Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry

The Earthquake Machine 
by Mary Pauline Lowry
Published: September 2011
Available: Amazon

The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda's world but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda's life is her family's Mexican yardman, Jesús. But when the INS deports Jesús back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation.

Determined to find her friend Jesús, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Boquillas, Mexico. There a peyote-addled bartender convinces her she won't be safe traveling alone into the country's interior. So with the bartender's help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesús.

Thus begins a wild adventure that explores the borders between the United States and Mexico, adolescence and adulthood, male and female, English and Spanish, and adult coming-of-age and Young Adult novels.

The book will appeal to some readers, however it just wasn't for me. At all. And the synopsis doesn't really represent what this book is focused on. I was expecting a girl's adventure novel, full of challenges both physically and emotionally.  That is not what The Earthquake Machine gives its reader, and I'm finding it really hard to figure out what I want to say about it. 

There are positives to the book. Lowry obviously has a wonderful descriptive writing style. She brings to life the setting and really gives the reader an amazing view of Mexico. 

That said, I felt really uncomfortable reading a lot of the book, and I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable if I knew my teenage niece was reading this book. I'm no prude, and I have no problem with sex, drugs, crude language, and violence in YA novels. They are real parts of many teens' lives. But there is such a focus on detailing the sexual aspects in this book, and combined with the crude language it just felt out of place. I'm not really interested reading a detailed account of a young girl figuring out how to masturbate (on p.5), or finding an 'earthquake machine' that will help her along.

There were so many events that I just didn't buy, because they seemed so unbelievable, especially when they are all combined together. And even those that were believable took a turn into the bizarre, including her obsessive love/hate for a much older man (aka pedophile). I just didn't buy it or most of the other things that happened. 

This almost felt like a tirade against all the men in Rhonda's life, and that the whole book was her journey to finding a sexual identity. All of which is fine if I could have only believed that these things could have happened. There were a lot of aspects of a coming-of-age story, but I just don't think it is a YA novel. For a journey of self discovery, The Earthquake machine just left me with a sour taste in my mouth and the feeling that 10 years down the road Rhonda is going to be a bitter, man-bashing, single woman who blames everything wrong with her life on the men around her.

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