“All through the five-hour trip, he was keenly aware of her presence in the car. Something about the proximity of her hair and skin and scent made his stomach feel weird. In fact, since the day he met her, Alex had a hard time looking at Valerie Lark with both eyes. Worse, whenever he felt her gaze turn in his direction, a plug pulled in his mind and all the English he mastered swirled away.”
This novel is certainly different than what I have been reading lately. From a young boy Alejandro (Alex) who loses not just his family but his entire country, his cultural identity and seems to continue to lose people to a confused young man, Javier, whose family is dead to him in another way this novel breaks it’s characters. Just when they give birth to hope, happiness the universe seems to take a bite out of them. Alex has lost everything in Chile, eventually he lives with the Larks where the seesaw of love happens between he and Valerie. Though he comes to love and be loved by his surrogate family, everything that happened in his past still clings to his soul. You may start anew, but you never lose your roots. Valerie is as close to a soulmate as any of us can have, and yet love isn’t a constant- individuals still have their paths to take and sometimes it leads us for a time away from our beloved.
Javier is beautiful, graceful and doesn’t have many choices when his family, due to their macho beliefs about what a man is chose to turn their backs on him. What is the seed that rots the family, bringing tragedy that is unfairly laid at Javi’s feet? How many families chose a person to blame every terrible thing on, when really we are all culpable in everything that happens? Every person’s actions and non-actions are always carrying us along the future, fate meddling in things we can’t control. One person really doesn’t have that much power to ruin without each playing their part. Javier’s sexuality is a weapon turned against him in regards to his family, and there are certainly many people that have been through similar rejections for their personal, sexual decisions. One wonders, how differently would Javier’s life had been if his family’s reaction had been more understanding? But culture is a strange beast, it can bow to you or destroy. Javier uses his beauty and hones his special set of ‘skills’ under the tutelage of an older woman. He hardens his heart to love, but love cannot be denied nor reined in. He will fall and hard! Javier moved me so much more, because I think about love (of the family variety) and how parents and others claim to love their children until they show themselves to be different than what is expected. We all see it in some families, maybe even our own. One child (grown or young) chooses a life opposite their parent’s expectations and they get cut off. How many live their lives hiding their true nature just to fit in and be loved? Isn’t that terrible? To think of a person unable to be loved for themselves at least within their own family, how hard is it for them to then accept unconditional love from a romantic partner? It does something to a person to be rejected from their ‘tribe’ so to speak. Just what is love? Unlike the losses Alex suffers, it seems so much worse to have living family that is dead to you by stubborn, ugly choice.
Like love this is a messy, complicated, confusing, terrible beautiful novel. None of our hearts are safe, anymore than Alex, Val and Javier’s. Love comes in many forms, but who is to say how others should love when lord knows we don’t have it right in our own lives? Javier has a life many would judge, but I often wonder with such characters what I would do? It’s easy to make the so called ‘good’ choices when you have support and help. This novel set off different emotions and thoughts for me. It’s certainly different. And though I focused on Javier, trust me- Alex will break your heart too but at least he has people who care.