The most striking childhood memory I have of going to a cemetery was when I was eight or nine, cajoled to tag along with my family to visit my grandmother’s gravesite on All Soul’s Day. Eight-year-old me clutched my mother’s hand, afraid of getting lost in the maze of tombs. In those days, my grandmother’s grave was in the public cemetery where you had to navigate through block after block of “apartment tombs,” the path in between only just barely wide enough for the onslaught of visitors on the busiest day of the cemetery.
Traversing such a crowded place, tombs literally on all sides, really made me realize how claustrophobic I actually was and I had to make an extra effort to clamp down my complaints. My mother promised us that we wouldn’t be there for more than ten minutes, fifteen tops. That at least was a comfort. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could stay at such a grim and dismal place for more than a day.
Title: Everlasting Nora
Author: Marie Miranda Cruz
Genre: Middle-grade, Realistic Fiction
Trigger Warnings: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries
Summary (from GoodReads)
After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.
When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
I had heard about people living in cemeteries before but, like most people, I tend not to really think about them, primarily because I mostly prefer not to visit graveyards if I can help it. So when I heard about this novel, I was intrigued, especially since it’s told through the experiences of a child.
Admittedly, I first thought that this book was going to be heartbreaking to read. After all, a child living in the mausoleum of her dead father is fairly bleak. I was pleasantly surprised to go through the whole novel feeling not so much disheartened but uplifted.
Sweet Baby Angel Nora
Obviously, the novel wouldn’t have been half as great if the titular character wasn’t so charming and lovable. I absolutely adored Nora. She’s such a rounded character full of complexities, contradictions, and insecurities, so much more than your average twelve-year-old. Her voice (the book is written in first person) is distinct and easy to empathize.
At the start of the novel, Nora has lost her father to a fire and later suffered injustice and prejudice at her great aunt’s place. To make matters worse, her mother develops a gambling addiction that makes things even harder for the two of them. Nora, however, is determined not to give up. She wants to go back to school one day and works her hardest to keep her and her mother afloat. You can’t help but admire her for her courage and strength. Such a devastating sequence of ordeals is enough to drive a grown adult to lose all hope in life. I can hardly imagine a child having to bear so much in so little time.
However, as much as I loved Nora’s resilience (a word that I try to avoid because of the recently brought up problematic connotations with the term so often used to describe Filipinos), more than that, Nora constantly has to fight back feelings of despair and hopelessness. No matter how strong Nora is, she’s still human. And only twelve! For a good portion of the book, Nora has to actively stop herself from sinking into misery. It wasn’t easy for her too because she felt so alone and helpless. There wasn’t anyone she knew she could count on but herself and her mother. And her mother had disappeared.
Seeing how courageous Nora was in confronting not only the villains of the story but also her inner demons made the book so much more satisfying. Nora’s growth as a character illustrated that there is always hope if you don’t stop believing that there is good in the world and reach out to people.
Familiar Filipino Characters
While reading the book, I was surprised at how many characters I felt like I personally knew. Lola Mercy’s warmth and gentleness reminded me of so many sweet elder women willing to help (and feed) people without a moment’s hesitation. Jojo’s energy and friendliness made me think of a friend of mine who, coincidentally, also has the same close connection with his grandmother. Heck, even Lola Fely’s two-faced, egotistic, matapobre character was painfully accurate and I wanted to jump into the book and scream at the foul creature’s face.
I didn’t realize just how starved I was of genuine Filipino representation until I read this book. Everlasting Nora really manages to portray the unique Filipino spirit in the novel and in the characters. I really felt the story come alive because the people in it were so familiar (though in some cases, like with Lola Fely, it wasn’t an entirely positive experience).
Powerful Writing and Careful Research
Another of Everlasting Nora‘s strengths is how well it was written. The prose was simple but graceful. It was easy to lose myself in Nora’s narration because of how engaging the text was.
One thing that I’d particularly want to commend is how well researched the story was. Reading the book, you can tell that immense care was taken to present the realities of families living in poverty. I appreciated how the writing doesn’t shy away from such a heavy topic but never exploiting the misery of the disadvantaged for shock value or poverty porn. What the writing does is show the life of a growing child in such a grim environment as well as the community around her.
Everlasting Nora doesn’t try to make you pity the characters. Cruz writes Nora’s story as a reality for lot of people in our country, more than most realize.
The Long and The Short of It
This novel is an endearingly hopeful tale. It encourages us to not give in to despair, no matter how impossible the odds might seem. It tells us that one shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid to reach out to others because, as bleak as things get, there is always someone out there willing to help.
Everlasting Nora implores readers that you can get through the worst as long as you don’t give up on your future and, honestly, that’s the kind of message that kids and adults alike need in this increasingly cold and cynical world of ours.
I rate Everlasting Nora a full five stars on GoodReads and I highly recommend this charming book to everyone