Sixteen-year-old Sonia Ocampo was born on the night of the worst storm Tres Montes had ever seen. And when the winds mercifully stopped, an unshakable belief in the girl’s protective powers began.
All her life, Sonia has been asked to pray for sick mothers or missing sons, as worried parents and friends press silver milagros in her hands. Sonia knows she has no special powers, but how can she disappoint those who look to her for solace? Still, her conscience is heavy, so when she gets a chance to travel to the city and work in the home of a wealthy woman, she seizes it. At first, Sonia feels freedom in being treated like all the other girls. But when news arrives that her beloved brother has disappeared while looking for work, she learns to her sorrow that she can never truly leave the past or her family behind.
With deeply realized characters, a keen sense of place, a hint of magical realism, and a flush of young romance, Meg Medina tells the tale of a strongwilled, warmhearted girl who dares to face life’s harsh truths as she finds her real power.
Tell Me More: I have not loved a novel as instantly as I did this one since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Believe me, I do not say those words lightly, though readers should be warned that my great admiration for Meg Medina’s work is very much tied to my own personal experiences. Magic realism has always been one of my favourite fictional sub-genres, partly because I grew up hearing stories about mysterious creatures and places in the Philippines. When you personally know healers and have seen elves and dwarves, believing in the unknown becomes second nature.
At first, Sonia’s story doesn’t seem to be anything more than an account of a girl growing up in a poor, rural area. Harsher readers may find themselves poking fun at the backwards way Tres Montes views the world and the blind faith the people put into charms to protect themselves. It’s easy to dismiss them when you don’t know much about their lives. As someone who grew up in that same culture, I understood where Sonia’s dissatisfaction and fear came from, and why she couldn’t let go of it so easily. There is a heavy sense of obligation, what Filipinos call utang na loob (“a personal debt”), that she carries, and the fact that she’s a girl doubles that burden. She is expected to fit a certain mold and never stray, for what would Tres Montes do without their miracles?
Her family is not remarkable, so Sonia must be more. Her mother is quiet, her father clings to tradition and her brother’s spark of rebellion grows with every passing day. Medina’s writing brings them to life in startlingly simple ways. The cool mountain breeze, the sound of old shoes running across rocky land, the whistle of crops blowing against one another–Medina has a true gift for prose that brings you into a land you’ll never forget. But more impressively, she crafts characters who will stay with readers in their darkest moments.
Belief is a powerful force. It can knock down mountains and take you to the darkest depths of the ocean, but what do you do when people believe you to be something you’re not? Sonia is trapped in the cultural divide between old and young, between practicality and faith, and readers who haven’t experienced that tug-of-war may not be able to relate to her struggles. I loved how the title ties into that theme of self-confidence and the power of choice: silencing the wind (one’s insecurities, the discouragements of one’s family, the challenges of life itself) is not an easy task, but a strong heart can find a way to make it quieter, to rise above it and be more. Teens need to be reminded that they have agency in their own lives, without supernatural powers or companions. Magic realism isn’t dependent on the “magic” in its name, but rather it peels away the cobwebs from the magic we hold inside of us.
The Final Say: Sonia is a glorious character to behold, and her story may burn quietly, but it is brighter than the sun and more powerful than the wind. Give me more stories like this any day.
Be sure to visit Meg Medina at her website.