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4.06  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  32 reviews
Growing up as the only daughter of a wealthy landowner in Santiago de Cali, Colombia, teenaged Mercedes Martinez knows a world of maids, armed guards, and private drivers. When she falls in love with Manuel, a fiery young activist with a passion for his faith and his country, she begins to understand the suffering of the desplazados who share her land. A startling discover ...more
Paperback, 300 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Curbside Splendor Publishing (first published September 8th 2015)
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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  86 ratings  ·  32 reviews

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Jenny (Reading Envy)
This is another book I only discovered after getting "Curbside Splendor" as my result in the Book Riot quiz, Which Indie Press Should You Be Obsessed With?" I had not heard of the publisher, and requested a bunch of interesting looking titles from interlibrary loan.

This book kept me up late into the night just because I couldn't stop reading it. I can't tell you the last time that happened; I am old now and reading usually puts me to sleep. But not this one, I was up until almost midnight becau
Larry H
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. Many thanks to Curbside Splendor Publishing for making it available!

The epigraph of Vanessa Blakeslee's emotional debut novel includes a quote from the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez which I feel so accurately sums this book up: "What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it."

Growing up the daughter of a wealthy landowner in Colombia, Mercedes Marti
Aug 19, 2018 rated it liked it
This novel, about a young woman growing up amidst privilege and violence in Colombia had great potential. But the novel faltered under the weight of too much information that didn't propel the story forward. The second part, set in Florida, was better paced but still felt awkward.
Jason Pettus
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: contemporary
Yes, yes, I know, an author has every right in the world to write about characters and situations that are vastly different than their personal life, and it's unfair to disparage a book just because the person who penned it doesn't seem "authentic enough" to get away with it; but that said, it's hard not to read Vanessa Blakeslee's Juventud without constantly thinking about the disparity of the subject in this case, of a white New England academe who's written a hefty novel all from the viewpoin ...more
sarah  morgan
May 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I obtained this as an advanced reading copy. All I can say is, pre-order and read this when it hits the bookshelves. Blakeslee is a wonderful writer with an inquiring mind. She proved her interest in complex characters in her short story collection, Train Shots. Now in her new novel, Juventud, she delves deep.

This is a big, arcing International coming-of-age story. The novel is about family, deception, Colombia's long, sad struggle with the FARC, but it is also about love. The power it has over
John Fleming
Dec 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Terrific read! This novel has so much going for it. A well-researched look at life among the drug cartels in Colombia. An engaging coming-of-age story. Youthful romance. A harrowing escape. An immigrant’s struggle to adjust. A mother and daughter struggling to connect. A dark family secret that haunts and grows more complex. It’s beautifully written and entertaining throughout, and Blakeslee juggles all of these elements with a deft touch. I read it quickly and had a hard time putting it down.
Victor Giron
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Maestro, play me a song, a soft delicate song that will slay my heart, and bring me a bottle of wine.
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Book buyers who viewed the Netflix Original Series "Narcos" will be engrossed by this thought-provoking novel set in Colombia, the U.S., and Israel. Juventud recounts the fictitious story of Mercedes Martinez, an idealistic young Colombian-American woman, as she grows to adulthood. (Juventud means "youth" in Spanish.) The author cleverly provides a behind-the-headlines perspective of various factions in conflict in Colombia during the 1990s: Young left-wing revolutionaries. Right-wing paramilita ...more
Being totally upfront: I have no idea why I'm giving Juventud four stars. There was a quality to this book where I couldn't put it down (I flew through this book in about 3 days). But there was another part of me that thought this was going to go in a totally different direction, and in a way, I'm disappointed it didn't go in the direction that I thought it was going to, or at least I'm disappointed that the protagonist didn't come to the same conclusions that I did.

Mercedes is an innocent 15 ye
Maria Dolorico
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: colombia
Terrific book (and especially of interest as I'm going to Colombia in February.) Teenage girl growing up in Cali on an enormous hacienda. Her mother (Jewish, American) left when she was a baby; she has had no contact with her mother and her family since then. Father domineering, gradually - as Mercedes becomes more liberated and connected to friends - he and his friends/associates become frightening. Of course, there's a serious love interest, best girlfriends, all of the expected romance angles ...more
Kristie Smeltzer
Sep 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed Juventud. Blakeslee took me to another world with the book's setting and tone in Colombia in the novel's first act. The protagonist, Mercedes, comes of age with all manner of struggles and intrigues during an already difficult time of growing up. Then we follow her through international travels and blossoming into adulthood, learning how her unique teenage years in Colombia continue to influence her world view and choices as a successful woman. The book felt—escapist isn't t ...more
Jul 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jennifer by: Teri in noon recommendations swap
This is the story if a young Colombian girl. When I picked up the book, I thought it was written by a Columbian. At first I thought the awkwardness of this book was that it was a translation. Nope this book was written by an American. First part 2 stars but it did improve when the character's life was close to the author's realm of experience.

I likely would not have finished this book if it weren't something I promised to read for a book swap. Others seem to really enjoy this but it seemed hollo
Margo Littell
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: debut-novels
A sweeping story of a troubled time in a troubled place, and their effect on one girl seeking the truth about who she is and what her life is meant to look like. Blakeslee has created a riveting portrait of Colombia, with the kind of detail and compassion that make this fictional world wholly realized. As Mercedes evolves from a fifteen-year-old with little idea about her family's darkest secrets into a woman who gives perhaps too much importance to the past, Blakeslee shows us the dangers inher ...more
Thing Two
I really enjoyed this coming-of-age story about young love amidst the turbulent 90s Colombian drug wars.

The first half of the book is told through the eyes of teenager Mercedes Martinez; the second half of the books picks up fifteen years later, when Mercedes returns after living in the US for an extended period.

It very much reminded me of Julia Alvarez, and of the more political writings of Isabel Allende. If you enjoy good writing, Latin American political stories, you'll enjoy this book.
Curbside Splendor
May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Maestro, play me a song, and bring me a bottle of wine, that I may drink while I am transported to another world by the notes from your vibrating strings.
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it

Rich girl falls in love with an average compassionate guy and in their attempt to run away together their worlds shatter.
The Jewish Book Council
Review by Renita Last for the Jewish Book Council.
Sarah Rhea Werner
Oct 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebooks
Truly enjoyable! Review to come.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"How have I spent the last fifteen years punishing the wrong man?"

So begins Vanessa Blakeslee's novel, Juventud, set in Colombia in 1999 and told from the perspective of a fifteen year old girl (at the time), Mercedes Martinez. When I first began this novel, this line left me breathless and aching--a phantom pain I couldn't quite pinpoint. Immediately I suspected that something had happened to Mercedes' lover, Manuel, and this knowing feeling carried me through Mercedes's tale of her last six m
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was a little slow at first but then last part redeemed that!! Vanessa blakeslee crafted the suspense masterfully. Interspersed is little nuggets of beautiful worded wisdom. I could not put the book down during the 2nd part. Although my only complaint is that the protagonist Mercedes is not very likeable. I’ll admit I had a hard time reading tot he end. Up until part 2 the only thing that compelled me to finish was the suspense, but I did so dragging. However, The ending was wonderful
This book was gorgeous and heartbreaking. I feel like this one will stay with me for awhile.
Bill Wolfe
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
For more reviews of literary fiction by women, see my blog,

As serendipity would have it, I ended up reading two books set in South America back to back. After a steady diet of fiction set in the U.S. and Europe, spending time in Colombia and Brazil constituted a much-needed change of scenery for my Westernized imagination.

Juventud (Youth) is Vanessa Blakeslee’s first novel after a stellar short collection, Train Shots. The standout story in that book was set in Co
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings about this's flawlessly, gorgeously written, and a very compelling story. Great characters and so many shades of gray as it explores issues of ethics, memory, and the line between personal and political. Mercedes makes for a perfect narrator, older and wiser and writing from the perspective of her naive younger self. Still, I had my issues with not really feeling the love story (why did they like each other? Why did Mercedes break from her privileged upbringing and join w ...more
John Benson
Apr 02, 2016 rated it liked it
I thought I would like this book better than I did. I lived in Medellin, Colombia for three years in the late 1980s and experienced the unrest between guerillas, narco-trafficers, and the general violence in the country. In telling Mercedes story of a teenager coming to an awareness of the role her wealthy rancher-father might have played in this unrest in the late 1990s in the area around Cali, she brings out the political and personal issues well. What troubled me the most was a sense that the ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In this impressive debut novel, Blakeslee recounts the story of Colombian teenager Mercedes Martinez, who lives with her father on a sugarcane plantation. We see the turmoil and beauty of Colombia through Mercedes’s eyes as she falls in love with a young revolutionary, tries to determine the role her father may have played in the drug trade, and attempts to reconnect with her estranged mother. A great read.
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A coming of age story. I liked this one. It was a story of a girl growing up, but it was also about Colombia and drug cartels and wealth/poverty. It had romance and family drama and secrets... I think book clubs would have much to discuss. Juventud was an education and held my interest throughout.
Sep 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a great coming of age book. It held my attention from the first paragraph to the last page. I would recommend this book to everyone!
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writers-of-color
Complex and intriguing book for anyone interested in Colombia or South America in general. It's both a coming of age novel and a well-researched look into Colombia post the Pablo Escobar era.
Caleb Tankersley
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Check out my review of this book at Necessary Fiction:
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Vanessa Blakeslee's debut short story collection, Train Shots, was released in March, 2014 by Burrow Press and is the winner of the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction. The book was also long-listed for the 2014 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Vanessa's writing has appeared in The Southern Review, Green Mountains Review, The Paris Review Daily,The Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Revie ...more
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