Have you been following the #EverlastingNoraPH blog tour on Twitter? I sure hope you have – the participants have been posting some pretty amazing reviews, quote graphics, playlists, aesthetics, and mood boards! And Marie Cruz’s debut, Everlasting Nora, more than deserves all the praise. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year! Not to mention, the Filipino rep has got me hyped up like nothing else.
The #EverlastingNoraPH blog tour is about to end, but don’t fret. We’ve still got a few more things up our sleeves for you guys. First off is my own review for this wonderful book, followed by an interview with Marie Cruz herself, so stick around for that!
Without further ado, Everlasting Nora!
Title: Everlasting Nora
Author: Marie Miranda Cruz
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Contemporary, General
Trigger warnings: Violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries
☕ Quotes ☕
“If someone were to ask me to describe a home, I would tell them this. A home never floods during a typhoon. A home has a kitchen with a stove for cooking rice. A home does not have dead people inside it.”
“But it was still hard for me to accept this sort of help, and not feel that someday the same person who helped you would be the same one to hurt you later on.”
“And we have lived quietly, not asking for too much, always grateful for the little we have and for each other.”
☕ Plot ☕
The thing that hit me the hardest about this book’s plot was how absolutely undetachable it was from reality. As a Filipino – especially a Filipino living back here in the Philippines – you become so acutely aware of the fact that there people – millions of them – for whom the story you hold in your hands isn’t just a book. It’s reality. Aside from the remains of over 1 million people, the Manila North Cemetery is also home to over thousands of squatters, who live and work amongst the dead. (You can read this article to learn more.)
Among them is a 12-year-old Nora and her mother, who’ve moved to the Manila North Cemetery after losing both her home and her father in a fire. At first, Nora’s mother has plans to save enough money to get them both out of the cemetery and head back to Davao, where Nora’s uncle owns a pig farm. But unfortunately, Nora’s mother get sucked into the dark, seedy world of gambling, and even ends up losing all her savings to a loan shark. Although she somehow is able to keep Nora in the dark, Nora begins to get an inkling of just how deeply in trouble they are. And her suspicions are confirmed one morning when her mother doesn’t come home.
As Nora struggles to free her mother from the clutches of the loan shark, she gets some help along the way from friends, both old and new, and learns that, though there are a great deal of evil, heartless people in the world, there are just as many who are compassionate and decent, and that all it takes to find these people is a little faith and a little effort.
Over and over again, I keep going back to how this book is not fiction for a great deal of Filipinos. The plot is simple and straightforward when you think about it, but Marie Cruz infuses it with so much feeling and depth that it doesn’t seem so at all. Marie takes the traditional Filipino values of resilience and courage, so lauded in all of our folk tales, mythology, and classic novels, and makes the characters more real, more nuanced, while still being resilient and courageous.
Honestly? 10/10 would watch this as a movie! (But it needs to be handled by a director like Jerrold Tarog or Antoinette Jadaone or Sam Lee or something – anybody else would turn this into a Maalaala Mo Kaya? epsiode faster than you can say, “dear Ate Charo”.)
☕ Writing ☕
The one thing that you have to watch out for when writing about characters who are extremely poor is that you don’t want to romanticize poverty. Marie Cruz, I think, was very respectful about portraying the hardship and reality of being extremely poor and suffering through discrimination, hunger, and despair. Yes, Nora and her family friends do their best to keep their chins up and remain happy despite their circumstances, but you really do see them struggle to maintain that happiness. The portrayal, as I said earlier, is very nuanced and respectful. Best of all, their circumstances aren’t painted over with the problematic veil of excusing government failure with Filipino resilience that emerges every time there’s a typhoon or similar natural disaster.
The book is meant for middle grade readers, so the prose is very simplistic, but not in a way that the story feels dumbed down. Instead, it feels even more authentic and riveting. You really get the sense of seeing poverty and hard living through the eyes of a child. It’s raw and real and leaves you with a ton of food for thought.
I also loved the imagery of the sweet potato plant and the everlasting daisies, representing Nora’s spiral into despair, and then her hope thriving despite her circumstances. And of course, the descriptions of the various Filipino dishes the characters partook of were to die for! Anyone else got hungry while reading this book?
☕ Characters ☕
Let me tell you, seeing typically Filipino characters in an internationally published book was nothing short of miraculous for me. The plucky children who don’t let tough circumstances get them down? Check. The bitchy matapobre woman who gets in the heroine’s way? Check. These are characters Filipinos are familiar with. They’re characters that we grew up with and saw on our TV shows and in our books. But Marie infuses them with her own unique take, making these character tropes her own, and of course, avoiding turning them into caricatures.
I particularly loved how Marie portrayed Nora. She has every reason in the world to be bitter and angry, but instead, she chooses to fight against those feelings of hopelessness and continues to believe that she and her mother can dig themselves out of their current troubles. I loved reading about her journey, from insistently hanging on to the pride she has left to learning how to accept help from those who love her, and found myself 100% rooting for her from start to finish.
☕ Overall ☕
Pick up Everlasting Nora if you haven’t yet, honestly. It covers such a serious and painful topic with respect, and tells the story of a young girl struggling against the hand life has dealt her with a relatability and gravity that all of us could use. It’s heartwarming, hopeful, and a badly-needed beacon of light.
Read more about the author below:
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