“The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl.”
These are some of the first words of Ladydi Garcia Martinez and they set the tone for this brutal, yet beautiful coming of age novel by Jennifer Clement. Ladydi is a teenager in Guerrero, Mexico, a place where mothers masquerade their daughters as boys, blacken their teeth or rub chili powder on their cheeks, all to disguise their beauty. They dig holes outside their homes for the girls to hide when the SUVs rumble into their barren town.
This is a place where girls are stolen by the drug cartels. This is place where poisonous scorpions and stinging red ants await every step. This is a place where poison can, and does, rain down from the sky. This is a place where the government corruption runs so deep there’s no seeing over the top of it. This is a place where there are no men.
Ladydi’s father has disappeared into the United States along with all the other grown men of their mountainside, but not before sleeping with every woman in town. Ladydi’s mother is a contrast of fierce protectress and debilitating drunk. Her only other adult role models are the “teachers” who pass through the town school to fulfill their social service obligation. Basically, what Ladydi is taught is that she can never hope for happiness.
“Don’t ever pray for love and health, Mother said. Or money. If God hears what you really want he will not give it to you. Guaranteed. When my father left my mother said, get down on your knees and pray for spoons.”
I read this slim novel in one day with my heart in my throat the entire time. It’s not easy to watch the events unfold, but the story is told so well and so beautifully that I didn’t want to stop reading. Clement has created a smart, tenacious and hopeful heroine in Ladydi — no easy accomplishment given the setting in which she is placed.