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Teresa of the New World

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From the bestselling author of An Obsession with Butterflies comes a magical story of America in the time of the conquistadors.

In 1528, the real-life conquistador Cabeza de Vaca shipwrecked in the New World, where he lived for eight years as a slave, trader, and shaman. In this lyrical weaving of history and myth, the adventurer takes his four-year-old daughter Teresa from her home in coastal Texas to travel with him as a companion. But once Cabeza de Vaca reaches the outposts of New Spain and prepares to return overseas, politics compel him to leave the young girl behind. Her new life is that of a servant in the kitchen of a Spanish official.

Teresa grows up estranged from the magic she knew as a child, when she could speak to the earth and listen to animals. When a new epidemic of measles devastates the area, sixteen-year-old Teresa sets off in pursuit of a wisewoman she once met, a woman with secrets—a possible mentor. The girl befriends a warhorse, abandoned by a Spanish soldier grieving the death of his family, and a Mayan boy, a werejaguar who cannot control his shape-shifting. Because the boy and Teresa carry the measles virus, they are chased by Plague, another shape-shifter who takes on many human forms: Teresa’s dead mother, the housekeeper from the Spanish kitchen, and finally Cabeza de Vaca himself. Plague tries to trick Teresa into entering northern villages to further spread the epidemic.

To save herself and others, she is forced to listen to the earth again, sinking underground, swimming through limestone and fossil beds, looking for the means to outwit Plague, tame the jaguar in the Mayan boy, and find her own place in the New World.

Winner of Arizona Author's Award for Fiction, finalist for New Mexico Book Award for Children's Literature and the May Sarton Award for Children's Literature.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published March 3, 2015

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About the author

Sharman Apt Russell

22 books247 followers
I am pleased to be considered a nature and science writer and excited that my Diary of a Citizen Scientist was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for Distinguished Nature Writing. The John Burroughs Medal was first given in 1926, and recipients include Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Barry Lopez, John McPhee, and many others. To be in such a list.

My recent nonfiction is Within Our Grasp: Childhood Malnutrition Worldwide and the Revolution Taking Place to End It (Pantheon Books, April, 2021). This combines my longtime interest in the environment with my longtime interest in hunger. I began writing about this subject some twenty years ago, believing firmly that the goals of the environmentalist and the humanitarian are aligned. Healthy children require a healthy
Earth. A healthy Earth requires healthy children.

Essentially I write about whatever interests me and seems important--living in place, grazing on public land, archaeology, flowers, butterflies, hunger, Cabeza de Vaca, citizen science, global warming, and pantheism.

I like this range of subject matter. I believe, too, in this braid of myth and science, celebration and apocalypse.

A little bit of bio:

Raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, in 1981 I settled in southern New Mexico as a "back to the lander" and have stayed there ever since. I am a professor emeritus in the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, as well as a mentoring faculty at Antioch University in Los Angeles. I received my MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana and my B.S. in Conservation and Natural Resources from the University of California, Berkeley.

My work has been translated into Korean, Chinese, Swedish, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Polish, and Italian. That is really a unique thrill: to see your words in Chinese ideograms.

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Displaying 1 - 25 of 25 reviews
Profile Image for Peter Riva.
Author 10 books47 followers
March 10, 2015
Walking with an American Indian girl - enlightening, thrilling, frightening and, in the end, so very wonderful.

Anytime you read a deeply researched book that takes you to thoughts, minds, memes and truths that you otherwise didn't know existed - well it is a real treat. This is posted as a YA book, but I loved it and I'm old(er). In Teresa we have a window on a very real past of our country and the indigenous peoples' lives, mores and spirituality. A lovely book, really lovely.
Profile Image for Sandy D..
1,014 reviews31 followers
February 12, 2016
This book is fantastic, in both the popular and archaic senses of the word. It is extraordinarily good or excellent, as Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com define fantastic - but is also “conceived of unrestrained imagination”, “marked by extravagant fancy”, and colored with “extreme individuality”.

Sharman Apt Russell takes one of the most interesting historical accounts of American colonial history as the jumping off point for her book of marvels. Spanish nobleman Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who accompanied Pánfilo de Narváez on an ill-fated expedition to Florida in 1528, was shipwrecked on Galveston Island, enslaved by Native peoples, and then escaped captivity with two other Spaniards and a Moroccan Berber. These four men – the only survivors of an expedition that began with over 400 men on five ships – healed sick and injured Native peoples with their ceremonies, traded, and traveled on a circuitous route across modern day Texas and Mexico that lasted for over six years, until they encountered Spanish slave-traders in northern Mexico and returned to Spain in 1537. Cabeza de Vaca published an account of his experiences in 1542; his Relación has served as a rich and insightful source of information on Native peoples and their environs for governments, anthropologists, scientists, and historians for centuries.

Teresa (of the New World) is the totally fictional - but not improbable in terms of parentage - daughter of Cabeza de Vaca and a woman of the people who live along the Gulf of Mexico. She comes of age on her father’s journey and in a colonial governor’s mansion in Mexico, with her roots in two worlds – the Old and the New, Spanish and Native. Teresa’s story is exquisitely researched (based on both Cabeza de Vaca’s Relación and historical descriptions of Spanish encomiendas, epidemics, and slavery in Mexico) - but it is also beautiful and full of the poetry of everyday life, death, and the natural world, and steeped in the magical realism of both Native beliefs and her father’s Catholic faith and Spanish folksongs.

I went and read a little about magical realism after finishing Teresa of the New World – I knew the story fit the genre, generally speaking, but wasn’t sure how to describe the genre. It turns out magical realism is rather hard to pigeonhole (see Alberto Álvaro Ríos’ website for definitions, defining narratives, meditations and notes on it), but I can safely say that Russell’s story blends historical accuracy with a fictional character who transforms the common into the awesome and unreal, utilizing magic intertwined with myth, surprising the reader with its forays across cultural boundaries.

Perhaps more importantly, a month after reading Teresa’s story, I still remember many of the images and characters vividly – and will for a long time (and not just because I plan to read it again). Not many books stick with me like this, or compel me to subsequent reads to appreciate different aspects of such a multi-layered story.

Some of the things I remember: the loads of firewood that the people carry, their hunger, the pits they dig for baking cactus, the fermented or ripe, red, prickly-pear fruits, mesquite pods, yucca plants and grass seeds, packrat nests, twisted juniper trees and peccaries, and mice, hares, rabbits, lizards, and ravens. Then there are the gardens of the governor’s mansion, with its herb gardens of yarrow and mint, sage and oregano, balm and lavender, and rosemary (one character’s body odor threatened to overwhelm the rosemary), and the kitchen work: tending fire, chopping vegetables, grinding corn, and cutting up duck, turkey, cow and deer. There are lavishly carved vines on a dark, polished walnut escritorio – a writing desk – and a pompous war horse “raised in the sweet perfume of the sweetest city of Spain” (p. 85) who isn’t afraid to bite and who raises his tail to deposit acrid but not unpleasant smelling piles of dung. I think Horse is the best fictional horse I’ve encountered since I read The Horse and His Boy in the early 1970’s.

Anyway, there are also mosquitoes and blackberries. There is the earth itself, with its beds of granite, limestone reefs filled with “curved shells, bony fish, and the long skeletons of monsters with pointed teeth and flippers and tails” (p. 157). And then there’s a jaguar and a child who comes near death from measles, which was deadly to the Indians who had no immunity to this and other Old World diseases.

One of the creepiest parts of Teresa’s story actually involves the horrible epidemics of the 16th century that may have contributed to the deaths of up to nine out of ten people in some communities:

“The women in the kitchen sang: Sarampión toca la puerta. Viruela dice: ¿Quién es? Y Escarlatina contesta: ¡Aquí estamos los tres! The cook would sometimes shout a little madly, “Sing it again!” And the women would sing again: Measles knocks at the door. Smallpox asks, Who’s there? And Scarlet Fever replies: All three of us are here!” (p. 53).

This was apparently (and perhaps still is?) a well-known song in many parts of Latin America, and fear - also known as Plague later in the book - turns out to be an important character in Teresa’s story, who doesn’t knock at the door so much as sneak and swagger in wearing different disguises.

Teresa of the New World is a story of marvels and heartbreak and endurance, illuminating a little known period of history, suitable for middle-grade readers without ever being too juvenile for adults. I did occasionally wish there was a map, perhaps on the endpapers. There are many sites online that attempt to trace Cabeza de Vaca’s journeys, but I also wanted to know where the Governor’s mansion was and the village of the Opata and where “the wise woman’s crumbling adobe with its flat space for a garden and white bluffs falling to a view below” (p. 178) was. I doubt that many other readers – especially the kids and teenagers that I sincerely hope will read this book – will feel the same need to locate Teresa’s journeys on any maps outside of those in their imagination.
Profile Image for Judy.
3,179 reviews54 followers
February 10, 2020
Is this grounded in Mexican culture? Is it based on fable? An author's note would have helped.

Shape-shifters try my patience.

None of the characters 'came alive.'

Lots of potential, but I turned pages out of obligation, not interest.
Profile Image for Andree Sanborn.
255 reviews12 followers
June 25, 2015
Teresa of the New World is a loving coming of age novel about Teresa and her adventures and journeys as she leaves her mother's tribe in the southwest of North America during the time of the Spanish conquistadors. There are touches of magic in this powerful book that transport the reader.

Teresa of the New World is rich in imagery: camp fires seen from above on a hill "flickered on the ground like fallen stars." And "he saw the shadows of shadows creeping into the compound." When I read "a thunderstorm lit by the sun’s last rays," I saw the light and smelled the rain.

Author Sharman Apt Russell has a clarity of style and freshness that I enjoyed as much here as in her non-fiction nature books. She writes so easily about nature and introduces us to the flora and fauna of the southwest desert. She uses the ancient lore of the raven much as a Greek chorus; it warns us of danger, foreshadows events, and hels Teresa understand her circumstances and surroundings.

We experience the entire range of Teresa's emotions. When her Spanish father abandons her (for valid reasons) when he returns to Spain, we feel Teresa's anguish as she "waited for the world to end." Teresa experiences anxiety and fear, just as we do. And she learns a strategy to overcome this unrelenting fear: "if they kept moving forward as quickly as they could without becoming exhausted, then fear would not come too close." A lesson we all can use in our lives.

The book is rich in projects and lessons for the classroom. For history alone, there are epidemics among the native people, slave taking of the native people (methods which the Spanish used were mimicked or copied a century later by Europeans in Africa). There is the Lengend of Juan Diego and the MIracle of the Roses, which I first read about in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, another beautiful novel of the Southwest. For science, the flora and fauna of the desert are beautifully described. Vocabulary development is rich in Spanish, English, and Aztec words that can stimulate discussions about the book.

Teresa's journey comes to an end. It is an open ending: there are "questions not yet answered." Questions that beguil all of us our entire lives. I admire Teresa and wish I could have known her when she was older. I hope to remember the lessons she has taught me about perseverance and overcoming personal pain.
Profile Image for Brian Kindall.
Author 9 books27 followers
September 3, 2015
Historical fiction too often feels like it’s written from the outside in. One gets a sense of the writer doing their research, poring over the minutiae, and then mechanically inserting notable facts into their story. TERESA OF THE NEW WORLD, by Sharman Apt Russell, is not like that. It’s more organic. It feels more like a book written from the inside out, as if it were being born before us as we read, as if the author was actually there, long ago, and is merely bringing forth an enthralling and reliable account of what occurred to one of the world’s unsung citizens living in that time.
Russell’s story is laced with magic. And yet it is grounded in the grim injustices and plagues of the new world in the 1500s. It is a credit to the writer that her story, for all of its gloomy circumstances, still manages to keep us uplifted as we struggle along with her young heroine through her hardships. Teresa’s story carries us forward by way of her epic journey across a vast wilderness. The many interesting characters she encounters on her way – a talking horse, marooned conquistadors, a boy who turns into a jaguar – keep us intrigued as the story unfolds. But more than this is the author’s voice throughout. The entire book has the feeling of a tale told by a wise person sitting beside a campfire. It is mythically conveyed in the manner of old folktales and legends, and like those tales, it has a mystery that keeps tugging us forward to find out what happens. By the last page, we have the satisfaction of having survived a long and arduous journey without ever losing a sense of the mystery and magic that sucked us in from the beginning.
TERESA OF THE NEW WORLD is a smart book for smart readers. Both adults and young adults will find it alluring. It is genuinely written by an author who knows her material and how to bring it to life. You’ll find no cheap tricks here, no plot gimmicks or clever tag lines, just a good book that is wholly unique and unusual.
Profile Image for hpboy13.
895 reviews38 followers
August 11, 2015
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Per the above disclaimer, I wanted to like this book… but it just didn’t happen. In fact, had I not felt obligated to read it and review it, I would have considered DNFing it.

I just felt there was no point to this book. We spend the first forty pages or so with Teresa accompanying her father as he leads a pilgrimage of Native Americans across North America. Her father (a famous explorer) then abandons Teresa to return to Spain, leaving her bitter and not speaking for years. When her entire community is wiped out by disease, she undertakes an odyssey across the continent again, accompanied by a bratty boy and insolent horse. This journey comprises most of the book, as they flee an encroaching darkness (whose identity is the cleverest thing in the book), journeying towards a wise woman for Reasons. This journey has practically no payoff, nor does the thread with her father.

This is a fantasy novel because Teresa has the ability to talk with animals, and some exceedingly ill-defined powers allowing her to merge with the earth or something. The third-person narrator tells the story from a considerable distance, so I never felt close to Teresa (or any characters), and consequently didn’t care. There is practically no dialogue, and much of the story consists of describing how Teresa and co. want food, procure food, or eat food. Seriously, it’s like reading a medieval cookbook.

So, with apologies to the author, this book just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Profile Image for Nikki.
850 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2015
I thought I would love this book. After all it's a magical realism historical fiction story with a Native American main character. It sounds great.

Unfortunately I was very bored.

This story is written in third person perspective, but from a very distant perspective which meant that I never was able to feel connected to any of the characters. I just did not care about what happened to them.

I also feel like the author struggled to make this a novel. It probably would have worked well as a short story or novella but the author really stretched the story thin in an attempt to make it a novel. It felt like not much happened and we mostly got descriptions of food and the surroundings instead of what was actually happening.

What bothered me most was that the first forty pages of this book (which was nearly a quarter of the book) revolved around her travels with her father, who left for Spain, and then is never resolved. I needed some closure on what happened with her father. It just felt so pointless.

On top of it all, the summary on the cover flap basically summarizes the entire book (so there really was no reason to actually read the book).
3 reviews
April 27, 2015
Teresa of the New World is a fascinating coming of age tale told with great artistry and attention to craft. Russell uses magical realism to tell the story of a young girl, Teresa, who is abandoned by her father who leaves her behind at a Spanish fort. Teresa is forced to confront her feelings of abandonment while she is pulled between Christianity and her pagan beliefs. A plague decimates the population and Teresa survives. Teresa embarks on her journey of self-discovery with a horse and a were-jaguar. Teresa flees from the plague that is personified and attempts to re-connect with the earth. Teresa’s bildungsroman is heart-breaking and triumphant at times, but as one will read in the novel’s ending that all things that have happened to her will shape the person she becomes. Teresa of the New World is a great YA novel that I recommend to young adults and adults alike.
January 29, 2017
This Y/A novel journeys into a magical realism that animates the natural forces of Plague and Fear, presenting them as enemies for Teresa to outrun and outwit. By mastering a conquistador’s horse and pacifying a jaguar shape-shifter, Teresa manifests surreal abilities to conquer her world. The historically accurate plot portrays the fictitious daughter of the legendary, shipwrecked Spaniard, Cabeza de Vaca, as she accompanies him across the lowlands from Florida to Texas. Teresa has a flattened head and tattooed face, marking her as a heathen to be left behind when her father returns to Spain. Abandoned, she shuts down and becomes an obedient, observant scullery maid who never speaks while working in the governor’s kitchen. Disease decimates the population in the wake of the Spaniards’ invasion, leaving Teresa the only human alive in the governor’s compound. She begins walking, as she had with her father, this time following her heart to find herself.
Along the way, she saves and tames Horse, an animal who anthropomorphizes the arrogance of the Spanish hidalgos. When Teresa and Horse are tracked by a jaguar, Teresa defies the shape-shifter to rescue the boy, Pomo, trapped inside. Gradually realizing her strengths, Teresa resumes speaking instead of only silently communicating through mental telepathy. When Plague joins them disguised in various attractive forms, Teresa sees through the camouflage and realizes Plague needs to be carried into the next village. This she refuses to do. As she learns to use her strengths, her faith in the love of Mother Earth revives, climaxed by her dream sojourn of swimming through granite, sandstone, and underground rivers to save Pomo.
This mythic story demands a great deal of suspended disbelief, but Sharman Apt Russell’s history is solid and her writing smoothly adept. I admired her similes – “ideas like fish tasting of her father’s mind” . . . “thumped his head like a furious parent” – and her poetic use of language: “The future and the past were racing toward each other, and the wind they made prickled the hairs on the back of her neck.” Traveling with Teresa through the wake of conquest, the heartbreaking portrait of devastation presented by Russell is valid. The ruin is made more poignant set against the lush landscape of native flora and fauna where Russell, an award-winning nature writer, is so much at home. Highly recommended, Teresa of the New World will satisfy pubescent girls seeking affirmation of their own powers.
Author 7 books38 followers
January 25, 2017
This brilliant novel is based on the real-life Spanish conquistador Cabeza de Vaca, but he disappears early on, making way for his daughter, Teresa, to take center stage. She spends much of the novel wandering through a post-apocalyptic, plague-ridden landscape, trying to return to a wise woman who may bring succor.

This is The Wizard of Oz revisited, complete with a host of dazzling conceits: shape-shifting human-animals, a girl who converses with the earth, and Fear appearing as a black cloud. As Teresa's ordeals escalate, she grows stronger. Hunger, disease, wild animals - nothing daunts her.

As ever with Apt Russell, the writing is superb - the descriptions of rural communities decimated by disease are particularly haunting - but it is the character of Teresa that will live longest in the memory. She is caught between two worlds - Spain and the New World, the world of magic and the world of slavers and predators - yet finds a way out through her own compassion.

This is a fantastic novel, in more ways than one. I recommend it highly.
1 review
May 31, 2015
Much awaited by fans of Sharman Apt Russell, Teresa of the New World does not disappoint.
Russell writes award-winning science books, articles, and imaginative prose. All her work – fiction and non-fiction -- is moving, aesthetically rich, respectful of her readers, and interesting throughout. Readers benefit not only from Russell’s poetic creativity and unique point of view but also from her renowned and diverse skill set as a researcher and citizen scientist who can weave what might otherwise be dry facts into an entrancing backdrop.
For example, the diseases profiled are startling and relevant considering they remain a modern threat. The callous expansionism remaking Teresa’s world has echoes – or perhaps ricochets - on multiple continents in ours. Even so the author strikes a balance between the historical backdrop and the action of the story; I never felt overwhelmed by the history because she keeps the movement flowing. All the backstory is revealed in the action or dialogue.
Even more importantly, when Russell is weaving an essential thread, she gives the reader room to breathe and think. The readers have time and space to make up their own minds about the meanings of the story to them personally. Additionally, Russell layers in not only tribal customs as well as the names of places and plants, but the sources of this new information. The reader effortlessly learns a great deal about many interlocking subjects while enjoying an exciting story. Russell shares knowledge gently and naturally rather than just dumping data.
Teresa of the New World would be a good choice for readers who enjoyed The Book Thief, Death and the Archbishop, Fever 1793, or The American Girl series. This would be an appropriate book for high school, middle school, and even mature elementary school students who are advanced readers.
While Teresa is a wonderful main character who will appeal to readers from middle school to adult, the supporting cast is also worthy of equal praise. They are varied, well-rounded, and strong individuals. It’s the sort of book that I imagined a voice and even mannerisms for every character very quickly. (My favorite character is Horse.) I hope it finds its way into the hands of an innovative animation team.
Poignantly, Teresa’s father’s role evolves in her heart and mind throughout the story, whether he was physically with her or not. Several years ago Russell wrote in an essay to her father: “Your absence became a presence.” How many of us of all ages will this resound with—who have lost a parent some way or another? And many of us find someone in our lives who takes over that role, even temporarily. We aren’t just processing the surreal relationship with our absent original parent but also adjusting to a new relationship, perhaps reminding ourselves as Teresa does that the new person is “…like her father, but not her father.” This book might subtly help individuals and families open up about parents who are absent for any reason.
“It was her father who told the best stories, wrapping her in his arms and language, whispering about a life she did not understand…” Teresa and her father are precious to each other because of language and status. As an outsider from another culture, the father has few practical skills and no one to speak with in Spanish. Likewise, Teresa has recently lost her position of the baby of the family making her feel lonely and neglected. By telling his daughter stories, Teresa’s father creates a Spanish-speaking, adoring listener who begs him to tell more stories. “Later she would remember every word – she, the blank page on which he wrote.”
Even as a small child, Teresa is good-natured, displaying curiosity and intelligence. Without risking too many spoilers: along her path she goes on to develop character traits and skills such as resilience, tenacity, empathy, compassion, respect, loyalty, perception, negotiation, leadership, and wisdom. The book isn’t preachy at all; the action gives Teresa – and the reader - opportunities to discover how much her potential and realization are growing.
I heartily recommend Teresa of the New World.
Profile Image for Charlie.
423 reviews24 followers
August 9, 2015
This is a work of historical fiction, based on the exploits of the excursion of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in the New World. The ships landed near current-day Tampa Bay, Florida in 1528. Cabeza de Vaca along with three other survivors meet up with Spanish slavers in Mexico and become conquistadors, traders, slaves of and shamans of coastal Texas tribes.

However, it is not told from Cabeza de Vaca’s point of view, or the three survivors in his crew. It is told from Teresa, Cabeza de Vaca’s daughter. She tells much of the first portion of the book through her eyes, as an observer of her father, his companions and the work they do. Teresa is special in that she can listen to the earth and the animals, but it is not a gift she truly recognizes until she is older.

As traders, the band of four Spaniards are welcomed by most tribes. After learning that there will be no ship coming to rescue them, Teresa is scooped up and taken along with her father on his journeys where they eventually meet another group of Spaniards and go to the Governor. From there, Cabeza de Vaca continues on his expedition for the King, and after disease ravages the Governor’s house and village, Teresa sets out to find the wise old woman she and her father had meet when she was just a girl.

When I first started reading, it was a struggle for me, because the writing is passive voice. Very passive voice, with a lot of description and detail about what others were doing. It was almost as if Teresa didn’t exist but for a few scenes, and there is a very marked disproportion of narrative voice to dialgoue. Once I got past the writing style and got into the groove, it was better to take in Teresa’s story.

There came the the moment when I realized things were getting good, and for Teresa there was no going back. She is caught between two worlds, neither of which she is accepted into as she is. She has been too long gone from her tribe, and the does not fit into the Spanish world. She is taken into the house of the Governor as a servant, to be watched over and cared for by the friar as her father continues on to complete the journey that originally sent him to the New World. A few years later the priest shares his report to the King, and Teresa comes to a realization that hardens her heart.

Soon after she leaves the Governor’s, setting out in search of the wise old woman. Along the way she meets Horse, who is hesitant to receive Teresa’s attentions, but doesn’t have many options. Then, they meet Boy, who smells like a jaguar and is only about five years old. They continue on their journey and meet a few other interesting characters that pose imminent danger, and Teresa comes to understand how the disease spreads. Crows are a recurring theme throughout the novel.

Along the way, Teresa meets the girl described in the beginning of the book by the earth and does make it to the wise old woman…but it is not how Teresa imagined it would be.

My favorite scenes were the ones where Teresa and Horse conversed. The dialogue and relationship between the two was quite interesting. I also found Teresa’s relationship with Boy comforting as she took on a motherly role and protected him.

This book is quite complex in that it characterizes Plague as an entity, which Teresa know understands. She has figured out how the disease can spread and how to stop spreading it (without medicine). This plays a large part in the latter half of the book and drives the plot.
Profile Image for Gaby.
16 reviews28 followers
May 26, 2015
In Teresa of the New World, Sharman Apt Russell crafts a powerful tale of transformation. In the midst of threatening and uncertain times, a young mestizo girl journeys to find her place in the new world. The allegorical connection that Russell makes between spiritual and physical transformation makes her novel a relevant experience for both younger and older readers.

The book shines in its details. Russell’s knowledge of the indigenous flora adds an indispensable authenticity to the narrative. This isn’t a shallow exploration of life during Spain’s colonization of the Americas, it is a well-researched, thoroughly enjoyable, and enlightening journey.

Furthermore, Teresa is a well-developed protagonist. The struggles which she endures will have you questioning the intentions hidden within the novel’s historical backdrop, while simultaneously finding redemption and hope in Teresa’s ability to thrive in the face of pandemic and imperialistic threats.

Russell doesn’t shy away from depicting the dire circumstances of life in the Americas in the 1500s. Her narrative takes place during a complex period in human history. By not ignoring or glossing over these complex realities, she allows her readers to gain valuable insight. One of the complex dynamics which Russell’s’ novel explores is visible in Teresa’s relationship with her father. Through social and idealistic necessities (some morally questionable), Teresa and him are separated. The dynamic this creates throughout the narrative is heart-wrenching. Nevertheless, it is necessary for Teresa’s development into a self-sufficient and wise individual.

Illustrating the complex relationship between Teresa’s European and indigenous ancestries and, to a greater extent, the developing social structure between the colonizers and the indigenous people is a difficult task to undertake. However, Russell successfully accomplishes this through her use of magical realism. The world she crafts is rich in allegorical meaning. Teresa’s ability to commune with nature is indicative of her indigenous heritage, while her interaction with the personified Plague brings to light the dangers of imperialistic expansion. Plague is a frightening antagonist in that he both does and does not discriminate.

Teresa of the New World is a well-executed novel that will sit comfortably in the presence of other well-known and beloved books, such as Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Russell writes in powerful, and often beautiful, prose. Teresa is a character that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.
1 review
July 10, 2015
Sharman Apt Russell begins this tale of womanhood, magic, and disease with little Teresa, a half-

Spanish, half-Indian girl who can talk to Earth, the giant turtle who moves very slowly through the

empty sky, and the animals who live on Earth's back. Along her journey through Spanish-occupied

Mexico, Teresa loses her conquistadore father to his love of Spain while foreign diseases steal her

mother and most of the indigineous people.

Disease is the villain of the story. It is unfortunately a timeless villain, and extremely difficult to portray

without sounding preachy. Russell is an experienced non-fiction science writer and her skill in

research-backed storytelling shows in this novel. Rather than tell us why we should all vaccinate our

kids, Russell shows us what measles did when there was nothing anyone could do about it: When

measles hits her Spanish-controlled village, Teresa stops work in the kitchen and begins caring for the

sick. She sees the rash, the fever, the little corpses, the wrinkled corpses, the breakdown of routine, and

the penetrating fear, before contracting the disease herself.

Teresa's world is a world without vaccines, where viral disease is believed to be the work of spirits who

cannot touch you twice, and magic is either a gift or a reason to be burned at the stake. It is fitting that

Teresa's magic and immunity to measles play an integral part in her battle against Plague. Like the

iconic European depiction of cholera as the Grim Reaper, Russell turns the European diseases ravaging

Mexico into a tangible villain. He readily admits to Teresa that he likes Mexico City. Mexico City is a

hot spot for epidemics due to trade and having a large number of people. He changes shape to fool his

victims into letting him into the villages, yet he cannot ride a horse by himself. Viruses such as measles

and smallpox hide from the immune system long enough to reproduce, but they cannot reproduce with

a host cell.

I can see Teresa In The New World as a movie, and I don't say that about a lot of books.

Rating 5/5.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Tara.
114 reviews20 followers
October 18, 2015
What a fantastic, unique piece of historical fiction. The author delves into the fascinating history of the Spanish conquistador, Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who after being one of only four survivors from Narvaez's Expedition stranded in Florida, spent eight years living with native tribes, followed by years of traveling across North America in search of the Southwest Spanish Colonies. This is the fictional tale of Teresa, one of two children that de Vaca sired with a native woman. She is caught between the world of her Native heritage and the contrasting Spanish influence that her father bestows on her by teaching her the language, culture, religion and songs of his home land. Teresa travels west with the small party of survivors and their experiences along the way are based on actual events recorded by de Vaca in his own memoir. This book also has a mystical element and explores Southwest myth and folklore, such as shape-shifting. Teresa has an innate connection with the Earth and all the plants and animals on it. She is able to communicate telepathically with living creatures and can sense and feel things beyond normal human capacity. The second half of the book explores this theme more fully and turns almost dreamlike in its final scenes. I think I enjoyed the historical aspect of this book most of all and it inspired me to read other books on the de Vaca and his traveling party, including his own memoir. This seems to be a relatively unknown but utterly fascinating segment of North American History and I highly recommend this book. Sharman Apt Russell is a very talented writer and I have greatly enjoyed every book of hers that I have read.
Profile Image for Kim.
494 reviews1 follower
February 18, 2016
This books reminds me of some of the historical YA literature I read in school, such as The Light in the Forest or The Witch of Blackbird Pond. The story is fictional, but is also rooted in historical fact. It gives young readers a look into how the Native Americans were treated by the Spanish when they arrived searching for gold and slaves to work their mines. It also gives readers a window into the mindset of the Native Americans of that time and place.

Teresa is the fictional bastard child of the Spanish conquistador Cabeza de Vaca and an Indian woman. Teresa was born with the special ability of being able to mentally converse with the Earth and its creatures.

As time goes by, Teresa becomes "civilized" and grows out of touch with her original nature . When disease brought and spread by the Spanish wipes out the settlement where Teresa is staying, Teresa decides to go on a quest to seek the assistance of a wise woman she met as a child. Teresa decides to forget the Spanish ways and learns to listen to the Earth again.

I think the story would be most appreciated by girls who like to read historical fiction or those who like stories containing mystical experiences.

(Disclaimer - I received this book free in a giveaway. The giveaway did not require a review, but I decided to provide a review anyway.)
Profile Image for bjneary.
2,426 reviews85 followers
May 31, 2015
What a gem of a novel! I enjoy historical fiction and even more, I loved learning about the time of the Spanish Conquistadors in America in Teresa of the New World. Sharman Apt Russell’s writing is beautiful and simple detailing the world of the slaves, villagers, shaman, storytellers, and traders through Teresa’s young eyes, mind, and heart. Teresa and her father travel in search of his long lost friends from Spain. The reader aches with the sorrow, pain,and suffering of those who are stricken with a disease, sarampion, that wipes out villages, killing many children and elderly. As a child, Teresa was able to communicate with the Earth and animals. It is this ability that serves her well during this horrifying time of death and isolation. After she survives the disease herself, Teresa travels many miles and experiences many perils to seek the wisewoman who will help her find her place in the world. Teresa’s dealings with Horse, a boy/jaguar, and Plague are suspenseful yet spiritual. I could not put this book down as I feared for Teresa and her future. This slim novel holds many treasures of storytelling, magic, and finding one’s way in a hostile, ever changing world. I would highly recommend this book to young adult and adult readers of historical fiction infused with mystery and magic.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
70 reviews12 followers
September 10, 2015
Sharman Apt Russell tells an incredibly entertaining story with her novel, Teresa of the New World. The inclusion of the Spanish Conquistadors and the native tribes, many would have come in contact with when their journeys did not go as planed, is explained in a clever and intriguing manner. The characters are extremely well developed and the fantasy aspect of the novel turns this story into an epic journey.
The main protagonist is shown to be very clever and to have a strong connection with the natural world. It is this connection that allows for Russell to tell a very complex story without it becoming too wordy or distracting.
I personally fell in love with the main protagonist and the strength she continued to show after each trial and tribulation she faced. Her progression from young child to grown woman is an amazing story that is told with a fantastical twist. The biggest twist being the story's main antagonist. I will leave this spoiler a secret and encourage everyone to read this novel, as it is quite a clever way of depicting the journey of our characters and the hardships they endure.

192 reviews13 followers
August 8, 2015
Teresa of the New World is not your typical story, it's a story about the world and how things change, extinctions happen, people are cruel to each other, but ultimately it's about one girl who lived a terribly hard live and survived. Not only survived but survived with compassion for others. This was not your typical read and at times I struggled a little with the story. But I love unique stories, and this was truly a unique story, as I can not remember a time when I have read anything similar to this one.

The story begins with Teresa as a young girl and tells the terrible things she sees and experiences during her young life, and ultimately how she survives abandonment, enslavement and plagues on her own. There is much more to the story, but that is the basics. There are bits about shapeshifters, and I do wish the author had expounded on that part of the story, but perhaps that is so come in the next book!
Profile Image for Shelley Muniz.
Author 11 books2 followers
October 21, 2015
Sharman Apt Russell has written a wonderful tale, fantasizing the life story of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, one of the survivors of the Narvaez Expedition stranded in Florida in the 1500’s. The tale is told through the eyes of his Mestizo daughter, Teresa, and brings to life the issues of the times: Spanish colonization, slavery, and plague. The book highlights Southwestern myth and folklore through Teresa’s ability to communicate telepathically with the earth and the animals she encounters, including a shapeshifting boy and the dreaded black shadow—Plague. Teresa’s journey is a long one and we are drawn to follow her to the very last page. This book proves Russell’s talent as a writer and researcher and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a little magic woven into their history lesson.
Profile Image for Keith.
193 reviews11 followers
November 11, 2016
I received a copy of this book as party of a Goodreads giveaway. Many thanks to the author for allowing me to read her work.

This book was very much unlike books that I typically read. Having said that, I enjoyed this very much. The writing was beautifully, descriptive and expressive. The story started a bit slow for my tastes, but yet was filled with many interesting elements. I was particularly enabled by the supernatural aspects of the main character's life. I loved how she was able to talk to the earth. My only hope was that this would have been a larger part of the story. The only criticism I have is that I really didn't feel as if I knew the characters very well. Despite that, I recommend this book.

Profile Image for Telaina.
534 reviews11 followers
May 28, 2015
Sharman Apt Russell's spot-on young adult novel combines magical realism and coming of age tropes against a backdrop of historical realism--the very real perils of the 16th century world are not ignored in this YA novel. Russell has written an evocative work for all ages--readers identify deeply with the characters. I believe this is due in large part to Russell's careful attention to the characters' environments and interactions with the natural world. Readers of all ages will definitely identify with Teresa's challenges, confusion, and losses. This and "Hunger: An Unnatural History" are my two favorite Russell creations. Recommended for grades 6 and up.
Profile Image for Allen Johnson.
Author 6 books8 followers
February 16, 2016
Teresa is a deceptively complex novel. I intentionally chose the word "deceptively," for it is a book that can capture the imagination of an early teen, but also enthrall the most discerning adult reader. Like Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea or Steinbeck's The Red Pony, it is a book for all ages.

The mix of history and fiction--what is real and what is fantastic, what is physical and what is metaphorical--is captivating.

Perhaps most appealing is the spiritual depth of Teresa, listening to the earth as she makes her way through horrendous ordeals.

Russell is a gifted author who is imbued with the magic of timeless fiction.
Profile Image for Lorinda Toledo.
44 reviews10 followers
March 30, 2018
Compelling and fable-like story that celebrates a young girl's strength and meaningfully explores her biracial and bicultural experiences in an early Spanish colonial context.
Profile Image for John Carpenter.
Author 1 book3 followers
October 23, 2016
“Teresa of the New World,” by Sharman Apt Russell
How is history made? How is it written? Surely the events and actions come first. But is this true? Teresa of the New World suggests it is the stories that come first, and have an overpowering life of their own. Family stories are passed down, spoken stories have versions added by different people; these quickly become myths or legends. They are based on human instincts and impulses; they are also collective with a strong magical element. They vary, change, and are fluid.
Teresa in the New World captures this fluidity and change. The book opens with an example of “magic.” Teresa’s father, Cabeza de Vaca, once wore a “magic hat.” A Spaniard, he took part in expeditions in the New World-- in “New Spain”-- and once wore a steel helmet. In retellings this became a “magic hat.” It reappears later when Teresa is standing next to her father: “Once he, too, had ridden a horse and carried a long knife. He, too, had worn a magic hat. The future and past were racing toward each other, and the wind they made prickled the hairs on the back of her neck.”
Who is Teresa? She is the daughter of Cabeza de Vaca, the Treasurer of the Spanish Emperor, well-born and from Seville. Teresa’s mother, later her foster-mother, were Opata Indians, and Teresa is a metis, a bastard; the back of her head has been flattened, she has blue tattoos on her cheeks as signs of her tribe. Her father has genuine affection for Teresa but leaves her for long periods. Once, on his return, he is invited to a feast with the Governor General; Teresa hopes she will accompany her father. She is told “The Governor would think it very wrong for her father, Cabeza de Vaca, to have an Indian child next to him.” Teresa looks much more like an Indian than a Spanish girl, she does not fit in to white society. After her father leaves she works in the kitchen, cleaning and preparing food.
The narrative of “Teresa of the New World” explores Teresa’s contradictory backgrounds. Her parents represent both Spain and the Indians, the Old World and the New World-- they are brought together in a half-breed.
Exploration and colonization were and are a very mixed enterprise. The armed Spanish are “slavers,” wanting to capture Indians, but they also need peaceful relations and food. The plague—a very European event, “Sarampion”-- has come to the Southwest. It has been carried by Europeans, a Spanish ship has brought a Negro with the bacillus. He was allowed to disembark and mix with the natives. Spaniards, who often carried the pock marks of previous exposure, were not at risk, but the natives were the most vulnerable. For much of the narrative, Teresa must use all her wits to avoid or outrun the plague as she travels from village to village, encountering rotting corpses. Indian women have made up a song: “Measles knocks at the door. Smallpox asks, Who’s there? And Scarlet Fever replies: All three of us are here.”
Both Indian culture and Spanish culture (perhaps in equal measure?) make use of legends, myth and “magic”; more than one Spanish expedition was launched to discover the “Seven Cities of Gold.” In a beautiful narrative touch, an old “Wise Woman,” an Opata who has the gift of prophesy, keeps the helmet of a conquistador on a field of maize to act as a scarecrow. She tells Teresa, “What you have lost will be restored to you.”
Like other Indians, Teresa is close to the lives of animals. She encounters a horse that has been firmly tied up, abandoned, its ribs protruding and left to starve. “Unexpectedly, the gelding spoke: help me.” The horse turns out to be a major personage in the book who remembers experiences from the past--he came from Spain-- and has strong opinions. The animal’s master is dying of the plague in a nearby house: “Help me, the gelding repeated. He loved me once. He cared for me… I need water. Untie me! Untie me now.” Teresa debates what to do with the horse. They have a dialogue of thoughts. The horse adopts a tone of arrogance and pride. “How dare you? Teresa shrilled in return, trying to sound haughty. My great-grandfather was Pedro de Vera… My father was Cabeza de Vaca, Treasurer of the Panfilo de Narvaez expedition. I come from a line of noblemen, hidalgos and conquistadores.’ The horse was impressed.”
This is not the first time that a horse has been given the gift of speech in literature. In one of Tolstoy’s short stories a horse is able to talk. But in this novel the horse is woven into the plot, and has traits that are recognizable; they might be called human. It is fitting that an Indian or metis with complex background should “talk” to the horse and share thoughts with him. They carry out dialogues. Teresa asks the horse if he has ever heard of her father. The horse’s master knew a lot about her father, and the horse proceeds to give Teresa a lengthy talk about his accomplishments in New Spain.
Other animals in the novel have thoughts and languages of their own. In the novel, humans and animals are sometimes able to change their shapes. A young boy takes on the shape—and personality—of a jaguar. Sometimes he becomes trapped, and unable to change back into the former boy.
“Teresa” is above all a book about exploration and colonization. It challenges many older clichés from historical textbooks, and in doing this finds a new language for instincts and for our human history. It is “Horse” who tells Teresa: I have seen men beat their mounts until the blood ran. I have seen men take their weapons and hack each other to death for the metal they carry in their pockets or the chance to become more powerful and wear clothes of a different color.”
“What else have you seen? Teresa asked.”
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