Title: When Life Gives You Mangoes
Author: Kereen Getten
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Genre: Middle-grade Mystery
Published: 1st October 2020
When Life Gives You Mangoes is an incredible middle-grade contemporary mystery novel that weaves together secrets, mysteries and rule-breaking to create a fast-paced and gripping book with a twist you won’t see coming.
SPOILER LEVEL: LOW | This review contains minor details about the characters and plot of this novel that can be found on the blurb.
#gifted | I received an advanced e-copy of When Life Gives You Mangoes from Pushkin Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
12-year-old Clara can’t remember what happened last summer and it has left her feeling ‘different’ to the other children on her small island home. Her friendship with Gaynah is struggling and Clara no longer wants to go surfing, though she’s not sure why. When a new girl moves to the island, sporting a fancy British accent and bright clothes, Clara decides to befriend her and figure out the mystery of her missing memory.
Kereen Getten packs so much action and adventure into a 220 page novel. There are so many different strands of plot, yet they all weave together and intertwine perfectly to create an absolute page-turner. I read When Life Gives You Mangoes in one sitting — I didn’t want to put it down and it was all too easy to say “one more chapter” until I finished it. It is a gripping novel: I was sucked into the mysteries and the secrets and the mini revelations and I couldn’t stop reading until I knew all the answers. I think middle-grade readers and adults alike will be completely hooked by the mystery.
I loved the exploration of friendship and family, which are the main themes throughout the book. When Life Gives You Mangoes examines toxic friendships and the impact they can have on self-esteem and behaviour, but it also depicts beautiful and supportive friendships between the main character, Clara, and Rudy. I loved their relationship and it is easy to tell that Kereen Getten set out to write a novel based on friendship. The novel is filled with childhood imagination and role play as well as some games she played as a child; they were so lovely to read about. Similarly, the positive family relationships really stood out in this book. Clara doesn’t always get on with her parents, but they are supportive of her and Kereen Getten emphasises the importance of looking after family, friends and neighbours during difficult times.
Earlier, I told a slight lie. I did read this book in one sitting but I did have to stop at one point during the novel. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know exactly what part I’m on about, but to not spoil anything I’ll just say there was a revelation that I absolutely did not see coming. I wasn’t even close; I had been completely and utterly fooled by Kereen Getten’s genius and I just needed a few moments to appreciate how amazed I was by that twist. The signs were there — afterwards, when I began to think back to possible clues in the novel — but the story is so well-crafted that I didn’t even entertain what happens as a possibility.
Weaved throughout the novel in small strands are the themes of colonialism and religion. I really loved the inclusion of discussions about the British colonists who fought for and stole ownership of the island and the remnants of the colonial past in large plantation homes and old cannons. It was added so effortlessly but brings forward important conversations for middle-grade readers (and adults!) about British colonial history. Furthermore, there are hints of ‘extreme’ (certainly strict/devout) religion in the local priest who effectively banishes Clara’s uncle and I also liked exploring that aspect of the novel.
Overall, I really loved reading When Life Gives You Mangoes and would definitely recommend it to everyone. It is a perfect middle-grade mystery and I can’t wait to see what Kereen Getten writes next.