Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Review: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

Mary Pauline Lowry via
The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 2012

It's about: "The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14-year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda's world, but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manupulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda's life is her family's Mexican yardman, Jésus. But when the INS deports Jésus back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation.

Determined to find her friend Jésus, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends to Big Bend National Park. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Milagros, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won't be safe traveling alone into the country's interior. So with the bartender's help Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesus.

Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels." (From the back cover of the book.)

I thought:

I included the summary above because I love how it mentions the many of the social boundaries explored in this story. Typical coming-of-age novels are about the crossing of many boundaries between youth and adulthood. However, beyond this,  "typical" is the last word I would use to describe this lovely book. Maybe "groundbreaking" would be more appropriate. Beyond the story, the topics in the book itself cross some major boundaries - the first, and probably more important of the two is the fact that this is a coming-of-age adventure story about a girl. This girl embraces her girlhood (or womanhood,) while also defying many gender boundaries and stereotypes. Part of Rhonda's journey involves coming to accept her newly growing woman's body instead of not eating to try to stunt its growth. She meets all kind of wonderful, strong women role models along her journey, including a woman carpenter and a band of women banditos who call themselves Las Verduras. She also develops a special veneration for and her own, personal style of worship of the Virgin of Guadalupe instead of the bearded male God she grew up being taught to worship. In the end, Rhonda finds and creates  her own meaning from life and affirms her value as an individual - a value that isn't tied to a husband, boyfriend, lover, parents, or children. Her worth comes completely from within herself. This is a valuable and necessary message for young girls today.

The second major boundary that this book crosses is one of sexuality. Mary Pauline Lowry guest posted about this at Dead End Follies a few months ago. A lot of YA bloggers who read this book were offended by the sexual content. Sexual content in literature and the media in general is a topic that comes up often and has been widely written about elsewhere, so I won't go into to much detail, but I do want to quickly differentiate between gratuitous sexuality and sexuality that deepens and enriches a story. The sexual content in this book is not gratuitous. It illustrates the development of Rhonda's character and the extent to which she has control and appreciation for her female body. Affirming one's sexuality is a radically important part of becoming a mature adult and, in Rhonda's case, in becoming a woman.

If sexual content makes you a little uncomfortable, I think this is a good book to take you outside your comfort zone. Unfortunately, in western culture female sexuality is still much more taboo than male sexuality. The positive expressions of female sexuality in this book is a small but important step toward  gender equality.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: This literary fiction/YA crossover book will appeal to both girls and boys, and would be a worthwhile and fun read for both.

Also, here's a great review of The Earthquake Machine from The Huffington post.

Warnings: Strong sexual content, some swear words.

Favorite excerpts: 'Cúidate, niña,' Jésus replied. 'You are talking like a Mexican. That won't do at all.' But his eyes looked pleased. For the first year he'd been there, Rhonda sat with him while he told her stories about his people. Rhonda could hear the homesickness in his voice, but the language was only a flush of sound. But words had begun to pop out at her, and then whole phrases, and then Rhonda began to distinguish how the words flowed together into stories. And now she was not just speaking fluently herself, but having thoughts formed by the new language."

What I'm reading next: Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners by Henry Alford

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.