The Center of the World Book Cover The Center of the World
Jacqueline Sheehan
Fiction
Kensington
336

“An epic story of war and peace, love and fear, family and friendship.”—Lori Nelson Spielman

In New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Sheehan’s evocative and emotionally compelling novel, a mother and her adopted daughter each embark on a journey of self-discovery in the wake of a stunning revelation.
 
How do you keep a secret so huge that it could devastate everyone you care about? For Kate Malloy, the answer is simple: one lie at a time. That’s how she has protected her daughter for more than a dozen years, shielding her from a terrible truth. Sofia, a fifteen-year-old soccer star living in New England, believes she was born in Mexico and legally adopted by Kate. But a posthumous letter from her stepfather tells Sofia a different story—one of civil unrest and bloodshed, death-defying heroism and child-smuggling, harrowing sacrifice and desperate decisions.

The book is divided in three main chapters, the first one set in Massachusetts in 2003, the second one is in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, in the year of 1990, and the third one again in 2003. In the first part of the book, we meet our heroines, Kate and Sofia, who are grieving over the death of Martin – Kate’s husband and Sofia’s stepfather. But when Sam, Kate’s father, gives Sofia the letter from Martin himself, written long before the accident occurred, their world will suddenly shatter. In the letter, Sofia finds out the truth about her origins – she is Guatemalan and Kate took her illegally from her home. Sofia’s world is now broken, and even though she knew she was adopted, she still could not comprehend why her mother would lie about the way she was brought to this country.

We have now Kate and Sofia confronted; their strong personalities build up the conflict – Kate cannot begin to explain why she had to lie and is terrified to revisit the traumatic past of that time. We get to see small glimpses of what Kate had to go through in order to bring Sofia to America, we know that there was a brutal massacre in Guatemalan’s village and that everybody was killed. Nobody was left to live. The only way Kate coped with the terrors of her past was because of the knowledge that Sofia was now safe, far away from the dangers of her land.

Especially emotional passages were the ones where Kate thought of the time when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, how quickly she became a shadow of a human being and the terrible pain of the loss when her mother died. Being just a kid at the age of 15, Kate had to grow up fast, as the weight of the world fell on her shoulders. It is then when she found out just how terribly unbearable is the absence of a mother. The author successfully integrates parts with Sofia’s childhood memories with Kate’s own thoughts. These passages are beautifully lyrical, many important subjects are tackled – the adoption, feeling of an adopted child, emotional state of a newly mother, the one’s need to know origins in order to find oneself in the world.

The second part of the book is placed in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, in the year of 1990. We see Kate as a student, emerged into her researches of water quality as well as into the completely new culture that is surrounding her. Country was in in the midst of a civil war and one could see and feel the presence of militia, fear in villagers’ eyes and constant tension. The author beautifully wrote this part and I could feel the same uncertainty as Kate did, tension is building up all the way towards the main event of this part – the brutal massacre. We witness Kate’s courage as she saves a little child, Sofia, while many villagers were killed in the attack. From here on, Kate’s main concern is to get the child to safety, and she goes on the run.

Character development is nicely written, Kate’s persona changes majorly trough out the book and every single event affects her logically so we can relate a lot with her adventures, inner dilemmas and questions one would have in these situations. We see many Kate’s roles – from being a teenager, student to a rescuer and a mother. One of my favorite parts was when Kate met young Will and I loved seeing how their desperate need for consolation and love joined them to the full.

This book has made me incredibly sad at moments, there were such tragic events like people being betrayed, separated, the author depicted war brutalities realistically and honestly, she didn’t looked away and she chose to tell the story as it deserves to be told. Although people were tragically separated by dangers of the civil war, Sofia’s great need to know her roots and origin brought them all together exactly at the place where it all began. Yes, hearts were broken, but hearts were also mended.

I give this book 4½ stars. Although it was a little bit slow-paced, it is still a beautifully written book, which covers many greatly important themes like motherhood, adoption, causalities of war and the need of knowing ones roots so that we can find our center in this world.

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