Book Review: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

Book Review:

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina

03.09.2012

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

 

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Category: Young Adult Fiction

Author: Meg Medina

Format: Hardcover, 244 pages

Publisher: Candlewick Press

ISBN: 978-0-7636-4602-8

Pub Date: March 13, 2012

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The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind  by Meg Medina is a story about a young and melancholy girl by the name of Sonia Ocampo, who was born into the burden of an overly dependent, superstitious, Latin-American community in the village of Tres Montes.

The villagers’ hope and trust in her supernatural ability to heal by prayer, officiates Sonia Ocampo as the village’s spiritual hope and intercessor as depicted by the many metal charms called milagros pinned to her shawl for each prayer request she receives.

Unfortunately, the dependency of the people on Sonia’s supposed spiritual gift, which was originally assigned to her, first by rumour and then by a widespread fervour of desperate belief in the supernatural, had easily transformed her into the embodiment of the folklore found in the village itself and became a heavier burden to the Ocampo girl than the multitude of milagro trinkets pinned to her shawl.

milagros

The shawl, which belonged to her abuela (grandmother) was passed down to her in the belief that she shares her abuela’s spiritual gift of healing.

The story is part folklore, part fairytale as much as it is a story of the dichotomy between the rich and the poor, the rural and the city, and the desire of its youth to break free from the domestic traditions of its elders who value quality of life, not in the riches they don’t possess, but the values they uphold in the traditional roles of family, hard work, and community.

The youth, though, as portrayed in Sonia Ocampo and her brother, Rafael, have desires to escape their poverty and the weight of their family’s limitations and community’s expectations. This desire leads them to separate paths that inevitably changes the course of the Tres Montes community.

Národní Park, Tres Montes

The cast of characters include:

  • Felix Ocampo: the protagonist’s father who is both a mine worker and sentimental, traditional father
  • Blanca Ocampo: the protagonist’s mother who is satisfied with rural life and the community’s acceptance of her daughter as spiritual healer
  • Tía Neli: Felix Ocampo’s widowed sister and advocate of modernity
  • Rafael Ocampo: Sonia’s restless brother who yearns for financial opportunity outside of Tres Montes
  • Francisco Muñoz (Poncho): Orphan-turned-taxi-driver and Sonia’s love interest
  • Umberto: self-indulgent and womanizing nephew of Katarina Mason
  • Oscar: Casa Mason’s chauffeur
  • Teresa: domestic head mistress of Casa Mason
  • Ramona: leader of the maidservants employed at Casa Mason
  • Eva: maidservant employed at Casa Mason who is both a sentimentalist and romantic 
  • Dalia: tough-minded and street-smart maidservant employed at Casa Mason
  • Señor Arenas: Tres Montes’ employment officer
  • Señorita Carmen: Señor Arenas’ secretary
  • Señor Pasqual: taxi entrepeneur
  • Conchita Fo: proprietor of bar called La Lalade
  • Mongo: bartender at La Lalade
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The cover design of the book shows a dark profile of an unnamed girl, which alludes to the girl’s folklore mystery, and perhaps a lack of self-awareness and, the idea that this “girl” could really be anyone, in any community, and in that, potentially represents a universal archetype.

The cover design is exquisite that when the book is lifted and moved in certain light, the colour of the “wind” on the covers (both front and back), gives it its sense of surreal folklore and fantasy.

love the cover and foresee often moving the book in my hands just to see the illumination of these cover changes!

The narrative of the book is simple without the complexity of sub-plot or lyrical language like I had hoped and anticipated, but this is most likely because its story is geared towards a young adult audience. Still, for a book that bases its premise on folklore, I would have enjoyed a richer storytelling that could have included more specific examples of ritualistic practices of superstition endorsed by the Latin-American reality of Tres Montes.

Aside from a superficial description of charms pinned to an inherited shawl and an abrupt occurrence of a spiritual visitation, I felt the story lacked more rituals and beliefs that would have certainly made the book more interesting to read.

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The characters, too, were an embodiment of stereotypes that left me disappointed in the potential the characters could have had if not for a more rich and substantial realism. These one-dimensional characters would have succeeded more with an eloquence and depth if they weren’t subjugated with cliché or stereotype—but, in fairness to the work, I must admit my personal taste as a reader is one that gravitates more towards literary fiction.

Sonia Ocampo’s ignorance of city life deemed her to be either one of two things: extremely unintelligent in the ways of the world or extremely isolated in the village she grew up in, which on both counts were unbelievable to me. Perhaps the author intended this to emphasize the protagonist’s innocence from a rural setting? Except for me, it seemed rather unrealistic and extreme in nature.

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I think, too, I would have enjoyed an infusion of a richer Latin American dialogue or Spanish customs in the book if it had any. Aside from the Latino names of the characters and the occasional name-dropping of Latino foods (for e.g. pasteles) or commonplace Spanish dialogue (buenos dias, por favor), it felt as if the author perhaps restrained herself in her writing in fear of alienating her young adult audience with a saturated Latino story.

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Pasteles
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I say this with confidence only because I am married to a Latin-American man, a native of El Salvador, which has given me the privilege of an exposure to the fullness of the Latino culture from its exotic foods, its flavourful intonation and speed of language, and its native nuances and mannerisms, to its traditional and superstitious beliefs, rather than if I had married another man of a different culture, or not at all. And there just wasn’t enough of that in this book for me as a reader to be able to see the fruition of the story’s full potential.

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Bueno, que se va hacer. Ultimamente, la historia pertenece al autor…

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However, the premise of the story is a good one. If only it was more fully developed, the book could have been rich with the fantasy and legend it promises.

The romantic sweetness of Poncho is endearing and the closure of the book is neatly stitched (though, I, myself, stylistically would have chosen to refrain from explaining the characters’ eventual outcomes).

As a superficial young adult “coming-of-age” story with a dabble of romance and Latin-American native spirituality, the book is fine. Anything beyond that expectation would certainly surpass it.

If you’re a reader and book collector who prides in him or herself as a purchaser of books based on cover design and don’t mind a light, young adult read about poverty, ambition, superstition, and youthful romance in its simplest form—then yes, this book is for you.

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Zara’s Rating:

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A special thank you to Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in return for an honest, unpaid review.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind by Meg Medina”

  1. wonderful put up, very informative. I’m wondering why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

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