By Ann E. Burg
Serafina’s Promise was beautifully told, and haunted me well after reading. I gave this book to a coworker on a whim when she asked for a book recommendation. I hadn’t read this book myself, but I knew there was some literary buzz surrounding it. She came in to work the next day saying this was one of the only books she has ever read in one sitting, and she was completely devastated by the ending. I couldn’t let her bear the pain alone, so by the next day I had taken the book home myself and finished it that night.
This novel is written in prose, and flows so well that after the first few pages I barely noticed the difference compared to ‘traditional’ novels. We follow a young girl living in Haiti, who has dreams bigger than her circumstances. We experience major traumatic events from her point of view: the death of her brother, a flash flood, and an earthquake. For a majority of these tragic events our main character remains naive, and unable to even name what she has gone through. Time passes in sharp flashes of imagery, sounds, or internal fear. These scenes felt very raw, and were often hard to read.
Serafina wants to become a doctor, so she can save more sick babies like her two brothers. She struggles to save enough money to attend school, and realizes rather quickly that she isn’t learning how to become a doctor. Instead she’s mostly being taught how to read, write, and speak another language. My favorite part of this novel is when a local female doctor, and Serafina’s mentor of sorts, explains to her that while it doesn’t make sense right now she does need to learn French in order to become a doctor. But maybe one day, Serafina can grow up and change things for young girls like her. Maybe one day she can teach them to become doctors, while also teaching them in their own native language, Creole.
I absolutely loved this book, and would recommend it to any of my students. It was such a dark, but hopeful story. The perspective of a young Haitian girl, pursuing her dreams despite the harsh realities around her, is a perspective we do not hear enough of in children’s literature. Or maybe I’m not doing my due diligence as a librarian, and seeking out this kind of representation. It’s on my radar now, and I’ll make sure I read more stories like Serafina’s.