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Review: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Lowry

Title: The Earthquake Machine
Author: Mary Pauline Lowry
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 328
Rating: 4 out of 5

Geography Connection (my Google Reading map): Mexico

FTC Disclosure: I received this ebook from the author for review

Summary (from Amazon): On the outside, everything looks perfect in 14 year-old-Rhonda's world but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda's life is her family's Mexican yard man, Jesus. But when the INS deports him back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation. Determined to find her friend Jesus, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Boquillas, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won't be safe traveling alone into the country's interior. So with the bartender's help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesus. Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels.

Review: I am torn about this book. While my overall feeling is mostly positive I am bothered by much of the story and I am not sure what to do with that. I thought at first that the problem is mine, that I have a difficult time with stories that seem too far fetched, but then I remember my love of dystopian novels, which obviously aren't real. So what is it about this style of book that doesn't totally relate to me? I keep coming back to magical realism, but this book isn't strictly that either. I am perplexed.

There are a number of themes that run through this book as mentioned in the summary. One is self-identity looked at through many of the characters, but most notably Rhonda. As she enters Mexico she takes on the persona of a young boy, cutting her hair, changing her name, and eating only what she needs to survive in order to keep her childhood figure and halt the periods that have just begun. I think it is not unusual for young girls to want to stave off the start of adolescence; it is a time filled with emotional and physical changes within as well as how the world treats us. Rhonda definitely sees traveling and her encounters with others as easier when she is a boy. Running in tandem with the theme of gender is one's sexuality: the discovery of it (at all ages); how to satisfy it; and how to control ones' life using sex.

Another theme is that of religion. After crossing into Mexico, Rhonda becomes Angel who is looking for Jesus, a fact that is not lost on each character than she encounters. I think this is the part of the book that I personally have the most difficult time with. Rhonda/Angel struggles with belief, what is God, is the Virgin Mary more important, etc. Though these issues don't resonate with me, I know that they are huge in Mexico so the topic is fitting.

I think Lowry packed a bit too much into this novel, but the themes are interesting and woven together nicely.

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