Big Feelings, Big Drama

Inés Garland’s Novel for Young Adults about Friendship and Love

During the week of October 21 to 27, 2013 the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin, in cooperation with Kulturkind e.V., will host readings, workshops, and an open day for the public with the theme “Multifaceted: a book week on diversity in children’s and young adult literature.” Employees of various departments have been vigorously reading, discussing, and preparing a selection of books for the occasion. Some of these books will be introduced here over the course of the next few months.
Multifaceted books for children and young adults
Why are young adult novels touching in a different way than books for adults? And why are they touching not only for young people?
Is it that the writers of stories for young adults are less embarrassed to use everything they have to elicit strong feelings in their readers?
Barring Harry Potter, I hadn’t read any young adult books since my own adolescence, until reacquiring a taste for them over the course of our reading marathon. A taste for giving myself over completely to the beautiful, tragic, comic destinies of the characters, for succumbing to a story. For example, to the story of Alma in Inés Garland’s book Piedra, papel o tijera [‘Rock, Paper or Scissors’] (in the original Spanish, or Wie ein unsichtbares Band [‘Like an Invisible Ribbon’] in the German edition): Alma is a well-off girl from Buenos Aires who spends weekends at her family’s cottage on an island near the city. There she becomes friends with Carmen.

“There was Carmen, right in front of the big ditch. I saw her from afar sitting on a branch, as if she had always sat there, with her legs in the water. At her feet was another girl who looked exactly like her, only made of water, and both were grinning like the cat in Alice in Wonderland. As I approached, the girl made of water dissolved and the other girl sitting on the branch jumped down. (…) ‘Should we go to my grandma’s house so she can make us something for breakfast?’ she asked, as if we had been friends for a long time. She flounced through the water like a princess with her thin arms wheeling as if they were propellers. Her confidence tied us together with a kind of invisible ribbon and I followed her without question.”

© Fischer Publishers

© Fischer Publishers

Alma doesn’t know that Carmen and her brother Marito come from humble circumstances. Like most children from well-to-do families, she has never had to think about it. The subject becomes increasingly important as the parents observe their children’s friendship with mistrust. At first they accept the contact anyway, but when Alma and Marito fall in love, the young people encounter resistance.

What begins as a wary story about friendship, loyalty, and love despite rigid social barriers, quickly takes on a larger existential dimension. When thousands of people “disappear,” are tortured, and murdered after the military coup of 1976, Alma’s carefree youth abruptly ends.

I don’t want to give away more here; I will just say that the book is exactly as sad as you would surmise based on the historical background. Inés Garland truly does give everything she has to elicit her readers’ feelings. It is a stirring book.

Christine Marth, Publications

Inés Garland, Wie ein unsichtbares Band, translated from the Spanish into German by Ilse Layer, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer KJB 2013 [Inés Garland, Piedra papel o tijera, Buenos Aires: Alfaguara 2009]  (for children 14 years and older).

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