The Land of Forgotten Girls
By Erin Entrada Kelly
Published March 1, 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Sol and Ming have not had an easy life - their mother died when they were young and their father remarried and moved them to America. And then he went back to the Philippines without them, leaving them in the care of their evil stepmother. Now, Ming believes that their adventurous, world-traveling aunt is coming to take them away. Can Sol protect Ming from the truth?
Here is another book I really wanted to like but that fell short for me (I feel as if I'm having a mostly disappointing reading year thus far). I loved the characters - all of them, from Sol and Ming to the secondary characters, are brilliantly developed. I loved the exploration of the relationship between the sisters - familial relationships are something I always pay special attention to when reading. Though I've never had a sister, it seems to me that Kelly paints a beautifully realistic portrait of what that might be like. I liked the narrative structure, with some flashbacks woven in and Sol's visits from her other (deceased) sister. There seem to be lots of children's books dealing with grief in recent years and I'm pleased to see this (as pleased as one can be about such a sad topic). It's an important issue that we should prepare kids to discuss. In fact, there are lots of significant issues in this book that I'm pleased to see addressed in a book for middle-grade readers. They're not easy, but discussing them will certainly help kids be better citizens of the world.
I can't quite pinpoint why this didn't work for me. Maybe it's because this is a character-driven novel; by the end, I kind of wondered what the point of the whole thing was. Nothing really seems like it's going to change, at least not permanently, so why did I read this book? I guess I kept hoping for a real "Disney" happy ending to happen - which, of course, is much less common in real life. I don't mind if things don't always turn out sunshine and roses, but I just didn't love the end here.
Overall, I think Kelly has crafted a very realistic novel (with the characters, their relationships, and the world they live in feeling particularly authentic); I just expected more.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.