Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Behind the Mountains

Danticat, Edwidge. Behind the Mountains
April 5th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this paperback reissue of Danticat's 2002 title (which is available in prebind from Follett), we meet Celiane, who lives in a small village in the mountains of Haiti with her mother and older brother Moy in the 1990s. Her father has moved to New York City to work in a restaurant so that he can send money home, since the family farm was not very prosperous. To supplement the income, the mother sells candy at a local market, and Moy works on farms while attending school to become a tailor. Their father's sister, Rose, lives in Port-au-Prince and works as a nurse. They communicate with the father by sending cassette tapes back and forth, since their house lacks modern amenities. When their father becomes a citizen of the US, he wants to send for the rest of the family. They visit the aunt to work on the arrangements, but because of political unrest in the city, become involved in a vehicle bombing. The mother injures her leg badly, and Celiane has a concussion. They stay with their aunt longer than anticipated, but eventually make it back to their home. The mother is motivated to get them to New York, and they eventually make it, landing in the city in December. They are unused to the bitterly cold temperatures, and being in a big city is a challenge. Celiane attends a school with a lot of other Haitian immigrants, but Moy, who is now 19, is frequently at odds with his parents. He has long loved drawing, and is quite good at it, but his parents feel this is not a remunerative career. He moves out so that he can paint, and so that he doesn't have to sleep in the front room. The mother works at the same restaurant where the father is employed, and things are settling down for the family. Celian misses home, but it's not easy to live in a new country. 
Strengths: This can now be considered historical fiction, since it portrays a very specific time in Haitian history. I liked the author's notes about her own experience coming to the US in the 1980s.The details about daily life were interesting, and I liked the fact taht Celiane kept a diary and was considered a very good student. Like Ravi is Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat, Celiane struggles when she comes to the US, even though she has a very strong academic background. There's just enough information about the others in her family to give some depth to her story, and the bus bombing in Port-au-Prince gives the family one more reason to leave their beloved country. Like many families, they leave grandparents behind. Their New York neighborhood is well described, as are experiences like getting lost in such a large place. 
Weaknesses: Diary formats can be tricky, and tend to not be as exciting as other forms of prose. This is a gentler story of daily life that feels slightly old fashioned, perhaps in part because of the format. 
What I really think: This was somewhat similar to Freeman's One Good Thing About America, but had a lot of details about living in another country. While I wanted a storyline in addition to the immigration one, this is just enough information for younger readers who want to learn what it is like to have to transition from one way of life to a completely different one. This will be a good title to have along with Behar's Lucky Broken Girl, Hitchcock and Senzai's Flying over Water, Warga's Other Words for Home, and Yang's Front Desk

Ms. Yingling

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