The year is 2000. Fourteen-year-old Angel de la Luna loves her family. She tells the story of how she looks forward to the day when they will have enough money to leave Manila and go to America in search of a better life. Unfortunately, Papang, Angel's father, has been missing for two weeks. In their search for him, Angel and her family discover that he is dead. The happiness Angel once had is replaced by anger towards God. Because of depression, Inay, her mother, feels powerless to be the source of strength and comfort Angel so desperately needs during this difficult transition in her life. This only fuels Angel's anger, especially since she thinks that Inay doesn’t love her. As a result, she begins to distance herself from her mother. To make matters worse, Angel is furious when Inay suddenly decides that it is time to leave for America, expecting Angel to come with her. “Remember the dream?” Inay says. Angel replies with, “But Papang is gone. How can we live the dream? So instead of heading out to Chicago with Inay, Angel adamantly decides to stay back with her grandmother and little sister in the only home that she knows.
"Angel, in many respects, reflects the humanity in all of us."
The plot, up to this point, is not as cut and dry as it appears, and there is far more to come afterwards! Galang masterfully weaves Filipino history --- from World War II (WWII) to the People Power Revolutions --- with the rising tension between Angel and Inay. And of course, this all comes at one of the most inconvenient times in Angel’s life: puberty. Fortunately, Mother Mary --- a teacher at Angel’s school --- opens Angel's eyes to her country's politically unstable history over the next two years. She introduces Angel to new words, “words I am going to have to look up --- feudalism, proletarian internationalism, imperialism, bourgeois populism” and pertinent people, such as the aged Comfort Women, as well as farmers and other workers who are imprisoned for protesting against the Philippine government. Mother Mary, who is no stranger to the horrors of WWII, is also an avid protester against injustice. Angel's eye-opening knowledge eventually leads her to protest in the People Power Revolution to overthrow President Estrada in 2001. Though her involvement with the Revolution provides meaning and purpose in her life for the first time since Papang's death, it is short-lived when she receives word from Inay that provisions have been made for her to move to Chicago.
Galang’s meticulous portrayal of Angel’s immigrant experience in America is nothing but poignant. Now aware that American government exploited her native country, Angel’s view of "the country of her parent’s dreams" is tainted. In addition to entering foreign territory, Angel feels as if she's been placed into a foreign family --- Inay has since remarried and now has a toddler. It doesn’t help that there is a language barrier at school, since the students’ spoken English flows much faster than what Angel had been taught in Manila. Between unresolved conflict with Inay and trying to fit in at school, Angel keeps to herself until she hears the words of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech during Black History month. His words not only encourage Angel to speak up about injustice, but also help her realize that she has the skills to start a protest in her new school. This, of course, gets her in trouble at school, which only compounds her conflict at home. Desperately seeking answers to her plethora of questions about Inay, Angel begins corresponding with her grandmother, the only person who she feels understands her. Indeed, her grandmother has answers and solutions; however, it is up to Angel to seek them out.
ANGEL DE LA LUNA AND THE 5TH GLORIOUS MYSTERY is not just a fictional story about a Filipino girl's search for identity. Angel, in many respects, reflects the humanity in all of us. Interspersed with strong language and adult themes, I consider this a heavy read since it is filled with the hard realities of life and deeply profound thoughts, which I recommend for mature young adult readers on up and, definitely, not for the faint of heart. Engaging, visceral, compassionate and heartwarming are but a few choice words to describe Galang's third in a collection of fabulous books focused on Filipina American issues.
Reviewed by Anita Lock on November 21, 2013