Have you heard of ‘shadowing’ book awards? The Yoto Carnegie Greenaway Awards is an annual award that honours exceptional writing and illustration in books for children. Book reading groups can sign up on the website to ‘shadow’ the awards process. This involves choosing books from the longlist, and then the shortlist, reading and discussing the books, and then posting reviews on the site. The Carnegie section of the award is for superb writing, and is named after Andrew Carnegie, a nineteenth-century champion of libraries. The Kate Greenaway section awards outstanding illustration, and is named after a nineteenth-century artist known for her children’s illustrations. Whilst the shadowing process is aimed at young people, I belong to a shadowing group of adults who are interested in children’s literature. When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten is a Carnegie longlisted book we read recently.
When Life Gives You Mangoes is a beautifully told tale of friendship between children, the heartbreak of losing that friendship, and the difficulty of adjusting to life without them. Protagonist Clara lives in Sycamore in the formerly colonised Caribbean, an area prone to tropical storms, and good for fishing and surfing. Sycamore is a small village peopled with unique characters, like the grumpy Ms Gee, the dishonest and judgmental Pastor Brown, the new girl, Rudy, Clara’s outcast Uncle Eldorath, and snobby Gaynah, Clara’s best friend.
Clara and Gaynah fall out with each other and Clara teams up instead with Rudy, Ms Gee’s granddaughter who has recently arrived from England. Through childhood games like ‘pick leaf’ and ‘make believe’ it becomes apparent that Clara has suffered a trauma that has to do with the sea and which she can’t remember. A former budding surfer, Clara will now not go anywhere near the sea, much to her parents’ concern. Clara’s parents try to help her by taking her to the Bishop but this initiative fails. When Clara draws closer to her Uncle Eldorath she discovers that the two of them share a history of loss. Through their relationship Eldorath is restored to the community of which he was an outcast, and Clara remembers the event that has so changed her life. She is finally able to put the past to rest and renew her love of surfing and the sea.
Secrets abound in this novel and Kereen Getten constructs these carefully throughout, disclosing them all right near the end. They include broken relationships, death and the heart of community. This keeps the reader glued to the page. Each character is unique and well-drawn, and the friendship highs and lows between Clara, Gaynah and Rudy so age appropriate. Clara’s parents are depicted as ordinary, loving, concerned parents and Clara’s bond with them is touching, particularly with that of her father. The challenges experienced through island living and destructive tropical storms create an authentic setting, especially as they relate to small communities.
When Life Gives you Mangoes is an excellent book for middle grade readers, detailing the small issues of friendships and relationships that mean everything to children at this age. It also gently covers the heartbreaking subject of what it is to lose a best friend to death, and the process required in coming to terms with that. I was pleased to have been part of shadowing this beautiful book. I highly recommend it.