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A rough, yet beautiful read
Gringolandia opens with an Author's Note explaining the very real circumstances and events in Chile that lead up to what is experienced by the fictional characters in the book. A short bibliography for further reading is also provided. Usually this kind of thing goes at the end of the story when readers are more likely to be interested in picking up 4-5 books on the topic. I thought it was a weird choice to put the note and bibliography at the beginning...until I started reading. Miller-Lachmann expects a lot of her readers, in a good way. She expects her readers to know what she's talking about without having to step away from the story to explain it, hence the need for the author's note preceeding the story.
Because, let's be honest, not many Americans know that much about Chile and certainly don't know that much about what it was like to live through the turbulent times Dan and his family live through. I don't read a lot of historical fiction about specific events, but much of the historical fiction published in the States of this type is about very well-known events. Even if the average American reader doesn't know the ins and outs of the actual event, they know the basics. Think about how much historical fiction is set during WWII or the French Revolution, or is about Anastasia Romanova. Gringolandia fills a huge gap. I can't think of any other historical fiction for teen readers about South America, let alone about Chile.
Even if there were tons of titles about political prisoners under Pinochet, I think that Gringolandia would still stand out. Without repeating events, this story is told from three distinctive points of view: Dan's, his father's, and his girlfriend's. Dan's father, Marcelo, talks about what it was like in prison (and believe me, even the polite version presented here can get graphic), but the strong point in his narrative is his passion for a free Chile. He doesn't regret the actions he took that led to his arrest; he desperately wants to continue that work, regardless of the consequences, now that he's been released. He's also going through some serious PTSD that is tearing his family apart. His perspective is contrasted with Dan's. Dan doesn't really know what his father did (you can't be questioned about what you don't know), and he doesn't understand how his father could put himself and his family at such great risk for a cause. He certainly can't understand why his father doesn't want to just move on and make the best of things. Like his father, Dan has trust issues and a serious flinch in the face of policemen, but without the conviction that helps his father work through these issues. Courtney, Dan's girlfriend, is all fired up about what happened to Marcelo and what is happening in Chile in general, but she is also woefully naive. Courtney breaks through to Marcelo when no one else can by believing whole-heartedly in what he believes in, guided by a simple sense of right and wrong and of fairness.
There is so much going on in this book along side of so much actually happening. I'm not going to lie, it's intense and not always easy to read. But it is so worth it! Not only will the reader learn about events not often discussed in American history classes, but they'll also get to know some ridiculously complex characters and watch them make impossible choices for themselves and the greater good.
Book source: Philly Free Library
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Posted August 20, 2009
Reviewed by Allison Fraclose for TeensReadToo.com
On October 23, 1980, 12-year-old Daniel Aguilar awoke to a crash and his mother's screams from the living room of his family's apartment in Santiago, Chile. When the young boy got out of bed, soldiers held a gun to his head until his mother told them where his father was hiding.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
For this reason, Daniel always blamed himself for his father's arrest. If not for him, then Marcelo Aguilar, AKA "Nino" and writer for the underground newspaper Justicia, would not have been sent to prison to endure years of torture at the hands of dictator Pinochet's cruel regime.
Six years later, Daniel and the rest of his family anxiously await his father's release to their new home in Madison, Wisconsin. Now a junior in high school, Daniel has adjusted well to life in the United States, playing guitar with his band and for the church that his girlfriend Courtney's father runs.
An extensive letter-writing campaign has finally freed Marcelo, who now joins them in exile in "Gringolandia," away from his compatriots who still suffer and die on the streets and in the prisons of Chile. Although Daniel wishes for a close relationship with the hero father he's admired all of these years, he and his family could never have prepared themselves for dealing with the man who bears more scars than his broken body can show.
As Marcelo wrestles with his own internal conflict and spirals into a pit of self-destruction, Courtney takes it upon herself to rescue him in any way, and makes it her personal mission to bring Marcelo's cause to the ears of anyone who will listen. But, for Daniel, it's not all about his father's cause, and he may end up risking everything just to set things right in his own world.
This politically charged novel brings a powerful twist of humanity to the stories that most Americans simply read about in the news. The aftermath and reconciliation of Marcelo's horrific experiences feel very real, and the effects that they have on the rest of the novel's characters can be quite unexpected at times, making the reader anxious to learn of the outcome.
I must note that readers with a weak stomach may find it hard to make it through this book, simply for the descriptions of grisly torture techniques and the resulting physical and emotional scars they leave on their victims.