“I was ashamed, Mama, I can see that now. I don’t feel that way anymore. We will do the best we can with what we have.”
Title: Everlasting Nora
Author: Marie Miranda Cruz
Genres: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Publication: Starscape, 2 October 2018
Read: December 2018
An uplifting middle-grade debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shanty town inside the Philippines’ North Manila Cemetery.
After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.
When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.
With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.
Content warning: violence, child abuse, classism, extreme poverty and hunger, kidnapping, descriptions of blood and other serious injuries
First of all, I want to thank Kate from The Backwards Bookshelf for organizing this blog out, and the author, Marie Miranda Cruz, and the publisher for providing copies of the book.
It’s been quite a while since the last time I wrote a decent review. I hope my review will give Everlasting Nora the high praise it deserves.
After reading the first chapter, I knew that I was going to love Everlasting Nora; I already called it. Aside from the references that made this small Filipino girl proud, I had a feeling the story would tug at my little heartstrings. I was not wrong. Everlasting Nora is the most genuine book I have read this year.
We follow the story through the eyes of Nora, a girl who lived in the Manila North Cemetery after a fire destroyed their old home and possessions and claimed her father’s life. She used to go to school like most children her age, but she doesn’t have that luxury anymore. Instead, she had to make and sell garlands of everlasting daisies, and help her mother with her labandera job to make ends meet. They live in her father’s family mausoleum where all they own are a table to eat on, a mat to sleep on, a capiz wind chime, a kulambo, and an altar. Despite all these, Nora is hopeful that one day, they can leave the cemetery and go back to their lives before the fire.
While Nora does all that she can to help her mother earn money, Aling Lorna hopes that she can grow their money faster by betting it on mahjong. Nora, on the other hand, sees her mother’s addiction to mahjong as a disease, even calling her sick with gambling-itis. Of course, they lose more money than they gain.
The gray light of morning filtered through the sheet covering the metal bars of my grave house, my cemetery home. All around me, the living slept among the dead. Some of them slept on mats or other makeshift beds. Others slept on top of tombs. They lived inside mausoleums with the few things they needed for daily life, like plastic dishes, basins, discarded furniture, and sometimes electric fans. They were squatters, like my mother and me, living in the Manila North Cemetery because it was better than living in the slums.
You may be shocked at first that there are actual people who live inside the cemetery, but Nora and her mother are not the only ones who live there. There is an entire neighborhood of people, most of them were even born there, or started their families there. One of the things I love about Everlasting Nora is how Nora’s neighborhood is portrayed. When you think of the word squatter, the picture that comes to mind usually involves people with grubby shirts and loudmouths who always seem to be picking up fights. On the contrary, Nora and her neighbors are peace-loving people just trying to survive day by day and look out for each other.
Unlike Nora who spent most of her childhood outside the cemetery, her friend Jojo was born there. While Nora lives in her father’s mausoleum, scrap woods and yero make up Jojo and Lola Mercy’s shanty. It is one among the rows of makeshift houses perched on top of a building of tombs. Lola Mercy is too old and weak to work, so Jojo delivers water and paint tombs to support both of them. Like Nora, he had to stop going to school.
Lola Mercy and Jojo had become more than friends. They were beginning to feel like family.
When Nora’s mother mysteriously disappeared, it was Jojo and Lola Mercy who took Nora in and looked after her while she followed her mother’s tracks hoping that they will lead her to her mother.
Aside from Jojo and Lola Mercy, Nora’s other neighbors, Mang Rudy, Aling Nena, Kuya Virgil, and Ernie were also very kind and more willing to extend help to Nora and her mother when they needed it.
Jojo and his grandmother believed that if they helped one another and their neighbors, they would have suwerte, luck for the future.
And then there were the characters who made Nora’s life hard. Shortly after the fire, Nora and her mother sought shelter at Lola Fely’s house. Lola Fely is Nora’s father’s aunt. In an ideal world, this would have worked because family ties are much valued in the Filipino culture, even distant relatives can be treated like immediate family, and they can all live in harmony. Unfortunately, Lola Fely had to ruin everything. She took advantage of Lorna and spent their remaining savings and relief money for her own. This was followed by constant complains about Lorna’s work and cooking. The final straw was when Lola Fely’s grandson accused Nora of stealing his cell phone, and when Lola Fely was about to hit Nora with a broom, she was stopped by Lorna. That very night, Lorna gathered all their belongings and fled the house, and moved to the cemetery.
Lola Fely is living proof that not all family members will treat you well. There are a lot of toxic family members out there, ranging from judgmental Titas to matapobre Lolas.
Due to Lorna’s gambling problems, she crossed paths with a money lending shark, Mr. Santiago, and his thugs. When Lorna was first missing, one of Mr. Santiago’s thugs, Tiger, ransacked Nora’s home and stole their savings and father’s watch. These kind of people are not only villains in Nora’s life but also in other struggling people’s lives. They take advantage of their situation by lending them money with high interest. We know that most people in the squatter’s area do not have a stable means of income, and thus will most likely fail to pay regularly. When they fail to give payments, these thugs harass and threaten them. I have no idea how these people sleep soundly at night.
Nora went through a lot of hardships, but in the end, she endured everything. In some ways, it’s not just the daisy garlands that are everlasting but also Nora’s strength and hope for a better future. Her sweet potato plant also reflects Nora’s journey. My eyes lit up when it sprouted new leaves from being almost dead just the day before. What a great way to show the resiliency of the Filipinos, how we always find ways to stand up even after the most devastating events in our lives.
The shadows of sadness were gone and all that remained were the odds and ends of our daily lives. Mama was coming home.
At first, my heart broke for Nora as she sees how she differs from the children not living in the cemetery. How her shirt is grimy and too big for her compared to the ironed uniforms of the students passing by, for example. I felt that to some degree, she is ashamed of their current way of living and desperately longs for proper shelter. In the end, however, she realized that there is nothing to be embarrassed about and that home is not merely a place but also the people you share it with.
The book also shows the willingness of Filipinos to help other people, even strangers. We witnessed it when Nora’s grandpa helped a man whose bag was being snatched, and even gave him something to eat. I also love how Nora’s neighbors are always there to look out for each other. The version of the Legend of the Mango Tree, likewise, tells the story of one who has almost nothing left to give but still goes out of his way to help others. Even though everyone’s struggling with their empty pockets, there is no shortage of love and kindness for one another.
I also liked the inclusion of Kuya Efren, who teaches the children in the cemetery how to read and do math exercises. He is based on Efren Penaflorida, a teacher in real life who also goes to cemeteries and other places where children are not attending school to recreate the classroom setting and teach them. He was hailed as the CNN Hero of the Year because of his efforts to make education accessible to these children.
Little things like kulambo, tsinelas, altars, saklaan, dreaming of winning in Wowowee, katol, Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko, suman, made me feel at home. There are also Filipino words and phrases casually mentioned and used in conversations such as Kuya, Lola, salamat, walang anuman, sige, and bahala na. Of course, last but not least, what is a Filipino novel without Filipino food? I swear all the food made my mouth water more times than I could count. Food is such a big part of Filipino culture and seeing all these childhood (and adulthood) favorites made me hungry. I craved for biko, ginataan, and dinuguan among others.
Everlasting Nora is probably the most heart-warming novel I have read this year, and I am more than happy that it is a Filipino novel that is full of Filipino references and highlights Filipino traits that took the title.
*Background image for the quotes was grabbed from here.
About the author
Blog tour schedule
- Tour launch by Kate @ The Backwards Bookshelf
- Review, fanart, and quote graphics from Divine @ Vinedicated
- Review and feature post from Erica @ Living a Hundred Lives
- Review from Rose @ Rose Books Blog
- Review from Justine @ Bookish Wisps
- Review and mood board/aesthetics from JM @ The Book Freak Revelations
- Review from Karlita @ Tale Out Loud
- Review and feature post from Zia @ Accio Blog
- Review and mood board/aesthetics from Cathrina @ Chasing Words and pages
- Review, book photoshoot, and feature post from Joel @ Descendant of Poseidon
- Review, mood board/aesthetics, playlists, and quote graphics from Hafsa @ Petal Hugs
- Review from Jennifer @ Jen D Bibliophile
- Review, fanart, and quote graphics from Nessa @ Utopian Pages
- Review, mood board/aesthetics, quote graphics, and downloadable bookmarks from Bianca @ The Ultimate Fangirl
- Review, playlists, and quote graphics from Hana @ The Wraith Reads
- Review and mood board/aesthetics from Aki @ Aki Through Books
- Review and quote graphics from Cara @ Little Miss Bookworm (THAT’S ME!!!)
- Review from Samantha @ All My Fictional Children
- Review from Mica @ The Girl on Track
- Review from Shealea @ That Bookshelf Bitch
- #EverlastingNoraPH Twitter chat
Follow the #EverlastingNoraPH hashtag on Twitter for more updates and join us in a Twitter chat on December 16, 8:00PM PH Time!!