Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz
Summary: An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery. After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shantytown of its kind in the Philippines today. When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places. (Macmillan)
Content Warnings: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries
One line review: Everlasting Nora is a testament to the strength of hope and optimism, even in the worst circumstances.
This review is part of The Backwards Bookshelf’s blog tour for Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz. When I heard that there would be an all-Filipino blog tour for a book by and about Filipinos, I immediately signed up. I am absolutely honored to take a part of this, my first blog tour! I highly recommend checking out the #EverlastingNoraPH hashtag on Twitter to see other reviews from fellow Filipinos.
I am Filipino-American: my mom is Filipino and though my dad is ethnically Chinese, he grew up in the Philippines. And while I feel like I live in that space where I don’t fit in with just-Americans or just-Filipinos, I found myself greatly relating to Everlasting Nora. And honestly, I think anyone can relate to Everlasting Nora, whether you understand the interspersed Tagalog throughout the text or not (sometimes I did, sometimes I definitely did not).
First off, Nora is such a well-thought-out character. She’s so brave and strong, yet also self-conscious and shy. Even after a year of living in the cemetery, it’s still hard for her to find the silver lining of it all. She’s not perfect, which made me love her that much more. The supporting cast of characters are so good too. I love me a good found family story, and it was hard not to fall in love with Jojo and Lola Mercy. They truly care for Nora and her mother with no hidden agenda. Yes, there are many characters who show kindness to the two of them, but it was Jojo and Lola Mercy who showed Nora that there are people who care. They opened her eyes to a world of people willing to help.
My favorite theme in Everlasting Nora is the ability to find hope even in the darkest of places. Nora goes through the wringer: her home burns down, she loses her father, and her tita lola emotionally abuses her. Oh, and this ALL happens before the book starts, when her mother goes missing. And while Nora seems to lose hope at times, she doesn’t ever completely lose it. She takes comfort in the friends she’s made; she finds that even in tough circumstances, people still showed her kindness. Often, it’s hard for Nora (and for me) to believe that people are inherently good. Luckily, many of the characters in Everlasting Nora proved us wrong. Though some people are decidedly bad, maybe most people are good. This is the kind of optimism I need.
Now, I’m a little guilty of tending to read and focus only on American-centric stories, so it was good to get away from that typical setting. Don’t get me wrong: I love Asian diaspora stories, and I believe there aren’t enough of those stories in MG, YA, Adult, etc. However, our capacity for empathy of different cultures can only go so far without wide-ranging cultural diversity in the stories we consume. I’ve only been to The Philippines three times in my life (twice that I actually remember), so I didn’t know about cemetery squatters and how common they are until I read this book. Often, I turned to my dad to explain certain Tagalog words or cultural differences in the book that I didn’t understand. I spent so much of my childhood distancing myself from my Filipino identity, one regret that I’m actively rectifying, so I think these questions were a welcome change for the both of us. My one hope for Everlasting Nora is that Filipino-American kids will pick up this book and see bits of themselves represented, as well as want to learn more about Filipino culture.
Speaking of Filipino culture, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE FOOD? From mentions of sinigang to pandesal, seeing these foods on the page made me love the book even more. Seriously though, never underestimate the power of a good food description. Food, for me, is such a big part of Filipino identity. It’s what brings us together for celebrations, losses, or just because. Even when I pushed back on my heritage, I still voraciously ate Filipino food. 1. It’s THAT good, and 2. I found that food is my favorite way to relate to people. And while we may disagree on the best Filipino food (#TeamSinigang, btw), we can all agree that there’s something special about Filipino food.
We’re going to have a Twitter chat on December 16th at 8:00 am EST, so please join us at #EverlastingNoraPH as we discuss this excellent book!
And here’s some info on the author!