LA MONJA BLANCA BLOOMS IN THE DESERT
This novel was so good, by the time I finished it, I wanted to start a standing ovation for the author’s masterful prose. Yes, We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez was that awesome! Her story had me crying while reading several parts. The use of repetition had me wanting to learn more about my family’s emigrant story; the emotion it caused was overwhelming to the point I had to stop reading to dab my eyes, then take a deep breath, willing myself to read more. But the undeniable profound effect of the repetition confirmed, I need to accept how this story made my heart grow, realizing the wall I built around it as a protection from the memories must be totally torn down.
The story of Pulga, Pequeña, and Chico was powerful and poignant, making it a must-read for everyone living in a country where emigrants wish to live, so they understand what immigrants left behind, so they realize the strength and will emigrants must possess, and so they learn some immigrants are to be admired. And the fact the book is told from a first person point of view, alternating between Pulga and Pequeña, gives the story an authenticity that is both personal and universal because each character has their own reasons for leaving Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and this universally connects to readers since their personal perspective pulls you in to realize this could be you or your children if the world’s power balance ever changes.
As for the writing, it was like reading words capable of wringing your heart. The way its poetic, magical realism brought the soul of this young adult emigration thriller to life was magnificent. But with respect to Jenny’s story, there will be no spoilers. Just a display of the initial scenes of magical realism to show the way Torres Sanchez sets up their seamless impact later in the novel. It begins with Pequeña’s introduction to La Bruja, how the baby knew, the way both connect, and how the images set up the vision of leaving Puerto Barrios forever.
Meeting La Bruja
The author wastes no time introducing you to Pequeña and her ability to create magical realism. In Pequeña’s first chapter in Part One, while she’s in labor, Pequeña lets you know she wants to close her “eyes and try to escape, try to ride that pain into another world, let it lead [her] to a door where [she] can slip into another existence. [She’s] aware of this now—the way [she] can change reality, create new ones, pass through imaginary doors into new worlds—even though [she] always had it in [her]” (15). It’s this moment that sets up her story about how she learned she had this ability, but it’s especially touching when Pequeña asks, “Where are you?” as if summoning “La Bruja, [her] angel, who showed [her] those doors exist” (15). Next, she recalls meeting her angel for the first time after voluntarily falling off a cliff, into a river, and hitting her head. Torres Sanchez shows this first meeting wonderfully when she wrote, “And that’s when [Pequeña] saw her coming up from the depths of the water. Her dazzling eyes. Her rippling hair. Her skeleton-like hands. She stared at [Pequeña] and [she] could not look away from those eyes. [She] felt [themselves] rising together, her stare lifting [her]… up from the depths of that water, from that darkness” (16). After reading this section, Jenny has thoroughly prepared you for more magical realism coming up later in this chapter.
The Baby’s Grip
Soon after, Pequeña reveals her imagination creating magical realism while dealing with a difficult labor. Using first person point of view, the effect is given immense power when she narrates, “The baby doesn’t want to come out. I imagine it holding on to my ribs, refusing to be born. Refusing to dislodge from me. I imagine myself an old woman, my belly large, the child inside swirling around forever, reminding me of its presence. Refusing to let me go” (16). It’s as if the baby knows what kind of world it’s entering and doesn’t want to live there, simultaneously representing a metaphor for holding Pequeña in Puerto Barrios, a place where she doesn’t want to live anymore. But it’s the next part of this section that shows Pequeña doesn’t want the baby. It’s apparent when Torres Sanchez shows that Pequeña’s mother’s positivity for the birth makes her “cry harder because her [mom’s] voice sounds like betrayal” (16). Which leads Pequeña to pose a foreboding question on page 17: “Would she love it so much if she knew?” At this point, I was hooked and read faster to find out the answer.
Wishing to Escape
But before finding out, the author hits you with a moving moment of Pequeña requesting magical realism. This happens during the labor, when her mother is holding her while consoling her through the difficult experience, Pequeña reveals what she wants when she expresses, “But all I want is to melt into Mami’s arms, all I want is for us to melt into one being and escape out of here, slip from this reality to one where magical witches and angels exist. I want to take her with me. The two of us, together, to where we emerge from water and descend from sky” (18). With finding this out, you can feel how crucial magical realism is for her survival, and how much she dreams of escaping her situation.
Stuck in Reality
The amazing part of these examples is that they set up the big scene of magical realism and prepare you for further displays of magical realism for maximum impact. From page 19 to 21, the author shows the three examples connecting. First, the water Pequeña envisions is reminiscent of her experience in the river since she narrates, “I can hear the water—rushing, cascading all around me as I stand on rocks and fling my body into the air, leaping toward beautiful water. My body is free, and light, and mine. Just mine” (19). Next, her baby interrupts the scene “as if his cries demand I stay here, in this reality” (19). Revealing she’s trying to escape this ordeal she just went through. The harshness of this is further confirmed when Pequeña continues, “No, I answer, and I picture the water again, see myself submerged in it, the sun cutting through it, the world a beautiful bright blur” (19). But the baby continues to cry for her as she remains in her vision. The water eventually takes over the room and everything in it, as Pequeña feels her bed float like a raft. Afterwards she reveals, “You see, this, too, is a dream. This child. You. Everything. It’s not real, my mind whispers” (19). Until she sees the water lifting everyone out of the room that she’s in, leaving her alone “like someone lost at sea” (20). But what remains in the room makes her feel sick and she realizes, “I’m caught in between and I have to get out” (20). Next, she focuses on escaping the room, and then she describes, “I’m laughing as the streets fill with water. I turn back and see Mami on our front patio, waving at me, anxiously calling me back, that baby in her arms” (20-21). After all this, poor Pequeña tries to focus and escape again, but it’s pointless; she’s stuck in the room. It feels sad getting to this point in the example, and that sadness directly results from Jenny’s masterful display of magical realism, setting up the others that come up at their perfect moment, never being overdone.
The Last Train
The usage of magical realism only gets more powerful and poignant as the story continues. They’re so important to the plot, I can’t get into them for fear of spoiling the read for you. Some of these moments build off the ones I have shared, and others add perspectives, creating a better understanding of this intense journey. After reading the end, the total effect of the novel will help you understand why they had to be cold to other migrants, why they didn’t want to remember the children on the perilous trek, because you’ll be haunted by the side characters the author makes you love. I’m still haunted by a child Jenny Torres Sanchez used to show one of the protagonists that their heart still exists. I wish there was a book two, and I wish the next book told this child’s story. The next morning, the novel’s effect was still present, and I wished there was more story to read. But, like the main characters, you must move on.
This novel was so impactful, it’ll teach you why you shouldn’t look down on immigrants; it’ll shatter the indifferent wall around your heart. You’ll understand the fragility of existing without the everyday dream of leaving your homeland because the author has shown you three-dimensional characters who wish to have that privilege, even if it’s only for a moment before death.
Thank you for reading our book review about We Are Not from Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.
E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’ first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released in 2024. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.