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Family Lore


Family Lore

Elizabeth Acevedo, the National Book Award-winning author of books for young adults, makes her adult fiction debut with FAMILY LORE. This magical, heartrending portrait of the women of a Dominican-American family is told in the days leading up to a service that each woman knows will have a profound effect on her life.

Starting with Mamá Silvia, the long-dead matriarch, the Marte women have always had gifts, but none so special as Flor’s. From the moment of her birth, Flor --- with her eyes facing opposite directions --- has carried the mark of death. “It was known from the moment she was born and wouldn’t stop crying that she had not been fully wrenched from the Before,” and whatever part of her that has anchored her there has allowed her to predict the day that someone will die. Unlike white, North American imagery of death, Flor’s visions have never filled her with fear or terror, but rather a simple knowledge of an ending…or even a new beginning. Until now. The night before watching a documentary recommended by her daughter, Ona, Flor had a dream of her teeth falling out and the pain of crumbling enamel before a name escaped her lips: Flor.

"Graceful and nuanced, inviting and magical, FAMILY LORE is a sweeping multigenerational story of women, life and love, and Acevedo is the perfect writer to introduce the bighearted Marte women to the world."

Ona is an anthropologist who studies and teaches sugarcane ruins and pre-Colombian trade routes in the Dominican Republic. All summer she has been obsessed with a documentary of an old Mexican man performing a living wake, where all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren line up to tell him how much they love him. At first glance, Flor thinks the whole thing is foolish --- just another man so obsessed with himself that he demands the ritual of memorial while he is still living --- but then a realization hits: Why can’t she throw herself a living wake? She knows she has no urgent diagnosis, no lingering cough, nothing to set her family on edge, and she has vowed not to reveal to them the content of her latest dream. So why not live out the fantasy and get together with her loved ones one last time?

As Flor's sisters, Matilde and Pastora, get ready to say goodbye to her, they also must consider their own lives. For Matilde, this means reckoning with her dazzling husband’s infidelity, a third member of their marriage since the very first night she gave herself to him. Pastora, gifted with the ability to tell when a person is being truthful, has always kept herself somewhat apart from her sisters, terrified of accidentally using her gift on them and revealing their innermost secrets. She sees Flor's announcement as a chance to solve all of their problems once and for all.

Meanwhile, Ona and Pastora's daughter, Yadi, deal with their own issues. For Ona, the chronicler of the book whose anthropologic musings deliver poignant observations and humorous asides, this means considering her own path to motherhood and where she wants to focus her attention…and her magic “alpha vagina.” Yadi, a gifted chef, has learned that her childhood love, perhaps even her soulmate, has been released from prison, where he has been since they were teenagers.

Alternating not just between the five Marte women, but between the Dominican Republic and New York, the past and the present, Acevedo paints a colorful, vivid portrait of a family: their dysfunctions, alliances, secrets and betrayals…but most of all, the magic that binds them, both emotionally and supernaturally. With death acting as the sixth of the main characters, the women grapple and contend with the reality that there will come a day when they each must find peace, and the knowledge that the day need not wait for their deathbeds. As they come together and fall apart, consider the men in their lives and their ties to one another, this character-driven, absorbing novel reveals altering perspectives on major family events, accepted truths and, of course, family lore, resulting in a vibrant and magical portrait of an unforgettable family.

Being Acevedo’s first foray into both prose and fiction for adults, FAMILY LORE suffers from a few minor missteps: unwieldy sentences and mixed metaphors, and the occasional confusing switch in perspective (not unexpected with so many characters). That said, the shimmering throughlines of love and magic give this mosaic-like novel a riveting sense of clarity that is at its strongest when she is describing the love and loyalty between her characters, or allowing readers to witness one sister through the eyes of another, or a niece through the eyes of her aunt. One thing is certain: Acevedo’s love for her characters shines through every page. Since her prose is so riveting and magnetic, lyrical and cadenced, it is hard --- near impossible --- not to follow suit.

As a fan of Acevedo’s poetry, I feel almost selfish wishing that she had penned some verses for this book, but I applaud her bravery in stepping out of her comfort zone and attempting something new, yet wholly identifiable as her own. She is breathtakingly, almost preternaturally talented, and the tender, compassionate, transformational magic of the book outshines any quibbles.

Graceful and nuanced, inviting and magical, FAMILY LORE is a sweeping multigenerational story of women, life and love, and Acevedo is the perfect writer to introduce the bighearted Marte women to the world. This will not be the last of Acevedo’s prose novels for adults, and I already am making room on my shelf for the next one.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 4, 2023

Family Lore
by Elizabeth Acevedo

  • Publication Date: May 28, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0063207273
  • ISBN-13: 9780063207271