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417 pages, Paperback
First published May 5, 2020
offers her hand to be kissed,
& can form it into a fist
while smiling the whole damn time.
So he created a theater of his life
& got lost in all the different roles he had to play.
I know too much of mud.As a girl from Germany, I know nothing of mud, or floods, or survival really. For Camino, though, living in the DR, that's her daily bread. In her first chapter, we meet her as she accompanies her aunt Tía, who works as a local healer, to a woman who suffers from cancer. Camino, at age 16, tends to the patient. And Acevedo invites us into Camino's thoughts and innermost wishes: to move to the US to attend medical school. She wants to become a "proper" doctor.
I know that when a street doesn’t have sidewalks
& water rises to flood the tile floors of your home,
learning mud is learning the language of survival.
Every year for my birthday he asks me what I want.It is also established that she doesn't feel safe in her neighborhood, amongst the people who should be her community. We see Camino face cat-calls (and other much more severe forms of sexual harassment, as we later learn^^) on the streets. We see the reality of what it means to grow up in a female body without a father (or male guardian).
Since the year my mother died, I’ve always answered:
“To live with you. In the States.”
I am so accustomed to his absenceRereading Camino's opening chapter was like a sucker punch to my stomach. It made me incredibly sad. Camino's helplessness from the start was painful to witness. As a reader, I had to face my own privilege(s). I never had to face what it feels like to literally have no future in your own home country.
that this feels more like delay than death
& I’ve known that from the moment I turned thirteenEarly on, Acevedo establishes that he's a threat, and the main reason why Camino feels unsafe where she lives. I also appreciate that Acevedo didn't shy away from including topics such as sex tourism, forced prostitution and human trafficking in her YA novel:
Papi paid El Cero a yearly fee to leave me alone.
But the last few months, I’ve felt his eyes on my back.
El Cero hustles bodies; eagle-eyed young girlsLater in the book, Camino explains further:
from the time they are ten & gets them
in his pocket with groceries & a kind word.
When those girls develop & show the
bud of a blossom, he plucks them for his team.
Word on the street is El Cero always gets a first taste
of the girls who work for him. Before he gussies them up
& takes them by the resort beach in cut-off tanks & short shorts
so the men from all over the world who come here for sun
& sex can give thumbs-up or-down to his wares. His women.
Not women, yet. Girls.
Even the women, girls like me,This storyline surrounding El Cero wanting to pressure Camino into prostitution was horrible to read about, since it's the reality for so many girls. His character made me feel sick to my stomach. And it's just so distressing that he is the reason why Camino knows there is no safe future for her in the DR. Camino lets us know why the beach and the sea are so important to her:
our mothers & tías, our bodies
are branded jungle gyms.
Men with accents pick us
as if from a brochure to climb
& slide & swing.
it has saved my life on the many daysWe then jump back into Yahaira's POV, and I was happy to realise that another reason why the girls' POVs were easier to distinguish whilst reading the book is the fact that Acevedo switched up her writing style: Yahaira's chapters feel a lot more lighthearted, especially in the beginning. Yahaira tells us of her girlfriend Dre, and it's wonderful to see a happy, and healthy lesbian relationship in a YA novel. It was also good to see that Yahaira's mother was very accepting of this relationship, even though her father never realised that Dre was actually her girlfriend.
when I need a reminder the world is bigger
than the one I know, & its currents are always moving;
when I need a reminder
there is a life for me beyond the water
& that one day I will not be left behind
I am glad I am near home,There are two things that I didn't like about how the sexual harassment was handled in the story though: 1) There is a scene in which Camino wants to reach out to her aunt Tía to tell her about El Cero, but before she gets the chance, Tía accuses her of having let El Cero on, of inviting him into her life. And that scene rubbed me the wrong way because it was so out of character for Tía. It makes no sense that she would seriously think Camino would’ve hung out with El Cero voluntarily. Tía knows he’s a pimp, and that Camino’s father used to pay him money, so that he would leave Camino alone.
that there are houses beyond the clearing,
Because in this moment, I am a girl a man stares at:
I am not a mourning girl. I am not a grieving girl. I am not a parentless girl. I am not a girl without means.
I am not an aunt’s charity case. I am not almost-alone.
I think I hate this sisterIt isn't fair that Yahaira has access to so many things Camino doesn't. It's natural that she feels envy and resentment towards her. I also found it interesting to see their intercultural misunderstandings: "She asks if I can pick her up from the airport. / & I want to ask her what car she thinks I have. / Or maybe she imagines like a mule / I will sling her across my back?" It's clear that Yahaira didn't mean anything bad when she asked Camino to pick her up, but it's also understable that Camino would interpret that in a less favorable way.
She messages me
that she has acquired a plane ticket.
& how easy she says it.
Because it wasn’t endless paperwork,
Because no one wondered if she would
want to overstay her visa.
The years my father tried
to get me to the States,
& that girl over there fills out a short form,
is granted permission, given a blue book—
shit, an entire welcome mat to the world.
Tía’s voice has comeIt was beautiful to witness the girls getting closer once Yahaira actually landed in the DR for the funeral. When, at the end, she is the one who saves Camino (alongside with her mother being a baddy and Tía wielding a fucking MACHETE being readyyy to kill El Cero), thinking "We must protect Camino at all cost", I sobbed, because it was so believable. And Camino getting the opportunity to live in the US with her sister didn't feel flat or constructed (as it did when first listened to the audiobook). It made a lot of sense. It's what she had wanted all along: pursuing her dreams, going to medical school, and having a family.
to take me
all these women
here to take me
The Written Review
Just posted my Goodreads Choice 2020 Reaction Video on Booktube! Click the link to check it out!!
Camino Rios lives in the Dominican Republic. Every summer, her dad comes to visit and it's the highlight of the year.
Dreams are like the pieces of fluff that get caught in your hair; they stand out for a moment, but eventually you wash them away, or long fingers reach in & pluck them out & you appear as what everyone expects.
Some things continue forever. Maybe anger is like a river, maybe it crumbles everything around it, maybe it hides so many skeletons beneath the rolling surface.
Can you be from a place you have never been? You can find the island stamped all over me, but what would the island find if I was there? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?
Is this what sisterhood is? A negotiation of the things you make possible out of impossible requests?
As Mami & I sit in the front row, people come up to us to pay their respects. Such a funny phrase, pay respects. As if suffering is a debt that can be eased by a hug & a head nod.
She has no idea what it means to completely abandon your dreams. She cannot. Because it seems what everyone has known but me is that I won’t be a doctor. I won’t ever be anything more than a girl from a small barrio who helps her aunt with herbs. & that might be the whole of my life. & that will have to be enough. Isn’t that what makes a dream a dream? You wake up eventually. But that girl, that girl gets to keep living in the clouds.