Kereen Getten tricked her readers.
The author lulled us into thinking her middle-grade debut is a charming coming-of-age tale set in a tropical island — it is that and so much more. Imagine eating a slice of carrot cake: as the fork plunges through layers of frosts, shreds, and fluffs, it hits a generous glob of cream cheese. Your mind processes the surprising development. Finally, it sinks in, “This is one of the best carrot cakes I ever had the pleasure of eating.”
Much like a dollop of cream cheese, the plot twist enhances an already satisfying story.
(I cannot think of a mango-based dessert as a metaphor.)
Something happened to Clara Dee-Henson. She cannot remember much about last summer. Is this the reason her best friend is acting strange around her? Or is it because she befriended the new girl on their island?
When Life Gives You Mangos is an insightful and cathartic tale of acceptance. The skill of Getten shines in each chapter as she constructs an engaging plot, introduces readers to an assortment of memorable characters, constructs episodes, and obscures essential details in plain sight.
One of the great pleasures of the book is witnessing the transformation of each character. Character clichés are subverted with realized arcs and pointed backstories. The pastor is full of hatred and bitterness. The eccentric is suffering from a painful past and an unfamiliar present. The pariah holds more secrets than the rest of the islanders, hence the ultimate insider.
The island is a character itself. Clara is a complicated but resilient girl, and part of her strength emanates from her home island. Living close to the sea, she understands the grace and endures the rage of nature in equal measure. Clara is both fresh mangos and tropical storms.
Getten laid out the fundamental clues in the first chapter, a testament to her confidence as a writer. She draped the riddle behind the lost memories of Clara with her gossamer-like writing — translucent and light enough to hide the truth and pull a quick surprise.
The book starts like most middle-grade stories about the pressures of friendship, makes a sharp turn, and reveals itself as a profound tale of accepting and letting go of the ghosts from our past. The brilliant interweaving thematic threads are the dollops of cream cheese readers of all ages can appreciate.