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The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu - Review

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Where did I get it? On Netgalley, so thank you very much to Hachette Children's Group for the opportunity to read and review it. As you may know, I'm already a big fan of Jen's work and was really interested to read her new book. Thanks! 

What's it about? The book is set in 1986, when the Finneys live on Mariposa Island, somewhere off Texas in the Gulf of Mexica. They are Elena, nearly seventeen, Joaquin, who has just graduated high school, and their mother, Caridad. The three of them have difficult relationships. Elena struggles under her mother's over-protective eye - Carrie rings her several times a day while she's on school vacation to make sure she's at home. Elena can only escape when she has her babysitting job. She meets J.C. one day at the beach and starts a secret relationship with him. 

Joaquin has just finished school and isn't sure what he wants to do with his life. He's a waiter at a local restaurant but he really wants to take off to California. His dad, who took off when Elena was small, supposedly lives there. 

Carrie drinks too much and often passes out late at night, requiring one of the kids to be at home to get her to bed. She's abusive towards them both and they live on eggshells around her, trying to gauge her moods and not make her angry. Joaquin is closer to not caring than his sister is, but Elena knows that she'll never get out from under her mother's control.

The first half of the book is told from Elena's point of view, and the second half of Joaquin's. I found it slightly jarring when it changed - I really wanted Elena back! I loved her, I thought she was a great character. I did like Joaquin's point of view too, but it felt like he was doing more tidying up, kind of? Interspersed between both kids is the story of what happened to Caridad. She was born in Cuba in the 1940s, to a well off family. On the night of her quinceanera, a bomb goes off as revolution builds, and Caridad has to leave Cuba (under what turns out to be Operation Pedro Pan, which really happened). We set Caridad reach the United States, marry the children's dad, and have the children. I found it interesting that we saw Carrie as both a teenager and as a young woman, that doesn't often happen in YA books but I thought it was perfectly appropriate for the book. There's a real insight into what makes Carrie tick and why she is like she is. 

I loved this book, I thought the clash of cultures between Cuba and the US was really interesting and brilliantly written. 

What age range is it for? 14+ 

Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No 

Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, they're Cuban and Caridad is a first generation immigrant. I liked a lot of the storylines here. 

Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No 

Is there any sex stuff? Yes, it's not graphic

Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, it may be somewhat graphic 

Is there any talk of death? Yes, I didn't think it was graphic but your mileage may vary

Are there swear words? No 

What criticisms do I have? Almost none! I was just a bit jarred when the point of ivew changed, but I did like Joaquin too 

Would I recommend the book? Absolutely 

Why did I choose to read it at this point in life? I was desperate to read something else by Jen! 

What do I think of the cover? On Netgalley the book is simply called The Liars and has a different cover, but all other publicity seems to be calling it by the fuller title and using this cover. I think it's really pretty! 

What other books is it like? I've seen a couple of comparisons to We Were Liars, and while I don't think the stories are similar, I do think there are similarities with the closed, claustrophobic feeling which isn't helped by the harsh sun. 

I also kept thinking of the sitcom One Day At A Time while I was reading it - Lydia, the grandmother in the series, also left Cuba under Operation Pedro Pan and also has a hard time adjusting to American life. Definitely watch this if you haven't already!

How many stars? Four and a half out of five. 

The Liars of Mariposa Island will be published on the 5th of September 2019. I was given a free electronic copy of the novel but was not compensated in any other way for this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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