Rating: 5 stars
“The Lightning Queen” by Laura Resau is a fantasy that takes the readers from modern-day Maryland to ancient (not that ancient) Oaxaca, Mexico. There are two alternating stories, one told by Mateo in present time, and one told by his grandfather, Teo, when he was a young man.
Those who have had the good fortune to visit Oaxaca, an area of Mexico where many see the coast but few venture into the dry hills, know that parts of the state of Oaxaca are dusty and desolate. Many of the people there in rural areas still speak the ancient Mixtec language. Just as in our county, native Americans were not allowed to use their language, in Mexico, the indigenous people were forbidden to use their language in school. Spanish was considered the only civilized language.
This story combines the prejudice done to both the Mixtec people and the Romani. Teo met Esma when they were young teenagers. Her troupe of Rom traveled to the rural areas of Oaxaca showing movies (there were no towns or theaters in such rural areas back then). The Rom would set up their caravans and trade movie showings for hats, food, and other goods.
There is magic aplenty between Esma’s fortune-telling grandmother and Teo’s grandfather. Teo’s life has not been easy. His father died when he was young in a horrifying accident that he witnessed. Even more horrifying was the response of those who accidentally killed him. “It’s only an indio,” they shrugged it off, not even bothering to take his dying father to a hospital. Teo’s mother suffers from severe depression, and his sister drowned.
Esma’s life has been equally difficult. Her mother died, and Esma has limped her whole life. She claims that she limps because she was hit by lightning and she calls herself the Lightning Queen. She mesmerizes Teo who quickly falls under her spell. She sings like an angel — her voice is magical. She is equally drawn to the gentle Teo who attracts animals and gently heals them and keeps those who could not survive on their own.
The story is about tests of love, about going outside one’s comfort zone in the name of love, and about loyalty. It’s about mental illness, prejudice, and cultural differences. It’s also about friendship and respect.
It’s not a story that kids will pick up on their own. It is more the kind of story that needs to be “sold,” or book-talked, to get it read by kids. It’s a book worth “selling.” It’s beautifully written and very thought-provoking. It would be a great book study for fifth or sixth grade English Language Arts classes.
Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by Scholastic, the publisher, for review purposes.