Juventud

Curbside Splendor Publishing  2015

 

Mercedes Martinez, the fifteen-year-old daughter of wealthy sugarcane farmer Diego Martinez, leads a sheltered and pampered life in 1990s Colombia. The country is ravaged by a decades-long civil war, drug cartel violence, and paramilitary self-interest groups; Mercedes’s Jewish mother, Paula, found life there unbearable and long ago left the family to return to her native Miami. Mercedes is attended to by maids, armed guards, private drivers, and tutors—but nothing can keep her in a safety zone of innocence forever.

Mercedes falls in love with Manuel, a passionate activist leader of the pacifist youth movement La Maria Juventud. Mercedes and Manuel arrange clandestine meetings and eventually plan to run away together. However, Manuel’s outspokenness has put him in grave danger; he is gunned down and dies in Mercedes’s arms. Devastated and shocked, Mercedes escapes to her mother’s family in Miami.

Mercedes finds it difficult to adjust to life in Boca Raton with her Jewish grandparents. Her first meeting with Paula, now a psychologist in Jerusalem, is strained and uneasy. During the Intifada, Mercedes visits Paula in Israel, where her experiences parallel those she had growing up in a war-torn environment. Paula is dedicated to helping those affected by violence, yet it is difficult for Mercedes and her mother to connect personally. Mercedes goes on to college, graduate studies, scholarships, and television and government positions, but her successes and setbacks continue to reflect her difficulties and tragic youth due to violence and her own silences.

Mercedes is a protagonist whose journey will haunt you. Her youthful passions, foibles, misplaced ideals, issues with trust, and her secrets keep her guarded and fragile. She seeks resolution to her questions and nightmares when she ventures back to Colombia fifteen years after she left.

Blakeslee’s poetic language and exquisite descriptive detail give Juventud a canvas on which to portray what it is like to grow up with daily peril and family secrets. Where is trust? The book provides a realistic history of the drug wars beyond headlines as it transports the reader to Colombia’s streets, cities, and farms. The characters’ intriguing discussions about social justice, good and evil, activism, love, forgiveness, and hope serve to strengthen and enhance the story’s essence.

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