Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

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Well, this was definitely an interesting read for me. This book came up in my RBTW book club for the month of May. And while it was an interesting read, I really struggled with this book for two reasons: (1) I have a hard time following stream-of-consciousness writing, especially when it doesn’t follow logical thought, and (2) there really was no climax to this story.

Our main character in this story is Ladydi (pronounced exactly as it’s spelled lay-dee-dye, for those of you like me who like to have the correct pronunciation as you’re reading) Garcia Martinez and the plot is really her coming-of-age story in a world where being born a girl is practically a death sentence or a lifelong-torture sentence. Guerrero, Mexico is where the drug lords come shopping for young girls that they will steal and either keep for themselves or sell/trade them on the human flesh market. As a girl in this town, Ladydi is taught (or is forced) to camouflage herself so she isn’t seen as desirable to these visiting drug lords. Her hair is cut short, dirt is smeared on her face and holes are dug in the land surrounding her house so that when her mother hears a strange car approaching, Ladydi can run out back and hide in them to avoid being kidnapped.  Ladydi has quite a few struggles that influence her upbringing: a mother holding quite a grudge against her father which shows up in both her name and a bullet in her half-sister’s arm; an absent father who has two daughters in the town he left behind when he went to the United States; said half-sister who is just as oblivious to her origins as Ladydi was originally, and the list goes on.

All of that sounds like the making of a terrific story, and yet, I struggled. This book was broken out in to three parts: Part 1 talks about Ladydi growing up as a young girl and being forced to act like a boy; Part 2 is when Ladydi actually gets out of Guerrero and moves to the City to be a maid and everyone is relieved because they believe she has escaped the effects of the drug war; and Part 3, where we learn that Ladydi has not actually escaped the chaos that surrounds the drug war and ends up in jail for a crime that she didn’t commit. I guess the main thing that was missing for me was any real drive or determination to avoid the problems that our MC often saw. Ladydi didn’t seem too concerned about getting out of Guerrero and getting to a better place, she was just concerned with the idea of not being able to express herself as femininely as she wanted to. I feel like the same could be said for her mother Rita. It didn’t seem as though Rita wanted Ladydi to avoid kidnapping and detection because she was so attached to her daughter and wanted the best for her, but more because she just didn’t want anyone else to take something away from her. I realize that this could very easily be the way Clement wanted her characters expressed and it makes sense in a weird sort of way (Why would Ladydi dream of leaving Guererro if she knew that no matter how much she wanted to she would inevitably fall in to the trap that the drug lords had set all over the country? Why would Rita want more for her daughter knowing that it was impossible to attain?), but my brain just couldn’t handle what seemed disingenuous. The whole story we (the reader) repeatedly hear how dangerous it is for women in Mexico to attempt to flee to the United States because if they get kicked back, they’ll just get picked up by the drug lords they were trying to avoid in the first place. At the end, when Rita picks Ladydi up from jail, one of her last thoughts of the book is that they are all going to run away to the United States, thereby almost ensuring that all three of them (Maria was with them too) will fall in to the trap that Ladydi just narrowly avoided. And that is exactly what I mean by no real climax, because nothing is ever resolved satisfactorily. Which again, could very well be the point. There just is no solution for these people that live this reality.

What I did love about this book was the insight in to circumstances that my imagination could just not have fathomed on its own. Clement does a wonderful job of painting a scene of what it must be like for these women who live in towns like this all across the country who can’t even celebrate the birth of their child because they’re already afraid that the child will be stolen from them. I was captivated by this part of the world that I found myself in.

And last but certainly not least, you know how much I love the importance of titles. At our group meeting for RBTW we tried to put a finger on what the title of this book meant. Prayers for the Stolen. The theme of praying comes up throughout the story, but we’re told not to pray for what you want, but to pray for something that’s less meaningful. It almost seemed as if the person praying didn’t want to jinx the sought-after outcome. Collectively we didn’t think this was quite a good title, but none of us could come up with one that we felt fit better than the one that was given. I’m interested to hear what titles, if any, you could come up with because as I sit here on a Monday, I’m still contemplating this question that was posed last Thursday. And no, I still don’t have an answer.

 

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