The Queen of Water
(2011), a young adult novel by Laura Resau concerns a girl taken as a slave who ends up on a journey of self-discovery in Ecuador. The book has been widely well-received and praised for its appeal to anyone struggling to find his or her place in the world. Resau collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to construct this book, which is based on a true story. The Queen of Water
was a finalist for the 2012 Colorado Book Award for Young Adult Literature. Resau originally planned this book as a work of nonfiction, but she opted to fictionalize it to improve the flow and make it more accessible to teen readers.
Virginia is born into a very poor family living in rural Ecuador. The story is set in 1980s rural Ecuador when white upper class “mestizos” ruled and made slaves of the lower class native people. When Virginia is just seven, her parents agree to let her work as a servant and nanny for a mestizo in another town a few hours away.
With money being so tight, they feel they don’t have a choice but to make Virginia go, in the hope she will make a life for herself. Virginia is worried about leaving, but her father is a drunk and gets violent, so she is relieved to be escaping this – although, she doesn’t know what to expect working as a servant. She also thinks she will be able to visit her family – or at least her mother – once a month, but it isn’t long before she learns this is not true.
She moves in with Carlitos and his wife, Romelia. She must call Carlitos ‘Nino,’ and Romelia ‘Doctorita,’ because of their respective statuses in society. From the day she moves there, Virginia must cook, clean, and care for the whole family, including baby Jaimito. She is frequently beaten for displeasing Doctorita, and the abuse can be so savage she suffers nosebleeds and bruises all over her limbs.
At first, Virginia is housebound. Doctorita, however, starts letting her leave to go on errands. Virginia is now old enough to realize she can never go home and she will never be paid. She is too young to leave on her own, but gradually shows signs of defiance in whatever small ways she can.
When Doctorita understands what she’s doing, Virginia gets into trouble. She asks Doctorita if she can one day go to college and have a real career, but Doctorita tells her she doesn’t need to have any skills to do her slave duties. As Virginia grows, she becomes more defiant, but Doctorita and Nino both remind her that her family will only sell her to another family. Virginia doesn’t know what to do to get out.
Nino, however, has more sympathy for her plight. He succumbs to Virginia’s constant requests for help with reading, and he teaches her how to read. Her love of a detective TV show, too, gives her an idea – use reading to find a way out of her situation. She secretly reads Doctorita’s books once she can understand them well enough and completes the same assignments Doctorita gives her own students.
By a twist of fate, Virginia meets her sister, Matilde. Matilde inspires Virginia to leave the mestizos behind for good. Even still, it’s not an easy decision, because she’s lived with them for so long, and she has no idea what the future will bring. But, the abuse she endures as she becomes a teenager becomes too much for her to bear, and she perseveres with her plan to leave.
Virginia returns to her family. However, it is not a smooth return as she had envisioned. She no longer feels completely indigenous, but she also can never be mestizo. She has no skills or education or qualifications, and it’s unclear what she will do with her future. But mainly, she struggles to forgive her parents for giving her away in the first place. She cannot understand why they would give her away, however poor the family is.
Virginia’s struggles continue until she learns more about her life as a child and, further, what her parents’ lives were like when they were young. She comes to understand this was the only option for them, and they thought it would be the best thing for her, in the end. Virginia reconciles with her family and begins planning her own future.
Ultimately, Virginia struggles through years of circumstances, which are overwhelming, cruel, and exhausting. However, she triumphs and finds fulfillment and hope by the end. Although The Queen of Water
is a work of fiction, the depictions of abuse are raw and do not hold back, which may be difficult for more sensitive readers.