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The Land of Forgotten Girls

Review

The Land of Forgotten Girls

What first grabbed me about THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS wasn’t the premise or tagline, but the gorgeously evocative cover. Two young girls peek out from under a watery, star-clad blanket, bringing to mind childhood games and the protective geography of fantasy. As the image suggests, Erin Entrada Kelly’s new middle grade novel pays tribute to the power of storytelling and sisterhood in the face of adversity.

"With grace and an economy of words, Kelly illuminates the magic in the mundane and the shelter afforded by our imagination. Fans of modern mythmakers Pam Muñoz Ryan and Katherine Rundell will find much to admire in this timely yet timeless fairy tale."

Set in Louisiana at the sweltering height of summer, THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS opens in the chilling fashion of a ghost story, with the appearance of narrator Soledad’s deceased younger sister. Twelve-year-old Sol blames herself for her sister’s accidental drowning in the Philippines and resolves to protect her second sister, Ming, in their new home in the United States. The two sisters are essentially orphans in a foreign land, brought to Louisiana by their father and cruel stepmother, Vea. Their father eventually traveled back to the Philippines and has never returned. In the absence of loving parents, Sol takes on the role of caretaker, regaling Ming with fairy tales inspired by their dead mother. While these stories prove vital to the girls’ survival, the line between fiction and fallacy is blurred when Ming becomes convinced of their rescue by a fictional aunt.

With grace and an economy of words, Kelly illuminates the magic in the mundane and the shelter afforded by our imagination. Fans of modern mythmakers Pam Muñoz Ryan and Katherine Rundell will find much to admire in this timely yet timeless fairy tale. Perhaps most impressive of all is Kelly’s ability to humanize the archetypal villains of the story --- the evil stepmother and the menacing junkyard owner referred to as Blackbeard. In each case, we see glimpses of the enemy’s interior life: a clipping from a Home & Garden magazine; a childhood photograph; a diorama in a bottle. These details don’t excuse their acts of cruelty, but complicate the characters’ (and readers’) assumptions.

It’s rare that a book entertains and enlightens; THE LAND OF FORGOTTEN GIRLS does both. Kelly’s exploration of such difficult subjects as race, class and physical difference --- and the bullying that outsiders endure --- elevates Sol and Ming’s story to the realm of diverse and essential literature for young readers. Though it engages with provocative subjects, the novel never bends under the weight of heavy themes. I can’t promise a happily ever after, but I can guarantee a sense of hope.

Reviewed by Emma Kantor on March 8, 2016

The Land of Forgotten Girls
by Erin Entrada Kelly