the queen of water

About The Queen of Water

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it's not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta -stupid Indian -by the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. On the day Virginia is taken from her village to be an unpaid servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the next decade will hold for her.

Virginia, who has always dreamt of leaving her village, soon embraces the privileges of mestizo life. But as much as she wants to be part of her new family, she instead receives a tangled mixture of love and disdain. Beaten and taunted by her boss, she has to fight to hold onto her spirit and humor. Told that the sole purpose of indigenous girls is to serve, she teaches herself to read and write… and performs science experiments in secret.

But when her most cherished ally betrays her, can she gather the courage and wits to escape? And once free, will Virginia—now a teenager caught between cultures—find a place where she belongs?

In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount an indigenous girl's unforgettable journey to self-discovery that will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. Virginia's story will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, fill you with hope.

Excerpt from Queen of Water

Before dawn, I wake up to the sound of creatures scurrying inside the wall near my head. Mice and rats and dogs have burrowed these tunnels through the dried clay, searching for food scraps. I'm always searching for food scraps, too. Right now my belly's already rumbling, and it's hours till breakfast.

The house is dark as a cave except for bits of blue light coming through the holes in the earthen walls. My gaze fixes on a new trail of golden honey oozing from a crack, just within arm's reach. Bees live in there, black bees that sting terribly, but make the best honey in the world. I poke my hand in the wall and scoop out the sticky sweetness and lick it from my finger. It's gritty, but good.

Our guinea pigs are hungry now, too, squeaking and dancing around in their corner, waiting for alfalfa. I can see every corner of our house from my sleeping place on the floor. Mamita and Papito are snoring under their wool blanket on a bed frame made of scrap wood. My brother and sister are curled up next to me, Hermelinda on the end and Manuelito wedged in the middle, and the fleas and bedbugs and lice are crawling wherever they please. My spot against the wall is cozy, the perfect place for licking honey in secret.

Soon Mamita will wake up, standing and stretching in her long white blouse and thick, bare legs. Then, yawning, she'll wrap her long, dark anaco around her waist, her golden beads around her neck, and her red beads around her wrists. Then she'll open the door, and a rectangle of misty morning light will shine into our house's musty darkness. Then she'll light the cooking fire and we'll all slurp steamy potato soup around the fire pit.

If she catches me with all this honey dripping from my fingers, her face will twist into a frown. When people tell her, "Your little Virginia is vivísima!" Mamita snorts, "Hmphh, she's clever for stealing food, that's about all."

It's true, I do use my wits to fill my belly with fresh cheese or warm rolls. Or to get something I really want, like a pet goat or a pair of shoes. But there's more. I have dreams. Dreams bigger than the mountaintops that poke at the clouds. In the pasture, I always climb up my favorite tree and shout to the sheep, "I'm traveling far from here!" and my tree turns into a truck and I ride off to a place where I can eat rice and meat and watermelon every day.

In the half-light of dawn, I plunge my hand deeper into the darkness inside the wall, searching for honey, dreaming, as always, of golden treasures.

Inspiration for Queen of Water

(taken from the Author's Note in the back of the book)

One snowy afternoon in Colorado, I stopped by a small shop where María Virginia Farinango sold alpaca sweaters and scarves. I'd met her briefly before at the local community college where she studied and I taught English to immigrants.

She was stunning. Thick strands of golden beads formed an upside-down halo around her neck. She looked about my age, thirty, but her eyes were old and young at once, a feature I've noticed in people who've lived extraordinary lives. From the moment I first saw her, I was certain: this was someone I wanted to know.

Because of the weather, her store was deserted except for the two of us and her toddler son. It felt cozy there, wrapped up in musty wool smells. I ended up staying for hours, sitting with her, cross-legged on the floor. She told me the story of her life, which began in a small Quichua community in the Andes of Ecuador.

When María Virginia was a child, it was fairly common for impoverished indigenous families to send their young daughters—as young as six or seven - to live with wealthier families. The arrangements were often vague. There was a blurry line between giving daughters away, having them work as nannies or maids, and selling them. It was sometimes unclear to the girl how often she would return home for visits, how much - if anything - she would be paid, and even whether the arrangement was temporary or permanent. In some cases, when the wealthier families did not uphold their end of the vague bargain, the girls were, essentially, stolen. And in Ecuadorian society three decades ago, poor indigenous families were so marginalized that they felt powerless to demand their daughters back.

María Virginia was one of these stolen daughters.

Yet as her story unfolded, I discovered that her past was surprisingly full of laughter, spunk, and best of all, heart-swelling triumph. Throughout her story, the cultural anthropologist in me was riveted, and the writer in me was jumping up and down. I desperately wanted to write this story.

María Virginia concluded, "One of my dreams is to write a book about my life." She smiled. "But I want to write it with an experienced writer."

I burst out, "I'd love to do it!"

For the next year, María Virginia and I met a few times a week. We spent dozens of hours tape-recording her memoir, which I then translated from Spanish to English and transcribed onto my computer. Next, focusing on the major themes, I selected the most riveting and pivotal scenes; provided socio-cultural context; added more dialogue and setting details; further developed characters; wove more imagery and metaphor into the narrative; and distilled series of similar events and realizations that took place over time into single scenes in order to create a cohesive and engaging story. Throughout the process, she gave input, and we discussed her memories in more depth and detail—sometimes even acting them out—a process that brought tears of sadness and laughter to both of us.

I took two research trips to Ecuador, where I talked with several of her family members and friends and people who appear in the book. I experienced the landscapes and colors and sounds and tastes of her story. I was thrilled to come across a newspaper interview with her as a teenager, in which she was asked about her family. "That is a long story," she replied, "a story that I would like to write a book about one day."

I feel deeply grateful that María Virginia chose me to write her story. This book has changed my life. During our sessions, I began to know her memories so intimately they sometimes haunted me. Interestingly, María Virginia said that as she told me her memories, little by little, a weight was lifted from her. After hundreds of hours together, sharing her stories, we've come to consider each other close friends, in some ways, even sisters.

The bones and blood of the story you have read are true. My imagination has fleshed out the details and shaped it into its final form. As much as possible, I've tried to let María Virginia's voice shine through. I hope that her story will stay with you, and even become part of you, as it has for me.

  • For photos of the setting of The Queen of Water, please see my fun and travel page
  • Here you can read more about The Queen of Water and see photos of Maria Virginia as a teen in a real-life scene that also appears in the book.
  • Here you can see photos of Maria Virginia dancing at my release party for The Indigo Notebook.
  • Here you can see photos of Maria Virginia at a party in her honor with our good friends who helped us with The Queen of Water.
  • You can read more about Maria Virginia, including an interview, here.
  • Here you can get the inside scoop on the cover design.
  • Here you can read about how Laura used her cultural anthropology background in writing The Queen of Water.
  • Here you can read a deleted scene from The Queen of Water.
  • Here you can read about why Laura and Maria Virginia decided to slightly fictionalize her story.

Awards

Arkansas Teen Book Award 2013 nominee

Florida Teen Reads 2012-2013 nominee

Oprah's 2012 Kids' Reading List for ages 12 to 14

Américas Award Honorable mention

Skipping Stones Honor Award for Multi-cultural/International Literature

Bank Street Best Books, *Outstanding Merit* for ages 12-14

Current 2012 Colorado Book Award Finalist

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2011

TAYSHAS list (Texas student reading list) 2012-2013

ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults 2012

A Junior Library Guild Selection

An Amelia Bloomer Project Recommended Book (feminist literature, ALA-affiliated)

South Carolina Young Adult Book Award nominee

Reviews

Publishers Weekly STARRED Review

* ... Narrating in a singular, authentic voice, Virginia dreams of escape, but her broken identity leaves her directionless. Along the way, though, she employs her imagination, persistence, and hard-won wisdom to recover her strength and freedom. The authors' candid narrative richly depicts Virginia's passage from a childhood filled with demoralization to a young woman who sees her life through new eyes.

Booklist STARRED review

* A moving, lyrical novel that will particularly resonate with teens caught between cultures.

Kirkus STARRED review

* [A] riveting tale... Bright spots of humor and warmth are woven throughout, and readers will agonize for Virginia while seething at her tormentors. The complexities of class and ethnicity within Ecuadorian society are explained seamlessly within the context of the first-person narrative, and a glossary and pronunciation guide further help to plunge readers into the novel's world... By turns heartbreaking, infuriating and ultimately inspiring. (Fiction. 13 & up)

School Library Journal STARRED review

* This is a poignant coming-of-age novel that will expose readers to the exploitation of girls around the world whose families grow up in poverty. (Gr. 9 up)

VOYA review

A richly described coming-of-age story set in a culture both foreign and familiar... by turns shocking and funny.

For more articles, interviews, and reviews, please see the sidebar of Laura's blog.