Summary: When Life Gives You Mangoes
When Life Gives You Mangoes is set in a small island village, Sycamore Hill. Clara can’t remember anything that happened in the last year and readers can immediately tell that everyone around her is concerned about this and about her in general. She spends most of time with her best friend Gaynah, playing games sometimes with the other island children. We learn that she used to surf, but she’s now terrified of the water and won’t even dip her toes in. But then, a new girl, Rudy, comes to their small village, where no one ever visits. As she tries to befriend Clara, a few secrets are revealed.
I enjoyed the unique setting of this book, as I haven’t read any middle-grade books by Caribbean authors set on an island. The island scenes are vivid, whether Clara and her mother are going to the market or the beach, or hosting a gathering complete with rice and peas, curried goat, pumpkin pie, and other Caribbean dishes.
Clara is an enigmatic character and an unreliable narrator, since she doesn’t remember much about the past year. She and Gaynah have a relationship typical of many tween girls: they get along well for the most part, but when they don’t the emotions can be pretty intense. I also like the loving relationship depicted between Clara’s parents, and the communal atmosphere that is typical of Caribbean towns (Fun fact: I lived on a small Caribbean island for five years!).
Rudy was another character who caught my attention. She’s whimsical, full of wonder and energy, much like Coralee in Jamie Sumner’s Roll with It. Rudy really draws Clara out and plays a key role in helping her return both to her other friends and to the water. Clara has an estranged uncle who is the subject of superstitious rumors in the town, and I liked how the author resolved his narrative arc.
There’s a mystery in this book (Clara’s patchy memory) and its resolution makes for a shocking plot twist toward the end of the book. Finally, between Rudy, Gaynah, Calvin, and Clara’s other neighborhood frenemies, this book reads like a delightful ode to an island childhood, complete with fun games like Pick Leaf (which you’ll have to read about to understand).
Overall: When Life Gives You Mangoes
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a riveting debut middle-grade novel set on a small Caribbean island. This book explores a variety of important themes ranging from friendships, community, the influence of religion and superstition in Caribbean communities, and the impact of trauma on children. Packed with charming scenes of island life and peeks into childhood on a small island, this book is a perfect selection for those looking to read more culturally diverse middle grade literature. I can’t wait to read whatever Kereen Getten writes next.
Don’t miss my interview with author Kereen Getten TOMORROW as part of this book’s blog tour! When Life Gives You Mangoes is out October 1 in the UK and October 20 in the US.
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Thanks to Poppy Stimpson and Pushkin Press for an electronic ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
More Books Like When Life Gives You Mangoes
- The Line Tender by Kate Allen
- Shouting at the Rain by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
- Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
Have you read this book or any other middle-grade books by Caribbean authors? Check out this list for more middle-grade books by Black authors.