From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, February 15, 2011:
"A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures."
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, May 9, 2011:
"The authors' candid narrative richly depicts Virginia's passage from a childhood filled with demoralization to a young woman who sees her life through new eyes."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
"This is a poignant coming-of-age novel that will expose readers to the exploitation of girls around the world whose families grow up in poverty."
From the Hardcover edition.
This compelling collaboration between Resau (The Ruby Notebook) and Farinango—who met while Resau was teaching English at a community college—is based on Farinango's tumultuous upbringing in Ecuador as part of an indígena (indigenous) family, forced to live under the thumb of the mestizos (the Spanish upper class). As is common for indígena girls her age, Virginia is sent to live with a wealthy mestizo couple—in her case, Niño Carlitos and his wife, Doctorita—and she babysits their children and serves as their maid for eight years. While the living conditions are an improvement over her family's small farm, she endures physical and verbal abuse and is denied an education. Narrating in a singular, authentic voice, Virginia dreams of escape, but her broken identity leaves her directionless. Along the way, though, she employs her imagination, persistence, and hard-won wisdom to recover her strength and freedom. The authors' candid narrative richly depicts Virginia's passage from a childhood filled with demoralization to a young woman who sees her life through new eyes. Ages 12–up. (Mar.)
VOYA - Amy S. Pattee
When six-year-old indigenous Ecuadorian Maria Virginia Farinango is sent by her family to live with and work for an upper class family, she believes her mother will soon come to re-claim her. Later, she realizes that she was likely sold to the Doctorita and Carlitos. Though she initially resigns herself to life cleaning up after the family, enduring the Doctorita's beatings and, eventually, rebuffing Carlitos' advances, Virginia convinces Carlitos to teach her to read and, as she develops her own strength and intelligence, she wrests herself from the family's clutches. After she participates in a special education program for older children, Virginia works to pay her tuition to secondary school, eventually making a life for herself as an independent young woman in the town of Otavalo. Based on the experiences of the "real" Virginia Farinangowho collaborated with Resau to complete this novelQueen of Water, like Suzanne Fisher Staples' Shabanu (Knopf, 1989/VOYA April 1990), is a richly described coming-of-age story set in a culture both foreign and familiar. As the character Virginia works to pass as mestiza (a member of the non-indigenous culture of Ecuador), she questions her association with the indigenous culture into which she was born. Spanish and Quichua (the language spoken by Virginia's family) words are incorporated naturally within this first-person narrative that pays homage to the popular culture Virginia loves. The writing is, by turns, shocking and funny. Virginia's admiration of the television character MacGyver inspires her to consider MacGyver-esque solutions to, for example, the problem of Carlitos' attention and leads to her own sense of self-sufficiency. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
Based on the life of co-author Farinango, this novel tells the story of an indigenous girl in Andean Ecuador, her life marred by poverty, cultural discrimination, and seemingly inevitable servitude. Caught between her own world and that of the mestizos (Spanish descendants), she soon finds herself in domestic service. Here she struggles to cope with taunts and abuse at the hands of her employers, Senor Carlos and his wife "the Doctorita." At the same time, she finds herself drawn to the comparative luxuries of mestizo life. Resau draws skillfully the permeable boundaries between affection and abuse, love and loathing, all contained within her protagonist's slowly awakening first-person viewpoint. Maria Virginia finds both consolation and contradictions in music and TV, in reruns of "MacGyver" and in the Spanish language soaps the Doctorita adores, even as she pushes herself toward secret joys of literacy and learning. It is only when she recognizes as hollow her employers' promises of school and advancement that she can finally make a break for freedom. This is a fascinating work of collaboration, in which the fictionalization of certain elements combines the ring of memoir with the arc of thoughtfully crafted fiction. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Based on a true story, and told from the protagonist's point of view, The Queen of Water follows a seven-year-old indígena who was taken from her family in the rural Ecuadoran Andes mountains to be a servant in an urban home. Confused, afraid, and alone, Virginia accepts her captors as parents and loves their children. The prejudice of these mestizos, or middle-class natives, speeds the girl's assimilation, though it comes with a price: an inferiority complex that she confronts slowly as she secretly teaches herself to read. Confusion over whether or not her parents gave her away willingly serves the plot well; Virginia's dilemma doesn't fit neatly into formulas about courage and fighting for justice, although eventually both are within her reach. Her mistreatment by the woman of the house, an overweight, selfish dentist, is humiliating, constant, and disturbing; her husband plays her foil—understanding, even loving, until Virginia reaches adolescence—when he tries to molest her. This is a poignant coming-of-age novel that will expose readers to the exploitation of girls around the world whose families grow up in poverty.—Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY
This riveting tale of an indigenous Ecuadorian girl being sent away from her family to work for a middle-class mestizo (of Spanish heritage) couple, this collaborative novel by teen author Resau and Farinango is based on the life story of the latter. Virginia is 7 when she is brought to the town of Kunu Yaku, where she works for years for a horribly abusive woman, her husband, Niño Carlitos, and their children. As Virginia grows into a young woman and Niño Carlitos transforms from a kindly father figure into a dangerous sexual predator, she embarks upon a path that leads her back to her birth family and eventually to a prestigious secondary school, where she finally begins to reconcile the many parts of herself. Bright spots of humor and warmth are woven throughout, and readers will agonize for Virginia while seething at her tormentors. The complexities of class and ethnicity within Ecuadorian society are explained seamlessly within the context of the first-person narrative, and a glossary and pronunciation guide further help to plunge readers into the novel's world. By turns heartbreaking, infuriating and ultimately inspiring. (Fiction. 13 & up)
Read an Excerpt
Before dawn, I wake up to the sound of creatures scurrying inside the wall near my head. Mice and rats and dogs have burrowed these tunnels through the dried clay, searching for food scraps. I'm always searching for food scraps too. Right now my belly's already rumbling, and it's hours till breakfast.
The house is dark as a cave except for bits of blue light coming through the holes in the earthen walls. My gaze fixes on a new trail of golden honey oozing from a crack, just within arm's reach. Bees live in there, black bees that sting terribly, but make the best honey in the world. I poke my hand in the crack and scoop out the sticky sweetness and lick it from my finger. It's gritty but good.
Our guinea pigs are hungry now too, squeaking and dancing around in their corner, waiting for alfalfa. I can see every corner of our house from my sleeping place on the floor. Mamita and Papito are snoring under their wool blanket on a bed frame made of scrap wood. My brother and sister are curled up next to me--Hermelinda on the end and Manuelito wedged in the middle--and the fleas and bedbugs and lice are crawling wherever they please. My spot against the wall is cozy, the perfect place for licking honey in secret.
Soon Mamita will awaken, standing up and stretching in her white blouse that hangs midway down her thighs. Then, yawning, she'll wrap a long dark anaco around her waist, golden beads around her neck, and red beads around her wrists. Then she'll open the door and a rectangle of misty morning light will shine into our house's musty darkness. Then she'll light the cooking fire and we'll all slurp steamy potato soup around the fire pit.
If she catches me with honey dripping from my fingers, her face will twist into a frown. When people tell her, "Your little Virginia is vivisima!" Mamita snorts, "Humph, she's clever for stealing food, that's about all."
It's true, I do use my wits to fill my belly with fresh cheese or warm rolls. Or to get something I really want, like a pet goat or a pair of shoes. But there's more. I have dreams. Dreams bigger than the mountaintops that poke at the clouds. In the pasture, I always climb my favorite tree and shout to the sheep, "I'm traveling far from here!" and my tree turns into a truck and I ride off to a place where I can eat rice and meat and watermelon every day.
In the half-light of dawn, I plunge my hand deeper into the darkness inside the wall, searching for honey, dreaming, as always, of golden treasures.
After breakfast, I'm in the valley pasturing sheep under a sky the dull gray of cow intestines, when Hermelinda appears on the hill. I squint up at her. The mountains loom behind her, peaks lost in heavy clouds. She waves her little arms at me, the wind whipping her hair in all directions. "Virginia!" she cries in her squeaky toddler voice. "There are mishus at the house. Mamita says to come right away!"
Mishus are what we call the mestizos. It's a mean word, in the same way that their names for us--longos, or dirty Indians--are mean. With my golden goat, Cheetah, at my side, I climb toward home, urging the straggling sheep along with my stick. Feeling suddenly sick, I call out, "Hermelinda, which mishus?"
"Alfonso and his wife and two others."
I stop in my tracks. Alfonso owns the land my family farms. Lately, he and his wife, Mariana, have made a point of talking to me whenever they visit the fields, asking me questions, eyeing me up and down, then murmuring to each other as they walk off. Alfonso is the one who took my cousins Zoyla and Gregoria away from their parents two years ago. Zoyla and Gregoria and I used to play market together while we pastured the animals. And then, one day, when they were near my age now--about seven--they left with the mishus.
We never heard from them again.
I head up the path, pushing against the crazy wind, kicking at rocks and smacking trees with my stick as I walk. Past the corn and potato fields, my house comes into view, looking small and weak against the mountains towering behind it. I can make out the forms of the mishus sitting on the dirt patio with my parents. My muscles are tensing, the way they do when I see dogs in the distance and I'm not quite sure if they're nice or mean.
I'm grateful Cheetah is at my side. Even though she's only a goat, she loves me more than anything in the world. And she'll do anything to protect me. Once, when a vicious dog tried to attack, Cheetah hurled herself in front of me and rose to her hind feet. "Maah maaah!" she bellowed in its face, slashing the air with her front hooves. The dog had never seen such a brazen goat, and it backed away, bewildered. It's good to have someone love you so fiercely. Even if that someone is a goat.
I rest my hand on her honey brown head and rub her ears, walking slowly, my heart thumping. As I lead the sheep into their pens, I watch the patch of weeds in front of our house where Alfonso sits beside his wife with her ridiculous, huge bun, along with a thin mestizo man. A fat mestiza woman with short hair and a polka-dot dress sits a little off to the side. I take a deep breath, then head toward them, brandishing my stick like a machete. The closer I walk, the hotter my face gets, as though my blood has caught fire.
Mamita is watching the mishus politely as Papito chats with them, his face unusually friendly. As I come closer, Mamita looks up at me and frowns. Her glare orders me to stop swinging my stick and behave.
But I look straight ahead, ignoring them all, and, still swinging my stick, stomp straight into the house.
From the Hardcover edition.