bilingual, children's, Fiction, middle grade fiction, poetry, Young Adult Fiction

Complex Family Separation Topics for Teens

It’s become a bit of a cliche for children’s or YA authors to kill off parents or have their characters search for unknown parents. It’s an easy trope to use to center a story’s actions on a child’s choices. But for those young people who are forced to be separated from their families, this voice may not resonate. And in our current times, frankly, won’t resonate with the world-aware teen. Two such books that discuss this topic for middle graders and teens are Scarlet Ibis, by Gill Lewis and Forest World, by Margarita Engle.

Scarlet Ibis

At 12 years old, Scarlet cares for her autistic brother and severely depressed mother. This tenuous situation leads to her and her brother to foster care, a situation that separates them all and initiates Scarlet’s attempt to reunite them. The writing is done from Scarlet’s perspective, guiding the reader through an empathic journey that makes her actions and “acting out” understandable and logical. This unique and much needed perspective is refreshing and a true gift from the author for anyone, especially those with foster children in their lives.

Forest World

Free verse poetry is an intriguing and appropriate way to unfold this novel of a family separated and reunited across the Florida-Cuba divide. Told through alternating poems in the voices siblings, Luza and Edver, we see the same family’s story from two perspectives. In addition to the separated family we see them living their lives and experiencing all the teenage experiences in this context. It’s truly a unique and yet universal book.

Fiction

The Freedom to Be Trapped

After dropping off my littlest at one of his weekend activities, I found myself in the hallway where all the parents wait. Settling into the next hour, I look around at all the other parents giving each other the look of “yeah, we’re trapped.” It’s a feeling we’re not used to. We all moved to this metropolitan city to give ourselves the freedom to pursue the heights of our ambition. Yet here we sit providing our children whatever brilliant opportunity we can that we didn’t have at their age. As everyone pulls out their phones, I count myself lucky to have picked up a copy of Margo Orlando Littell’s Each Vagabond by Name.

It’s easy to immediately immerse myself in Littell’s literary style. She draws fully formed characters without drowning the reader in every detail of the moment. Here’s a taste of the types of passages you’ll find. This one was a personal favorite. (Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers.):

“When the sun lightened the rooms, he stopped cleaning. He opened the front door to let in the fresh, cold air, and made coffee. He sat at his table and sipped it while it was near-boiling. The heat burned his tongue. His eye watered, and he sipped again. The pale pre-morning light lapping at the sky made him feel old and even more alone. There were no night-sounds now, just the slam of someone’s car door. It was that slam that did it, that slam that sounded like every other slamming door he’d ever heard in his life. Maybe Liza was right – maybe it was time he left. He could do exactly this – sitting and sipping – anywhere in the world.”

The main characters tackle issues of a changing local landscape and fear of newcomers. Yet, the real genius of the novel is that it captures the zeitgeist of our current times without any of the details you’d find in reality to mire the story in politics.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A paperback copy of the book was also placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.