Friday, September 14, 2012

Historical YA Fiction: "A Thunderous Whisper" by Christina Diaz Gonzales

Around the time that the Nazis gained power in Germany, Spain was engaged in a brutal civil war that pitted traditionalists against progressives in a bloody conflict over the future of their country. "A Thunderous Whisper" is told by Anetxu, or Ani, a 12-year-old girl from the northern Basque region of Spain. The reader follows her and her new friend Mathias, a Jew, as they navigate life in the town of Guernica during some of its most significant days during the Spanish Civil War, and even become spies in an effort to support the progressives'  side of the war.

In this heartwrenching story of finding your identity when the world keeps shifting around you, Gonzales does an excellent job of integrating the important question of Basque culture and language into the novel. Words, phrases, and names appear in Euskera in a manner that allows the reader to understand what's being said while still observing the unique language of the Basque region. Ani struggles to define herself in context of the war, of her relationship with her sardine-selling mother and soldier father, and of her friendship with Mathias. In the midst of all this is the looming question of whether or not Ani really wants to be a part of history, or if she'd rather just remain quiet and unnoticed in the corners of life.

Reading level in this compelling story is relatively low, suitable for beginning YA readers, but this leaves the complexity of Ani's situation and the observations that she makes undiminished. Throughout the book she compares her life to a film (cinema was very new at the time). This adolescent fascination with the movies combined with the numb, third-person perspective of watching your life play out on a screen is a perfect way to capture how Ani seems to feel, living where and when she does. Gonzales did an amazing job capturing the entirely believable thoughts and emotions of a young girl forced to grow up too soon by an absent father and a mother as bitter as only a single wartime provider can be.

You don't have to be a Spanish history buff to read this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who fell in love with the film "Pan's Labyrinth" as I did, or enjoys reading the too-old-for-his-age narrative of Oskar in Jonathan Safran's novel "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Look for it this October at your bookseller of choice. 

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