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.
*Thank you to the publisher, Starscape, and NetGalley for providing a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Lately, I’ve been on a lookout for books that are either set in the Philippines or has Filipino characters on it. As it’s not very common, I am curious to know how our people will be portrayed. That’s why I was so excited when I saw Everlasting Nora and read it’s blurb. Not only that it’s set in the Philippines, and at the cemetery at that, but it also tells a heartfelt and realistic story of what some Filipino families had to go through to survive in the midst of poverty. Everlasting Nora follows the plight of a 12-year old Nora who’s still reeling with the death of her father on a fire a year ago. And if that isn’t enough tragedy, they also lost their home. Without anywhere else to go, they winded up living on her Papa’s grave house. She had to stop school and she’s now helping her Mama make a living. Aside from helping her mother on her laundry job, she also sells everlasting garlands. The little they earn on each day only covers the food and some essentials. When her mother went missing, Nora was left on her own to tend to herself. She has to make sure her mother won’t lose the only job she has left and at the same time, she will do everything to find her Mama. With the help of her friend, Jojo, and their neighbors on the cemetery, Nora is set to look for her Mama no matter how dangerous it can be.
It might seem that I’m biased but I just can’t help but love this book so much. I was anxious at first and I was glad that this didn’t disappoint. It was so much more than I hope for. Set in one of the most populated cemetery, dead and alive people alike, in Manila, Everlasting Nora surely makes for an interesting read. Who would have thought cemetery could be a living quarters for a lot of people? It might seem scary and depressing, even embarrassing. Such as the case with Nora. One year of living in the cemetery and it is still hard for her to call it her home. All she wanted was to get out of it and live somewhere else. Nora as the main character and narrator is someone you’ll easily root for. She’s clever, brave, independent and devoted to her family. I love that she loves school and even though she had to stop, she longed to be in one and still try to learn with the help of Kuya Efren, inspired by the real-life founder of Dynamic Teen Company who pioneered pushcart classroom where they go to the slum areas such as cemetery and trash dumps to teach the out-of-school kids. I also love how well-developed Nora’s character is. From wanting to run away from the cemetery, she came to see it as her home and with that came the acceptance and appreciation of the people around her. Her loyalty to her mother and the ability to forgive her despite her Mama’s shortcomings is very admirable.
There are numerous characters introduced and it can be a little tricky to keep up with all of the names, but aside from Nora, Jojo is another character that made a mark. He is Nora’s best friend and is such a delight to read. He is cheerful and industrious and is someone whom you want to be friends with. At the age of 13, he’s providing for himself and his grandmother. The community in which Nora lives mirrored most communities in the Philippines. They treat each other as family and when one needed help, they will give it without expecting anything in return. It also realistically portrayed how resilient the Filipinos are.
And while I can’t exactly relate to the characters’ impoverished state, I am very much aware of such situations in my country. A reality that a lot of people all over the world are experiencing. For some, this book might provide awareness about the poverty other nations are facing. But on a lighter note, I am glad how it also gives a glimpse of the Filipino culture. It made me miss home so bad especially all the food mentioned. There was also a lot of Tagalog words thrown in, but you need not worry as there’s a glossary at the back of all the Tagalog words at the back of the book.
The story may not be an original one, but the setting and the characters certainly made Everlasting Nora quite unique. It may be a work of fiction but it certainly feels like something that happens in reality. The plot, the characters, they are all realistically presented. I like how the author managed to spin what seems to be a miserable and hopeless story into something heartwarming and uplifting. It shows how you need not be related for someone to be called family. It is well-written and absorbing. A book about family, friendship, forgiveness, hope, and determination. I definitely love reading about Nora’s journey and I can’t rate it high enough. Though the target readers are middle graders, adult readers will surely enjoy it, too.