Alma has never known her father, but she has countless questions for him.
Ever since she was 4, Alma, now 12, has known her father was Portuguese and that he died shortly after her birth. That’s it. Her mother, Mercy, refuses to tell her anything else. The questions she’d like to ask him find their ways to scraps of paper. Alma then takes these queries to various cemeteries, where she buries them near headstones, hoping her father will somehow answer her. Mercy is equally closemouthed when Alma’s stepfather abruptly moves out, crushing her. Then her mother quite suddenly announces that they are moving to be near Alma’s grandmother. It isn’t until they are at the airport that Alma discerns that her mother is taking her to Portugal, where she meets her avo and prima, a grandmother and cousin she didn’t even know existed. She begins to appreciate Lisbon, with its labyrinthine streets and delicious food, but she’s still not free of the longing to know her father. With Alma’s story, Carter explores both the harm done by concealing truth from others and the emotional necessity of knowing that truth, even when it’s hard. Crafted from vulnerable and introspective prose, Alma ultimately learns that expectation and fantasy are debilitating substitutes for the truth. Alma and her family are white.
An absorbing tale that illustrates that knowing one’s ancestry can be an avenue to self-discovery. (Fiction. 8-12)