Thirty Talks Weird Love

By The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

In this verse novel set in Mexico, it’s 1999 in Ciudad Juárez, and thirteen-year-old Anamaria is an intense scholar (“I machete through life to be the best”) at her competitive private school; she’s also intensely worried about the epidemic of missing young women—of murdered young women—that’s plaguing her troubled but beloved city. Into this situation comes a limping woman who claims to be Anamaria at thirty, returning from the future to tell Anamaria to love herself. Anamaria is understandably skeptical and somewhat annoyed, but Thirty keeps returning as Anamaria negotiates strains with her best friendships and as the city’s danger for young women strikes at her personally, leading her to depression and anxiety she can no longer safely manage. The adult-you premise is a risky one but it works here in Narváez Varela’s adroit free verse narration, which puts readers right in the head of a girl who has let her smarts outsmart her and who doesn’t see how close she is to the edge; her playscript dialogue with Thirty is percussive and often hilarious. There’s also an affectionate portrait of Anamaria’s restaurant-owner parents (and honorary uncle at the café next door) and her life amid hard work and delicious food, and there’s a subtle point about a family whose labors can pay for private school or therapy but not both. Anamaria’s compelling, clever voice will make her friends and endear her to those who feel her strains.