CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 24. . . .February 23, 2018
Under the Zaboca Tree. (Inanna Young Feminist Series).
Toronto, ON: Inanna Publications (Distributed by Brunswick Books), 2017.
231 pp., trade pbk., epub, Kindle & pdf, $19.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77133-329-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77133-330-6 (epub), ISBN 978-1-77133-331-6 (Kindle), ISBN 978-1-77133-332-0 (pdf).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Ann Ketcheson.
"Watch your step!" Dad did a jig to prevent his feet from stepping in fresh dog poop. The higher we climbed, the more dogs' feces we saw, but most of them were stale and had almost dried up. I played hopscotch, wary in my movements. The music grew louder the further up the hill we went.
We walked past a tidy blue and white duplex with a low wooden fence surrounding its well kept lawn. I thought it was out of place, and then I wondered who lived there.
My father finally stopped in front of a cream coloured dwelling, much smaller than the blue and white house we'd passed moments earlier. It was the house the music was coming from; inside, someone was blasting Rihanna’s umbrella song at full force.
My legs were tired now, and sticky perspiration trickled down my armpits and the length of my back. With my face tilted downward and my back slightly curved, I clutched the fence, panting.
"Hello!" my dad hollered above the music.
I thought we'd have to remain outside forever, or at least until the music stopped, since it seemed unlikely anyone would hear Dad’s voice above the noise. As we waited, the leaves on several hugs trees in front of the house swayed in a powerful current of air, and for a moment the staircase of the house, which was painted a bright red, came into view. In spite of the large trees, the well kept yard was a welcome sight.
A river of wobbly, erratic butterflies fluttered aimlessly around us. I had never before seen such an abundance of colourful creatures in one location. Some of them dipped forward and landed on the flowerbed behind the fence.
A petite woman dragging a flimsy pair of flip flops inched toward us. Her hands swayed to and fro as she balanced a white plastic container filled with what I assumed was water, even though she wasn’t one of the women I’d seen earlier at the standpipe. I was amazed as she approached us without losing a single drop from the container she was carrying on her head.
"Good to see yuh, man," she said. "Yuh waiting for Boyie to open the gate?"
"Yeah." Dad gave her a weak smile.
Melody Sparks, aka Baby Girl, moves with her dad to Trinidad when she is just 10-years-old. Her mother has never been part of her life, and Baby Girl would love to solve the mystery of who she is and why she left the family. From Toronto, Baby Girl finds herself first in Paradise Lane, Trinidad, and then later in Flat Hill Village as her father finally finds a home for the two of them. Baby Girl has to constantly adjust to a new country and various new neighbourhoods within it, but fortunately she finds friends and mentors to give her support as she deals with these upheavals in her life.
In this first novel, Glynis Guevara gives her readers an interesting and likeable main character. Baby Girl, at only 10-years-old, has no control over the decisions regarding where she and her dad will live. She deals with loneliness and confusion as she moves here and there, often sharing space with children whom she has barely met. She must continually change and adapt to different people around her as well as to the unique culture of Trinidad. Baby Girl must somehow reconcile her dream of life in Trinidad with the reality that confronts her. As well, she is under the constant stress of wondering just who her mother might be and why she has never made an effort to find Baby Girl and become part of the family once again. Baby Girl has a strong personality which helps her to see the positives in the people around her and makes her willing to persevere despite sometimes overwhelming odds. She becomes more mature and self assured throughout this coming-of-age story.
Guevara seems to have a cast of thousands in the background, with neighbours and children often seeming almost interchangeable. Smokey and Petal, Baby Girl’s dad and stepmother, are two of the consistent characters in the book. While both have their flaws, their desire for Baby Girl to have a safe and happy life is clear. Other notable characters include Arlie, a strong minded woman in Flat Hill Village who is an activist determined to improve the living conditions of those around her. Colm is a young man who briefly lives with the family and who inspires and encourages Baby Girl to put her emotions on paper in the form of poetry and even to compete in poetry competitions.
The plot twists and turns in a somewhat chaotic fashion, rather like real life for Baby Girl. There are moments of violence and absolute terror which are balanced by kindness and efforts at community improvement. The women often take the lead in the story, providing great role models for Baby Girl and other young women. Occasionally the plot seems slow and jumps from one event to another without much preparation for the reader. The author attempts to mimic a Trinidadian way of speaking. The writing style seems rather laboured or forced at times. These are only small concerns and do not undermine the overall essence and excellence of this young adult novel.
The author was born in Barataria, Trinidad and Tobago, and her love and enthusiasm for this part of the world come through clearly in the novel. Readers appreciate the colours, sounds and smells of a Trinidad which is far from the resorts and beaches seen in travel brochures. It is refreshing to have even a small glimpse of the authentic Trinidad and its people as seen through the eyes of a native.
Apparently a second novel is forthcoming, and readers may be able to follow Baby Girl as she continues to grow and mature. Certainly the author leaves questions at the end of Under the Zaboca Tree which fans would love to pursue in further books.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher librarian and teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, ON.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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