Under the Zaboca Tree
a novel by Glynis Guevara

Print: 978-1-77133-329-0
ePUB: 978-1-77133-330-6
PDF: 978-1-77133-332-0

180 Pages
June 14, 2017
New Fiction All Titles Novel Inanna Young Feminist Series

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Under the Zaboca Tree a novel by Glynis Guevara

At ten, Melody Sparks, better known as Baby Girl, is excited to move to the tropical island of Trinidad with her single-parent dad, but she silently longs for her mother, a woman she can’t recall ever meeting and doesn’t have a photo of. She fits in to her new life in Paradise Lane quite well: she loves her school and makes new friends. However, her longing for blood family remains strong. But Baby Girl is suddenly and unexpectedly uprooted from her comfortable life in Paradise Lane by and forced to reside in Flat Hill Village, a depressed, crime-ridden community. She struggles to adjust to life in this village with the help of new friends, Arlie, a village activist and Colm, a young man who mentors her to write poetry. When Baby Girl witnesses a serious crime, her father insists she move in with relatives she doesn’t know very well, where she ultimately uncovers the truth about her mother. Under the Zaboca Tree is a contemporary coming of age novel that explores multiple issues including the challenges of being a motherless adolescent, searching for one’s identity, the unbreakable bonds of family, and the ability to adapt to difficult situations.

Under the Zaboca Tree

Glynis Guevara was born in Barataria, Trinidad. She holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons.) degree from the University of London, England, and is a graduate of Humber School for Writers creative writing program. She was shortlisted for the Small Axe Literary short fiction prize in 2012 and was also a finalist for the inaugural Burt Award for Caribbean literature in 2014. She currently lives in Toronto where she works as an adult literacy and ESL instructor.

Under the Zaboca Tree by Glynis Guevara
reviewed by Zachary Chauvin
Resource Links
Vol 23. No. 3 - February 2018

Melody Sparks, commonly referred to as Baby Girl, is caught in the throes of a tumultuous childhood. She has not seen or heard from her mother and is being raised by an absent father who leads an unstable life. In her book, Under the Zaboca Tree, Glynis Guevara begins with Baby Girl being uprooted from her home in Toronto to live on the island of Trinidad with her father. At first their new living situation seems fine, as she becomes good friends with two children her own age and they live in a relatively safe area called Paradise Lane. But after her father engages in some promiscuous behaviour and thereby completely ruins their welcome, they are forced to move to the crime-ridden slums of Flat Hill Village.
     In Flat Hill Village a wide range of eccentric characters cross paths with Baby Girl. The book has a dizzying amount of characters who pop in and out of her life. One might think this would leave the reader slightly disorientated but it actually lends itself well to the idea that the main character is living   a hectic life, with no centre or sense of stability. This further emphasizes the sheer lack of responsibility exhibited by her father who seems to float on the margins throughout. But Baby Girl does not need the help of her father in order to gain a foothold within the chaotic social scene, as she befriends many and even helps establish an activist group named the Women's Action Committee. The committee attempts to bring about positive change at the community level by addressing fundamental problems affected by insufficient roads and a poor water supply. Baby Girl also embraces poetry as a way to express herself and address the feelings she holds for the mother she never knew.
     Under the Zaboca Tree is a good read, and demonstrates really well how a childhood experienced under the tutelage of an ill-equipped single parent may inflict irreparable damage. The bad influences and violence that lurks within the slums of Flat Hill Village tempt the most desperate and expose the most vulnerable to harm and dysfunction. What Guevara offers in the character of Baby Girl is an excellent example of someone who recognizes the most troubling aspects of the neighbourhood and properly navigates around the danger it presents. Along the way she understands which people in her community wish to turn things around and works with them to implement change. Most importantly, as a young girl embroiled in this hardship she manages to keep a steadfast composure and learns to appreciate the warmth exuded by the residents of Flat Hill Village, eventually coming to the realization that, "The people of Flat Hill Village had become a part of me".

Thematic Links: Trinidad; Village Life; Identity; Crime; Poverty

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Under the Zaboca Tree by Glynis Guevara
reviewed by Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library
School Library Journal - December 12, 2017
http://www.slj.com/2017/11/reviews/books/middle-grade-new-titles-frances-hardinge-mariko-tamaki-november-2017-xpress-reviews/#_

Guevara’s debut novel is an ambitious story of family, community, and individuality. Told through the eyes of Melody (Baby Girl) Sparks, who moves from Toronto to Trinidad with her dad, Smokey, at age 10, her story is one of a young woman coping with a series of changes while trying to assert herself as an emerging person. From the Toronto airport to fancy Paradise Lane to the poorer community of Flat Hill Village, Baby Girl has little control over the circumstances of her life, but she’s able to find a place for herself in each situation and to see the people around her in all their complexity. The book is full of memorable characters, especially Smokey and Petal, Baby Girl’s stepmother, and neighborhood community organizer Arlie. The plot moves as chaotically, if not swiftly, as real life—with abrupt turns of violence, discovery, and generosity. The quality of the writing doesn’t match the storytelling. Sudden transitions, cliched descriptions, and a flat, stilted style keep readers at a distance from the narrative, although this is mitigated by passages with more dialogue that flow naturally. VERDICT An interesting and unusual story, worth the purchase in spite of some style flaws.

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Under the Zaboca Tree by Glynis Guevara
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - July 31, 2017
http://www.miramichireader.ca/2017/07/under-zaboca-tree/

Under the Zaboca Tree (2017, Inanna Publications) is a Young Adult (YA) book that tells the story of Baby Girl (Melody) Sparks, and her trip to Trinidad and Tobago with her father Smokey (Nicholas) who has sole custody of her. They are leaving Canada to start life anew in Trinidad; her father had separated from her stepmother. Baby Girl has never known her mother and Smokey is not very forthcoming on past family history. Once back in Trinidad, there are many things new to Baby Girl: the island slang, food, new people and new friends to make. Then there is her father's new girlfriend Vena with whom they live with on Paradise Lane. A swift end to that relationship lands them in Flat Hill Village, a less than desirable area where the cycle of being surrounded by new people plus a high crime rate are unsettling to the young girl.

"Flat Hill Village, with its shabby yards, unruly trees and assortment of odd indiviuals, compared to Paradise Lane, with its regular hardworking folks and neatly kept trees and flower gardens decorating the front of each house, was hard for me to take in. I sat on the bed and stared at the walls, wishing I had the magical power to make my absent mother reappear. Just then a gecko about five inches long scurried from one edge of the ceiling to the next. I was too shell shocked to holler."

All throughout Under the Zaboca Tree, we feel Baby Girl's distress, confusion, loneliness and hurt as she gets moved from place to place, and yearns to have a mother like other children. While fortunate to have a father who has cared for her until this point, questions about why her birth mother has never contacted her remain a mystery. Then, one day, an accidental discovery of papers in the bottom of an old desk drawer leads her to confront her father for the truth. A delightful, four-star YA read that is insightful to life in Trinidad & Tobago as well as comprehending the stress transient parents can put on their kids as seen through a child's eyes.

     “I really want your life to turn out better than mine.” Dad
squeezed my hand. “When you’re all grown up, you can return
to Canada to live.”
     “I’m not, Dad.” I frowned. “I’m not going back there without
you ever.”
     “I swear I’ll never leave you. I promise I’ll do everything I
can to give you a much better life than I’ve had.” Dad’s fingers
circled my back.
     Moments later, Dad pulled a magazine from his pouch and
began to flip through its glossy pages.
     “Can we look at the family pictures?” I suddenly said, but
Dad continued flipping through the magazine, ignoring me
completely.
     “Pleeeease.” I made a face.
     “They’re in the overhead compartment.” He hesitated for a
moment before fishing out two crumpled brown envelopes from
his bag.“I used to enjoy looking at these pictures when I was a
boy.” He pressed both envelopes against his chest.
     “Dad,” I said, grinning, “you say the same thing every time
we look at them.”
     He handed me a stack of dog-eared photos from the envelope
on top. I examined a tattered picture of Dad and Howie, standing
under a sprawling tree with bunches of dangling, pear-shaped
green fruits. They were dressed in matching light-blue outfits,
almost the same colour as the sky behind them. “This was indeed
a special tree Mom used to rock us under when we were tots.”
     “What kind is it?”
     “It’s called avocado, but they’re sometimes called ‘zaboca’
in Trinidad.”
     “Zaboca’s a funny word.” I chuckled loudly, covering my
mouth with one hand.
     “Don’t you worry, I’m sure you’ll learn many more amusing
words after we get there.”

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