the house in The Stupid Test might have been pink). The point is, when I read that everything in Rhonda's house was beige, my first thought was of The Stupid Test and its blue house. And that made me fall in love with that paragraph right away.

I also fell in love with it because it's just awesome. It caught my attention right away because it's an interesting detail about someone, even if it doesn't seem important right away. It gives so much insight into Rhonda's family, but in a very simple way.

Once that paragraph hooked me, it was hard to stop reading. At one point, I read more than half the book in one sitting, it was just that good. The Earthquake Machine is a story about identity, sexuality, and spirituality, and how all those things can be intertwined but separate at the same time. I love how Rhonda's journey isn't just an emotional one, but it's also a physical one as she crosses the border from Texas to Mexico. I loved the way Spanish was woven into the story, with its translations. I've read books about people illegally immigrating from Mexico to the United States, but I've never read anything about an American immigrating to Mexico, especially when that American is a teen. With this book, we actually get both, as one of the characters is an illegal immigrant who is deported back to Mexico, and it was really interesting to see the various perspectives on immigration and the purpose of immigration. A man immigrated to the United States illegally because of the opportunities offered there that he didn't have in Mexico; a teen immigrated to Mexico because of the opportunities she saw for herself there that she didn't see in Texas.

Rhonda's struggle with everything was so relateable, especially considering everything that led up to her decision to leave Texas. I think the best thing about following her on her journey was that she was constantly changing, from beginning to end. She never stopped changing. Of course, I do expect characters to be changed in some way by the end of a book, but what was different about Rhonda, for me at least, was that she never stopped changing, because that reflects the way real life is. People never stop changing, no matter how much we figure ourselves out and find ourselves. Something will inevitably happen that will force us to change some part of us. That's the way it should be.

The Earthquake Machine is pretty incredible. I should warn you that there are some sexual scenes, and depending on the person, they may or may not be graphic (I didn't find them terribly graphic, but I imagine some people will). Every character in this book, no matter how minor, is amazing, with depth and qualities that make them all interesting. The descriptions are beautiful; I could always imagine exactly where Rhonda was. The story was well-paced. This year, I've been trying to assign ratings to my books (for personal use, not on my blog) very carefully. For my personal use, I still use a one to five scale, but I've been less generous about giving out five stars to books that I read. The Earthquake Machine, however, has earned a five-star rating.
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