There were a lot of thoughts that ran through my head before joining this tour. But there’s a part of me that won’t be sharing those today because it seems irrelevant when it comes to this particular book. Not going to lie, the subject matter itself is a bit delicate, at least with the concern of city overpopulation. Living in the city where this book is set makes it a much harder pill to swallow, because I cannot deny how much of this book is actually real. Manila is a small city, but the number of people living here is in ridiculous numbers. After all, it is the capital of the Philippines, and therefore a main hub for opportunity. Sure, it’s a beautiful city to live in. But if you consider that kids like Nora, the protagonist of this book, has to live in the conditions stated in this book – it makes you want to think and analyze.
Author: Marie Miranda Cruz
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Date Published: 2nd of October 2018
An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines’ North Manila Cemetery.
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.
There were moments while reading this book where I had to stop and breathe. There were a lot of moments where I just pause and take a break from reading because the scenes were emotionally hitting me and I’m in a public vehicle making a weird face to convey my true emotions. There was a lot to take in after finishing this story, and I love how there was a discussion guide ready in the copy provided to us for the tour. It really helped me put together what I wanted to say about this book.
Trigger Warnings: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty / hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries
It’s a probably a first, but I will be using mood boards to further illustrate what this novel has contained within its pages. I have to say that I may be a little bit biased (just a little) considering that this is set in the city I grew up in, and I may get a little bit too comfortable if I use words alone to further elaborate why this book is a must-read.
Let’s start with the technical aspects first. Marie Miranda Cruz’s writing was a little bit hard to get into at first, but as I grew to love Nora, it was endearing to read. Like I said in the beginning, it made me want to think and analyze. Marie writes with heart, which I think is very important when you’re writing a book that revolves around Filipino characters. Though I struggled, I was easily rewarded with this growing intensity of not knowing that I am slowly being engrossed into the story. The way Marie captured Manila and Nora’s way of life since her father died was eerily familiar in tone. The setting alone was enough for me to shed a tear or two. A sense of familiarity waved throughout the novel, and I didn’t have to think that hard to know what it was like to be in Nora’s shoes because it is already a reflection of what some communities look like here in the Philippines. It was clear to see that it was well-researched writing because it makes you ingest a heavy topic without a bad aftertaste of it being too preachy.
To give you a feel of what Nora is going through, let me tell this little piece of nugget: Every year on November 1st and 2nd for All Saints Day and All Souls Day, similar to Dia de los Muertos for Mexican and Latin American countries, we Filipinos gather in the cemetery and spend the day there. The place where Nora lives is ALWAYS featured in the news because it gets very crowded. As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of people live in Manila, so it makes sense that people would want to bury their loved ones somewhere near them. Manila North Cemetery houses a lot of the city’s dead population – people from all walks of life are buried there, from street vendors to previous presidents.
But the cemetery also houses the living. In fact, there’s a community within it. There are a lot of factors why people chose to live there, but yes, it is true. Nora and Mama for example, had nowhere else to go, so they chose to live in the family mausoleum. Near them, there’s Nora’s friend Jojo and his lola who has lived in the cemetery ever since. Living there does not change their spirits in any way. I can go on and on about where this story is set, but it’s fair enough to note that the book is authentically set and it is as true as it can be.
Related article: Graveyard living: inside the ‘cemetery slums’ of Manila
Everlasting Nora’s plot was deeply intertwined with its characters and how they grew in the story. But in the middle of it all was Nora. She had a dynamic personality, and there were a lot of layers to her character. For one, she is a hopeful girl dreaming of a better future for Mama and herself. Her character was already someone you would want to root for till the end. But after her mother went missing, she became a better and stronger person. I have so much respect for this girl. Not only did she stay strong and brave, she mapped out what life she wants to have and how she will attain it without bringing other people down. I honestly also liked the character of Mama when I contemplated about my thoughts on this book. Though we never got her perspective and only saw her through Nora’s eyes, the way the author made her flawed made her embody a lot of Filipino mothers who are willing to do anything and everything just to give their child the quintessential Filipino upbringing. While there were certainly many more characters in this narrative, they all felt real. Even the antagonists of this novel felt close to home. They brought out the worst and best qualities that embodies the Filipino culture. Like for example: Lola Mercy, Jojo, Aling Lydia, and Nora’s community in the cemetery brought out the spirit of bayanihan, togetherness, and found families, while Lola Fely and Tiger brought out unimaginable counts of greed, crab mentality, and corruption.
Overall, Everlasting Nora is, how do I put this… very Filipino. I mean it in all good sense and it is meant to be a compliment. It captures the true essence of the Filipino spirit, reflected on each and every page. There’s this sense of familiarity to it, and never have I read middle grade novel where I fully know a character from head to toe. It is not a sad story, but a rather uplifting one. Nora’s journey to self-discovery with all of the challenges that she had to face were an evident reflection, but also something we should all look upon on with an open mind. As a reader, I want more stories like Everlasting Nora. As a reviewer, I found this book charming yet emotionally heartfelt. Definitely a must-read.
Huge thanks to Kate at The Backwards Bookshelf for letting me join this lovely tour, and for Marie Miranda Cruz for sharing Nora’s story to the world. To be able to read and promote such a story that strongly reflects the Filipino spirit is already amazing in on itself. I’m only hoping that we can have a more diverse set of stories such as this one that displays various experiences from different regions made available for Filipino readers.
Want to chat and discuss about Everlasting Nora by Marie Miranda Cruz? Join us on December 16 at 8:00 PM (Philippine Standard Time)! Just follow the tag #EverlastingNoraPH and our host Kate at The Backwards Bookshelf.
So, what do you think? Want to give Everlasting Nora your seal of approval? What other Filipino middle grade novels can you recommend?