Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Earthquake Machine (Mary Pauline Lowry, 2011)


The Heroine: Rhonda Hope, a teenage girl trapped in Texas suburbia by a ruthless father who keeps his wife hooked on drugs in order to maintain his control. Troubled by her family's secrets, Rhonda finds escape in the stories of Mexico told to her by Jesus, the illegal immigrant hired to take care of their garden. When Rhonda's mother commits suicide and Jesus is deported back to Mexico, Rhonda feels her life is spiralling out of control and rather then follow in her mother's footsteps, chooses instead to run away to Mexico while on a rafting trip in the Rio Grande. Once across the border, Rhonda assumes the identity of Angel, a Mexican boy who can travel unnoticed across the country to Arrazola, the small town where Jesus and his mother live. Along the way, Rhonda is forced to confront the grief over the loss of her innocence, her complex feelings about gender and identity and the thin line separating adulthood and adolescence.

The Highs: The Earthquake Machine is an edgy, provocative and thoroughly modern take on the classic epic, featuring a fearless protagonist who sets off across a distant and unfamiliar land in order to confront the demons that haunt her, both internally and externally. As the plot follows Rhonda through her physical and emotional journey, exciting and unexpected plot twists are abound, in the shape of fascinating characters, spiritual awakenings and chance encounters that force both Rhonda and the reader to question that certainties they have taken for granted. Riveting and addictive, this novel's depth and intellectual power only add to its pure entertainment value. I had trouble putting it down!

The author has crafted some beautiful characters in this book who all add to Rhonda's journey in their own way. From the Boys of Fire, a group of rebellious teenage rule-breakers that show Rhonda that even the "stronger sex" do not have complete freedom, to the sexy, vivacious and snappy Banditas, a band of young woman who pretend to be men in order to be taken seriously as roadside bandits, each new personality that influences Rhonda on her trip to Arrazola adds a new perspective and new questions for the reader to mull over. Two of the most gorgeous characters are Jesus and his Mama, who touched my heart and definitely made me weepy at some points in the story as they show Rhonda what family truly means.

One of the main themes in the story that made me sit up and pay attention was the underlying current of feminism within the novel, a perspective that framed the events in the story and accepted norms in our culture, in a way that made me question what I believe. One of Rhonda's biggest conflicts was the idea of God, who is foreign to her until she comes across the Virgin Mary (or La Virgen), a female figure that is often ignored outside of her role as the womb that carried Christ in male-dominated Christianity. I was both discomforted and eager to discover this theme and I now find myself interested in further exploration on the role of women in religion and culture. I'm glad to see feminism has not died completely in popular culture and is still available to young girls in the form of entertainment and media such as The Earthquake Machine.
The Lows: I became a bit confused when the author first began to refer to Rhonda as "Angel", her chosen identity while travelling in the disguise of a boy. Within the narrative and sometimes even within the same paragraph, the author flips back and forth between these two names, which could become confusing for some readers.

I also did not understand the attraction between Rhonda and Mansk, her middle-aged rafting tour guide, at all. From the author's description of Mansk and the interactions that occur between Rhonda and Mansk, what happens between them seems completely random and unexplained to me. Maybe I could understand if Mansk had been a gorgeous college boy working on the river during spring break, but alas, I could not see what attracted Rhonda to the greying, pony-tailed Mansk, nor did the story provide me with any idea of why she felt that way.

Final Thoughts: Moving, thought-provoking and completely unexpected, The Earthquake Machine is hard to put down! Perfect for anyone who wants something "more" out of their literature.

Rating: The Earthquake Machine earns nine peyotes out of ten. 

Enter to win a copy of The Earthquake Machine below!

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4 comments:

  1. The most interesting things for me are the cover and the feminism. The cover is SO NICE and I love novels which challenge views of women in society. Great review! x

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  2. This sounds fascinating! I don't think I've ever heard of a book like this. Definitely adding it to my to-read list.

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  3. The most interesting thing for me is the fact that Rhonda ends up dressing up as a boy named Angel while in a strange place with a language she doesn't understand/speak.

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  4. Thanks for entering, guys! I LOVED this book and Mary Pauline Lowry is just the nicest - and an amazing story teller.

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