She dreamed of finding a new life…
Georgetown, Guyana 1970. Seven-year-old Rita has always known she was responsible for the death of her beautiful mother Cassie. Her absent-minded father allows her to run wild in her ramshackle white wooden house by the sea, and surrounded by her army of stray pets, most of the time she can banish her mother’s death to the back of her mind.
But then her new stepmother Chandra arrives and the house empties of love and laughter. Rita’s pets are removed, her freedom curtailed, and before long, there’s a new baby sister on the way. There’s no room for Rita anymore.
Desperate to fill up the emptiness inside her, Rita begins to talk to the only photo she has of her dead mother, a poor farmer’s daughter from the remote Guyanese rainforest. Determined to find the truth about her mother, Rita travels to find her mother’s family in an unfamiliar land of shimmering creeks and towering vines. She finds comfort in the loving arms of her grandmother among the flowering shrubs and trees groaning with fruit. But when she discovers the terrible bruising secret that her father kept hidden from her, will she ever be able to feel happiness again?
What a beautiful, poignant coming of age story.
Rita grew up in Georgetown, Guyana in the 70s. She was raised by her father in a big, old house and was considered ‘the wild child’. Rita passed the time reading books, writing in her diary and collecting random pets including ants and tadpoles. Nobody seemed to pay her any mind. When her father married Chandra, Rita life’s changed. She finally had some attention but not the good kind.
This story spans over a period of 2 decades. I enjoyed each phase of Rita’s life. I liked reading about her adventures as a rebel child. However, my heart broke for her as details of her struggles came to light. She especially struggled with the lack of a mother and not knowing much about the woman. Her teenage years had me smiling. Her discovery of boys and crushes was especially nostalgic. What an innocent but exciting time. We then get to witness Rita becoming a young woman and finding her identity. Something struck a chord with me when she explored her search for identity as a black woman and a professional. I loved Rita’s journey despite all the heartache and pain along the way.
Guyana is such an interesting setting. I admit that I knew absolutely nothing about the country before this book. Sharon Mass introduced me to Guyana and all its beauty including the scenic beaches and of course the people and their culture. While reading the book, I kept Googling Guyana images and I am in awe of the beautiful rainforests. Through Rita’s story, I also found out about Guyana’s sea turtles. What an amazing role the mother turtles play in this story.
This is a story about love, loss, identity, second chances and family. It will make you smile but will also break your heart. Learning about Rita’s mother definitely did break my heart. I now understand why her story was such a big secret with the reveal coming only towards the end. The pacing of the story is wonderful. It lulled me into the Rita’s journey and Guyana. I was totally immersed in the narrative. The descriptiveness and imagery of the setting was masterfully done. Crafting of the characters was so deftly done that I will always carry them with me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Rita.
You all should read The Far Away Girl by Sharon Maas, meet Rita and travel to Guyana through the narrative. Highly recommended.