By Author / Illustrator
Friends and family
Pushkin Children's Books
Paperback / softback
Nothing much happens in Sycamore, the small village where Clara lives - at least, that's how it seems. She loves eating ripe mangoes fallen from trees, running outside in the rainy season and escaping to her secret hideout with her best friend Gaynah. There's only one problem: she can't remember anything about the previous summer.
When a quirky girl called Rudy arrives from England, everything starts to change. Gaynah stops acting like a best friend, while Rudy and Clara roam across the island and uncover an old family secret. As the summer reaches its peak and the island storms begin, Clara's memory starts to return and she must finally face the truth of what happened last year.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a multi-layered story with intrigue, warmth and surprise. It follows the life of 12-year-old Clara in her small village on an island 'where nothing ever happens'. We soon learn that Clara is kind but feisty, fun but troubled, daring but held back by something that is only ever hinted at, and it is this that keeps the pages turning.
Lurking in the shadows of this sunshine filled story is the mystery of what happened last summer. Clara can't remember what happened, her parents don't talk about what happened and we, as the reader, can only speculate. Whatever the event was, it is having an unsettling effect upon Clara and it is tearing her friendships apart. The angst, frustration and sadness of Clara is subtly shown through her thoughts and actions. I really liked how, as the reader, I could empathise with Clara and want to make it right for her but I needed to keep reading to find out what the root of her troubles were.
When a new arrival from England comes to the village of Sycamore, Clara is delighted to have a new friend, someone to share imaginative games with, someone to take to secret hide-outs and someone to flaunt in front of Gaynah, the long-time friend who seems to have changed and to have grown apart from Clara. It is the loss of Gaynah's friendship that troubles poor Clara and we can relate to the jealousy, isolation and hurt that she feels.
Clara has a family who love her but who are troubled by her changing moods and her memory loss. They try so hard to help her to be the daughter that she was before but they have additional troubles to deal with. Papa's brother has been ostracised by the community as rumours fly that he is a witch doctor. Clara's behaviour is a cause of gossip in the village, and the tension within and between families is cleverly created. The atmosphere between Gaynah's mother and Clara's parents broods on the horizon in the same way as the storm that is about to devastate homes but, at the same time, reunite families and heal old wounds.
I loved the shifting atmospheres and the undercurrent of secrets. Nothing is stated, only implied, until BAM! a shocking detail is revealed that will take your breath away. I was not prepared for what happens in the story and it is cleverly told and perfectly timed. This is a book with a thunderclap within it's a pages that will make you jump out of your seat and will ring in your ears for a long while. A tropical storm of a story!
This is a book that you will want to read twice - once before the big reveal, and once again when you know the missing detail so that all of the pieces click cleverly together.
I thought at first that this was a simple tale of island life and friendship but it is so, so much more. It is about family and secrets, love and loss, coping and falling apart. And importantly, it's about being pieced back together again.
256 pages / Ages 9/10+ / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+
Clara lives in Sycamore, a village where nothing much happens. She loves eating mangoes and playing with her best friend Gaynah. The only dark cloud in her life is that she cannot remember what happened last summer.
One day a new girl, Rudy, arrives from England with her mother. Clara starts hanging out with Rudy and her friendship with Gaynah changes. Rudy and Clara start to explore and find out old family secrets. Clara's memory begins to return and as a storm begins, she must face the truth about what happened last summer.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a debut from author Kereen Getten, and it is based on her village when she was growing up in Jamaica. It is lovingly written, and the place vividly brought to life, along with the people. By the end I felt as if I knew the villagers and the place itself, rich in colour and detail. The mysteries were engaging, and I wanted to know what had happened to Clara the year before.
The cover by Bex Glendening is rich pink-y orange which gives the flavour of this sumptuous book and how it will transport you to sunnier climes.
This is a book about family and friendship and village life. For many children it is a world away from what they know, leaving houses unlocked, walking around without adults, doing pretty much what you want to do unsupervised. It is also a story about loss and healing and would make an excellent talking point about the nature of friendships and how you deal with things when relationships are less than perfect.
256 pages / Reviewed by Jacqueline Harris, teacher
Suggested Reading Age 9+