Summary (from the publisher): Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.
Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.
The Liars of Mariposa Island follows siblings Elena and Joaquin, with flashbacks to their mother’s experience as a teenage refugee fleeing the Cuban revolution.
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
The Liars of Mariposa Island is the type of book that I wouldn’t have expected from Jennifer Mathieu, and I really enjoyed it! I’ve only read Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, a YA book following a girl’s determination to lead a feminist revolution in her Texas high school and is currently being adapted into a Netflix film directed by the Amy Poehler. Leslie Knope and I are both SO here for this! That being said, I would not have expected Jennifer Matheiu’s next book to be a semi-historical story following two siblings’ lives living on Mariposa Island with their very controlling mother, who escaped the Cuban revolution as a teenager.
The Liars of Mariposa Island takes on a different setting and cultural influence than what I’ve read in YA, but I absolutely loved it. I’ve read a number of Cuban and Carribbean-inspired books in my college English classes, and I have really enjoyed the majority of them that I’ve read. If you’re also interested in Cuban literature that explores the relationship between Cuban and American culture, I highly recommend checking out Rachel Kushner’s Telex from Cuba and Cristina García’s Dreaming in Cuban (two of the books I’ve read in college). Anyway, I once again enjoyed exploring this relationship in The Liars of Mariposa Island.
While mostly told from siblings Elena and Joaquin’s perspectives in 1980s Mariposa Island, Texas, the book does flashback to their mother’s experience living in Cuba and transitioning to life in the United States. I wish we had more chapters from Caridad’s perspective. They provided a lot of insight into 1950s Cuba and of course explained much of Caridad’s change in character, going from a young girl in love with her family and country into a depressed woman who takes her secrets and loss out on her children. I really enjoyed the romantic Cuba and although Caridad’s transition to American life wasn’t as quite picturesque, I really liked learning about her experience and how it shaped the present with Elena and Joaquin.
Elena and Joaquin’s perspectives especially grabbed my attention because I became so invested in their storylines. Without being too spoilery, each perspective involves some sort of secret that makes you view the characters in a new light and affects their trajectory in the rest of the story. Elena’s secret especially caught me off-guard and made me rethink much of the plot. Although some readers may get frustrated at this, I absolutely love it when authors throw ‘thriller/surprising’-esque elements as long as they make sense (which it did!). We don’t get Joaquin’s perspective until the second half of the book. While I thought I would be sad to leave Elena’s perspective, I enjoyed Joaquin’s perspective even more. Joaquin was just such an innocent and honest character, not to mention that some of Elena’s actions were frustrating me. The revelation of the secret that really shapes his storyline left me not knowing what to expect for the rest of the book. Even though I liked his, albeit a little bittersweet ending, Jennifer Mathieu really leaves readers rooting for him throughout the story and after its ending.
Overall, The Liars of Mariposa Island is a really unique setting that explores the after effects of the Cuban revolution on one family years later. Jennifer Mathieu deals with some heavy themes in this book, including depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and loss. It wasn’t easy to read at times, but her writing and the secrets intertwined in the main characters’ stories kept me flipping the pages until the very end. I would love to see Jennifer Mathieu do more with this blending of historical fiction and contemporary. Both the fangirl and Leslie Knope in me are also highly anticipating the Moxie adaptation!
This review is based on an advance reader’s edition. By no means did receiving this copy affect my thoughts and opinions.
Have you read The Liars of Mariposa Island or any of the other books I mentioned? Are you looking forward to the Moxie adaptation? Share in the comments!