‘I get caught because you always make me go,’ I reply angrily.
‘How would you know? You don’t remember.’
‘I remember everything that happened yesterday and last week and last month.’
She faces me head-on, hands on hips. ‘Do you really not remember what happened last summer, Clara, or are you pretending for attention?’
Clara lives in the small village of Sycamore, where nothing much ever happens. But something did happen last summer – something to do with Clara, and the sea, but she just can’t remember. What she does know is that the newcomer Rudy is weird but nice, as opposed to her best friend Gaynah who always seems to always be mean nowadays.
Clara enjoys showing Rudy the island, and together they uncover a secret her family, and the village, has kept hidden. It’s not the only thing she’ll uncover though and, as the summer wears on, she’ll find that she has to face the truth of what happened the previous year…
The second When Life Gives You Mangoes starts, you’re drawn into the mystery surrounding Clara and what happened that previous summer. It lurks constantly in the background, an undercurrent to every interaction she has with others; it manifests in their sympathy, their frustration, the pity she can see in their eyes, and the way that no-one actually talks about it.
I’ve been reading a lot of “quest”-style stories recently, so it’s nice to read something that’s a bit more slice-of-life, about people and families, their troubles and their happiness. This is not to say that there is no plot or that nothing happens – very much the opposite. I found myself swept up in their lives, and desperate to know more of what was going on behind the scenes.
Clara is our POV character, and it’s easy to see why others get frustrated with her at times, as she often bounces between lashing out in anger or running away. The truth however is that they cannot understand what she’s going through, partially because she doesn’t understand it fully herself. She doesn’t like reacting the way she does, but she doesn’t know how to stop it.
She‘s reluctant to interact with others, scared that they’ll be judging her as “the girl with memory loss”. The new girl Rudy is exactly what she needs; fearless, adventurous, and intending to drag Clara along with her. She helps draw Clara out of her shell, and gives her the strength to face the truth.
There’s a mystery surrounding Clara’s reclusive uncle Eldorath as well, which becomes an important factor later in the story, and acts as another motivation for Clara to come to terms with the past – however I don’t want to risk giving anything about it away, so I’ll have to leave it at that!
The characters are written with care and depth, both the children and the adults. Although Clara is at the centre of the story, there is a lot going on in the village between others as well, such as the animosity between Clara’s father and Pastor Brown (her friend Calvin’s father), and Ms. Gee’s frostiness to her own daughter. Each of these connections has a knock-on effect to those around them of all ages, in the only way it could considering the small size of the village.
Getten describes the village and the island itself with so much passion and delight, that it’s no surprise to find out that it’s based on the small fishing village in Jamaica where she grew up. From the rolling waves and the luscious mango trees, to the old cannons and Eldorath’s dark mansion house, everything is depicted with a level of detail that really places you there as you read.
Obviously I’m not going to write here about the events of that missing summer as it would definitely spoil your reading of the book (I almost wish I could, as it would save my partner from hearing me gush about it again!). Suffice to say that although I had guessed the basic premise of it, the details were not what I expected at all. The way the story deals with the revelation is not only gripping, but heart-warming too.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a sensitive and touching portrayal of loss and trauma, and how it affects our relationships and those around us. It’s also about the importance of not only facing the ghosts of your past but learning how to forgive others – and yourself.
I realise I’ve been relatively light on details, but that’s honestly because I don’t want to risk giving any of the story beats away. Clara’s PTSD (for that’s essentially what it is) can make it a difficult read at times, but I think that makes it an even more important one. It’s a relatively short book, aimed at middle grade readers (roughly ages 8-12), so I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy for when you have a spare couple of hours!