Today is my stop on the When Life Gives You Mangoes blog tour and I’m so happy to share my review of this incredible children’s novel.
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten is a contemporary middle-grade novel that follows 12-year-old Clara. Clara lives in Sycamore, a small village on a Caribbean island. She enjoys eating fresh mangoes, playing games with the other kids on the island and hanging out with her best friend, Gaynah. She struggles to remember anything that happened last summer. Clara is intrigued by Sycamore’s new arrival, the carefree and kooky Rudy from England. A genuine friendship forms between the two girls and as they get to know one another, secrets are uncovered and events from the previous year eventually become clearer to Clara.
I adore the setting of this novel. The vivid descriptions of Sycamore and the daily pleasantries of island life made me smile as I read the book, and the sense of community in the village shines through. As someone who has lived in a big city their entire life, I was absorbed in this sunny, beautiful environment that is so different from my reality. I think When Life Gives You Mangoes is the first children’s book I’ve read set on a Caribbean island. It’s beautifully written and I love Clara’s voice. Her thought processes and outlook gave her an authenticity that I appreciated. Her relationship with Gaynah is the kind that many tweens would have. They get on well most of the time and when they fall out, you feel the intensity of Clara’s emotions. She often tries to stop herself from becoming too upset when she feels hurt or angry, which I found endearing.
Clara’s memory is sketchy as she can’t remember what happened the previous year. She loves surfing but is afraid of the water. Clara’s lack of memory enhances the novel’s mystery all the way through. I kept turning the page to find out what would happen next and why Gaynah often taunted her for failing to remember things. As the story continues, there are many surprises to be had. Clara’s memory gradually returns and we find out exactly what happened the previous year that Clara has failed to remember until now. I didn’t find this story predictable at all and two big plot twists in the second half left my mouth hanging open.
Rudy is a brilliant character who is unlike Clara in some ways. She is bold, energetic and compliments Clara’s personality well. As Clara and Rudy’s friendship blossoms and they spend more time together, we see another side to Clara emerge. There is a positive shift in her relationship with other friends and she even starts to feel more relaxed around the water. Another character I was fascinated by is Clara’s Uncle, the village outcast. He is known as the “witch doctor” and branded as evil by the local pastor. I highly enjoyed his narrative arc and the role he played in helping Clara face her memory.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a stirring and heart-warming debut novel that people of all ages should read. It’s a fairly short book and explores a range of topics including friendship, family, loss and dealing with trauma. For me, it raised important questions about the complexities of grief (especially for children) and how people might deal with unwanted memories. Kereen Getten’s debut book is nothing short of stunning and I look forward to reading what she writes next.
My rating: 9/10
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten is out now and published by Pushkin Press.
Do check out the other stops on the blog tour. Thank you to Poppy Stimpson at Pushkin Press and NetGalley for gifting me with an early digital copy of the book.