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Friday, March 12, 2021

Middle Grade #OwnVoices Novel Eye-Opening and Empowering

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Minnie Miranda's single mother—an Argentine-American with no close family—labors tirelessly to support her and her two younger sisters.  Mamá is always working overtime at her menial jobs, leaving Minnie in charge.  When she is in their drafty basement apartment, Mamá is exhausted and cranky.  Despite all her hours at work, the fridge is never full, Minnie's sisters have few toys, and all of them make do with embarrassing castoff clothing.  Although the 12-year-old knows she should be grateful just to have a roof over her head, Minnie's tired of being poor, frustrated with all of her grown-up responsibilities, and especially weary of her mother's constant warnings to never let outsiders into their lives.  Mamá insists they don't need anyone's help with anything.  Minnie's not so sure.

Despite the endless hours she works, Mamá always comes home in the evenings to say goodnight to her girls.  When she fails to appear one night, Minnie hopes Mamá has just been unable to get away.  With no word from her, however, Minnie begins to fear the worst: she's been detained by ICE.  Knowing she can't confide in anyone—not even a surprising new school friend—she carries on as best she knows how, trying to keep her sisters calm, fed, and entertained.  Nothing seems to go her away, although somehow, the girls seem to be getting a bit of help from the Peques, the Argentine fairies Minnie's younger sisters still believe in.

Even the Peques can't help with Minnie's upcoming audition for Peter Pan.  Minnie knows a penniless Latinx girl has no real hope of playing Wendy, but she's desperate to try for the part.  Mamá knows how important the audition is to Minnie and promised to be there.  Is she really going to miss it?  If she could be there, Minnie knows she would be.  What has happened to Mamá?  She can't conceal her family's situation for much longer, but her mother has always insisted strangers can't be trusted.  What is Minnie to do? 

Let's be honest here, the cover of On These Magic Shores by Argentine-American Yamile Saied Méndez is...not great.  Thank goodness it came to my attention because of The Whitney Awards.  Had I seen the book in a library or bookstore, I never would have picked it up.  And that would have been a shame because there's a lot to like about this #OwnVoices middle grade novel.  It touches on a lot of tough issues—racism, poverty, fear of deportation, children with too much responsibility, etc.—in a way that is eye-opening but also approachable.  As Minnie struggles, she learns the value of friendship, forgiveness, asking for help when you need it, and being grateful for what you have even if it's not a lot.  Some of the lessons are more subtle than others, but they're all there.  Although the plot of On These Magic Shores isn't always logical, the transitions between scenes not always smooth, and the prose a little rough in places, overall the story is engaging and compelling with enough going on to keep me turning pages.  The magical realism isn't my favorite element of this novel, but it worked well enough.  Character-wise, Minnie and her sisters are sympathetic heroines.  Minnie's prickly personality makes her difficult to like, especially when she acts like a victim-y brat.  She does grow and change because of her struggles, but she's still a bit hard to take.  Others act inconsistently (Maverick, for instance), but they're still a likable lot overall.  There are enough issues with On These Magic Shores that I didn't end up loving it.  However, it is an eye-opening, empowering, empathy-inducing story.  I liked it overall.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Land of the Cranes by Aida Salazar and Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for scary situations (absent parent, racism, fear of deportation/police, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of On These Magic Shores from the generous folks at Lee & Low Books as part of an awards competition I am helping to judge.  Thank you!


  1. I'd give this one 3/5 stars. It was good, but not amazing. And I had a few issues with the whole fairy thing, especially at the end.

  2. I'm sorry this didn't quite work out for you. It sounds like a novel that imparts a lot of lessons, though.

  3. This sounds like it could have been great if it has a good editor. It still sounds like a good story to read though. Nice review Susan.


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