Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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 because I "only" had 100 pages left.
Mercedes is a privileged teen living in Colombia. She attends private school and has a driver. Her father is a wealthy land owner and her mother is an American who left when she was an infant. She has no contact with her. But the situation in Colombia is violent and unstable, and her father wants to send her to the United States to finish her schooling.
You don't have to know a lot about Colombia in the 1990s to fall into this book. Mercedes has been protected from understanding the political situation, so we as readers learn about it as she finds out more about the FARC, ELN, the drug cartels, and the desplazado, the displaced people within Colombia who have had to flee their homes due to fighting, but are trying to find work and food and shelter.
Then Mercedes meets Manuel, an idealist revolutionary, and falls in love. And so the book is not so much a thinly veiled history lesson but a coming-of-age novel, a romance, a tragedy, etc. While the end section of the novel is Mercedes returning to Colombia as an adult, trying to make sense of some of the events, the majority is Mercedes as a teen and what she goes through. I thought it was very well written and well researched, and while it isn't an "#ownvoices" story from a Colombian author, and sometimes Mercedes is far more reflective than a 15 year old might be, I still think this novel is excellent. I hope the author is working on her next project.
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