Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 256 pp, RL 4

Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Cover Art by Paola Escobar
Purchased Audio Book Narrated by Roxana Ortega

Ryan sets Mañanaland “somewhere in the Américas,” in the town of Santa Maria, weaving the concrete realities of being a fútbol loving eleven-year-old with a local legends that conjure an aura of magical realism. Ryan masterfully has her story bump up against magic without actually entering that world, instead, surprisingly, telling a story of refugee immigrants fleeing violence, persecution and government corruption and the people who risk their lives to help them.

Maximiliano Córdoba’s mother disappeared when he was a baby, leaving his solemn Papá and his storytelling Buelo to raise him. Learning that the new coach of the local fútbol team is requiring all players to produce a birth certificate sets the story in motion as Papá, a stone mason who repairs bridges, travels to the nearby town where Max was born to retrieve this important document. In his absence, anxious to make the team and fueled by Buelo's stories of
the haunted local ruins, La Reina Gigante, Max uncovers clues that send him searching for his own answers.

Abandoned, fenced and off-limits to the inhabitants of Santa Maria, Max's father, with the permission of the mayor, makes regular visits to La Reina, a large stone tower resembling a chess piece. There, he collects rubble from tower, weakened after earthquakes and war with the neighboring country, Abismo, to build bridges. Max's search takes him to the tower where he begins to piece together the local legends, stories of peregrine falcons an ghostly singing, with the real stories of the refugees who fled - and continue to flee - the harsh cruelties of Abismo. Secreted in the ruins of La Reina Gigante, the refugees, the "hidden ones," waited for the guardians to help them to safer lands, Mañanaland. Unfortunately, some of the residents of Santa Maria and neighboring lands considered the refugees and those who helped them criminals, forcing the guardians to work in secret.

Max's story and the secrets of La Reina Gigante collide, answering questions about his past and also forcing Max to make some difficult decisions about himself, his history and what he believes is important and right. Mañanaland is a stunning novel and the perfect precursor to my favorite work by Ryan, Echo.

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