Jennifer Clement’s Prayers for the Stolen is a fractured fairy tale. The narrator is a fierce, funny, and clever girl named Ladydi Garcia Martinez who faces many tragedies in a coming-of-age story set in Mexico. Her mother named her not for Princess Diana’s beauty and fame but for her shame. “My mother said that Lady Diana lived the true Cinderella story: closets full of broken glass slippers, betrayal and death.”
Ladydi and her mother live in a small hut on a mountain in Guerrero, Mexico. There are no men left on her mountain--they have discarded their families to join drug gangs or have left for the United States. The Mexican culture is under siege in this godforsaken place where heat, iguanas, ants, spiders, scorpions, and drug dealers rule. The herbicide which is supposed to kill the drug crops instead falls on the people. Gun shots scar the houses like pockmarks.
On Ladydi’s mountain, instead of girls getting prettied up, they are made ugly so the drug traffickers with their black SUV’s and machine guns do not steal them. Mothers dress their daughters as boys, blacken their teeth, and dig holes so the young girls can hide to protect them from disappearing and later being sold into slavery.
Ladydi’s observations and voice bring some lightness into this tragic situation. She has close friends: Estefani whose mother caught AIDS from a straying husband; Maria who was born with a cleft lip probably from the chemicals polluting the environment; and Paula, a girl prettier than Jennifer Lopez who is in the most danger of being stolen. Ladydi shares their stories as they leave the mountain, grow up, face many challenges--and sometimes find love.
Jennifer Clement spent ten years listening to the stories of poor women under siege in modern Mexico. Her use of images of theft and disappearance make this novel special. Women are discarded like plastic water bottles or disappear like leaves down a sewer. This beautifully written novel about our nearest neighbor in the south is frightening and eye-opening and a testament to the love between mothers and daughters.