DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Returning to her homeland of Santiago, Chile, is the last thing that Tina Aguilar wants to do during the summer of her sixteenth birthday. It has taken eight years for her to feel comfort and security in America with her mother and her new husband. And it has been eight years since she has last seen her father.
Despite insisting on the visit, Tina’s father spends all his time focused on politics and alcohol rather than connecting with Tina, making his betrayal from the past continue into the present. Tina attracts the attention of a mysterious stranger, but the hairpin turns he takes her on may push her over the edge of truth and discovery.
The tense, final months of the Pinochet regime in 1989 provide the backdrop for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s suspenseful tale of the survival and redemption of the Aguilar family, first introduced in the critically acclaimed Gringolandia.
MY TWO CENTS: As part of her parents’ divorce agreement, Tina Aguilar must travel from Madison, Wisconsin to Santiago, Chile, to spend the summer with her father, Marcelo, a leader of the democracy movement who was previously imprisoned and tortured by the government. The experience left him with permanent physical disabilities. He is also suicidal and an alcoholic.
At first, Tina’s summer is uneventful. She stays mostly in the house with her aunt and father, who barely pays attention to her. She decides she wants to go home early, but then she meets Frankie, a motorcycle delivery boy who gives her plenty of swoony reasons to stay in Chile. Tina and Frankie fall in love, but later–without giving too much away–she discovers he can’t be trusted and that she and her father’s lives are in danger.
Lyn Miller-Lachman does a beautiful job with creating a multi-layered narrative. The romance, family drama, and political intrigue are woven together seamlessly and each of the characters are fully developed. Because of Miller-Lachman’s extensive research and personal travel experiences, the descriptions of Chile are vivid. She captures both the physical landscape and the tense emotional atmosphere during the last months of the Pinochet regime.
One thing I especially appreciated was that Miller-Lachman allows the story to unfold. In other words, I have read so many young adult novels that literally start with a bang, following the “drop the reader right into the action” formula, that reading a narrative that didn’t start this way was a relief. I got to know Tina at home in Wisconsin before she started her journey, which allowed me to connect and sympathize with her before her struggles began.
TEACHING TIPS: This novel would obviously work well in an English classroom if the focus is historical fiction, stories from Latin America, and/or themes about survival or relationships in times of political strife. Surviving Santiago would also work well in cross-curricular way, with students analyzing it as literature in English class and then discussing the historical and political aspects in history class. Teachers could also use it as an option during literature circles with a focus on multi-generational or bicultural experiences. Surviving Santiago could be one of several books offered to students in which the protagonist has to return to her homeland or a parent’s homeland, which allows the main character the opportunity to reconnect with their culture or experience it for the first time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): I grew up in Houston, Texas but left at age 18 to attend Princeton University, where I met my husband, Richard Lachmann. After living in Connecticut, Wisconsin, upstate New York, and Lisbon, Portugal, we recently settled in New York City. We have two children, Derrick and Maddy Lachmann.
I received my Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and edited the journal MultiCultural Review for 16 years. In 2012, I received my Masters in Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I love teaching as much as writing and have taught both middle and high school English, social studies, and Jewish studies. Before moving to New York City, I taught American Jewish History to seventh graders at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, New York and ran a playwriting elective for fourth to seventh graders.
I have lots of different hobbies because I love trying new things. In 2007, I became the assistant host of “Los Vientos del Pueblo” a bilingual program of Latin American and Spanish music, poetry, and history that currently airs on WRPI-FM, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on Sundays from 2-6 pm ET. I have also built a LEGO town, Little Brick Township, and create stories with my minifigures that I photograph and post on Instagram and my blog.
My husband and I enjoying traveling around the world. If I put a pin on a map for every place I’ve been, the map would have lots of pins. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in another place and time, and that’s one of the reasons I write historical fiction.
Lyn Miller-Lachman is also the author of Gringolandia and Rogue and the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, an anthology of short stories by contemporary Latin@ writers. She is also a team member for We Need Diverse Books.