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When Life Gives You Mangoes

Kereen Getten

Puskin Press – 1st October

When Life Gives You Mangoes’ is story about a long, hot summer on a tropical island, going on adventures, falling out, and making friends. However…all is not as it seems. 

Twelve-year-old Clara lives on a Caribbean island in a village called ‘Sycamore’.’ She spends her time playing ‘Pick Leaf’ and sharing stories with her best friend Gaynah in their secret hideout in the Mango trees but Gaynah hasn’t been very nice to her recently.

Something has happened to Clara.something traumatic…and she can’t remember anything of last summer. She struggles to put together the missing pieces, suffering terrible flashbacks.

“Sometimes things come back in drips like a tap that hasn’t been turned off properly. Other times her Mama fills in the blanks…only she knows those aren’t her memories and it is hard feeling like she is not like everybody else.”

Right from the very first chapter, the intrigue is built when we discover Clara’s uncle Eldorath, ‘the man who sees ghosts’ has been branded a witch doctor by the local Pastor and was driven out of the community. We are also introduced to the mysterious new girl who has just arrived on the island ‘with her two Afro buns and cat’s-eye sunglasses like a celebrity.’

‘When Life Gives You Mangoes’ is a real page turner as the suspense builds and we get closer to finding what happened to Clara. I was continuously puzzling over different possibilities and I had to resist the temptation on more than one occasion to flick ahead as I couldn’t wait to find out!  I’m being careful not to reveal too much but the twist at the end of Chapter 20 is utterly staggering! I did not see it coming at all. I had to then go back and re-read Chapters and then I spotted the subtle hints and everything made sense.

This book is a wonderfully exciting opportunity to share a story from another culture with Upper Primary pupils.  The fact that it is written by a BAME author, based on the small Jamaican fishing village she grew up in, makes every detail completely authentic. I absolutely adored the development of the island setting; the bustling markets, fishermen landing fresh catches on golden sandy beaches and beach bars open late into the night hosting live bands. There was also inclusion of the island’s colonial history; the old plantation house and Fort Charlotte, the look-out point with her cannons by the sea. Equally delightful are the details about culture; the Afro haircuts, delicious dishes of Akee and Saltfish and the strong family bonds. The strong sense of community and wanting to well-standing within it is also a theme that runs throughout.

Having married into a Gambian family, I enjoyed seeing the similarities between West African and West Indian culture, including the matriarchal mothers, countless cousins, huge family parties and how family members have travelled abroad to settle in Europe and America with gifts and money being sent ‘back home.’

As well as the entirely gripping mystery and suspense, ‘When Life Gives You Mangoes’ allows children to experience Afro-Caribbean culture and explore some of the history of colonial Britain.  This was a fantastic debut by Kereen Getten and I look forward to reading more of her work.

With thanks to Puskin Press and Netgalley for providing me with an digital Advanced Copy to review.

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