The Five Wounds
By Kristin Valdez Quande
Read July 2021
This reader obtained this book as an e-book through her library system when a “hold” turned into a “borrow”. Since she was fully engaged in two other books at the time, she returned it, only to find out sometime later that the return hadn’t been successful and there were three days before the book would be automatically returned. So, this reader began to read and she read with urgency both partly because of the looming deadline but also because the book was quite engaging.
The book is structured in several quite long parts with breaks intermittent but not numbered in any way. Within any given part, the narrator provides the point of view of one of several characters: Amedeo, who has suffered five wounds as part of an annual reenactment of Christ’s Passion; Angel, his almost sixteen year old pregnant daughter who moves from her mother’s house to live with Amedeo during the Passion Week; Yolanda, Amedeo’s mother, who owns the house in which Amedeo lives and who supports him, his daughter, and her baby once born; and Brianna, Angel’s teacher at the Smart Start! for unmarried pregnant teenagers run by a local agency.
Amedeo is thirty-three, is an alcoholic, and is unemployed. His mother, Yolanda, urged her uncle, Uncle Tive, The Hermano Mayor, to choose Amedeo to play Jesus in this year’s reenactment of the Passion. The first part provides a summary of Amedeo’s initiation into the hemandad, which Uncle Tive personally revived after his son’s death, the various ceremonies it executes during Lent, and the Good Friday reenactment. Amedeo decides to “ask for nails” so his wounds go from the usual three slashes on his back to five when nails are driven through his hands. He alternates between pride for asking for the nails and embarrassed by his wounds which he tells people are from an accident with a nail gun. We learn from these episodes and others that Amedeo has not matured beyond adolescence on most accounts and the Passion Week events have done little to spur him forward.
Angel was born when Amedeo was eighteen and her mother was sixteen. Amedeo was apparently the center of attention at the baby shower the parents put on for the couple but the hoped-for wedding didn’t occur. Marissa, Angel’s mother, stopped trying to engage him in parenthood fairly early in Angel’s life. Angel has left her mother’s house when Marissa doesn’t take seriously Angel’s story about a violent act by Marissa’s boyfriend against Angel. Unlike her mother’s pregnancy with her, Angel’s pregnancy isn’t associated with a real boyfriend. During a somewhat aimless period of promiscuity Angel hooked up with a boy in her geometry class once; he doesn’t even know he is the father nor does she have immediate plans to let him know. Fortunately, she is enrolled in a Smart Start! program for pregnant teenagers that has a committed young teacher, Brianna, who is teaching them useful personal and self-organizational habits with the intent that the girls will create for themselves and their baby a more stable environment than most of them had themselves. Child-care is provided once the baby comes so that the girls can stay in the program while preparing for GED examinations as well as learning about child care and parenting. Angel has thoroughly engaged with this program and the teacher.
The author provides us with three adult women characters in different stages of their lives. Each is employed in full-time jobs that provide well enough for themselves and those they are supporting. Yolanda is the matriarch of her family. She drives about an hour each way for her job in at the state capital. She has been supporting her grown 33-year-old son, has added full time support of her pregnant granddaughter, and will support her grandchild when he/she arrives. She learns she has brain cancer but doesn’t reveal it to her family or workplace until things get pretty dire. Brianna is at the beginning of her career. A recently minted college graduate, she has lots of energy for the Smart Start! program but is troubled her personal life isn’t progressing as she hoped, having had no boyfriends yet. Marissa, Angel’s mother, is 32. She has an administrative position with an architect firm. She is challenged by Angel’s teen-age years at the same time she would like to find someone with whom she can have a stable romantic relationship. We don’t hear from Marissa directly, unlike the other two women, but certainly her relationship with Angel is an important element.
The only other male character with any sizable role is Uncle Tive. He is actually Yolanda’s uncle. He has had problems of his own, having lost a son to drug overdose. However, he is a leader in the hermidad community, which he revived, that provides some focus for the men of the community to go beyond their own troubles and issues. He also has some source of stable income as he regularly helps his great-nephew and great-great grandniece finically and with transportation.
While the situation of the various characters was clearly difficult in general, individual characters experience hope and joy at times. Angel is excited about the habits she is being taught at Smart!Start and is clearly learning to apply some of them. The initial parts of Yolanda’s vacation with her boyfriend are quite exciting and enjoyable for her. Angel experiences some substantial setbacks, but she rallies to help her grandmother as her condition worsens and sets on a path to improve her relationship with her mother and her baby’s father and his family. Whether Amedeo can actually grow up and take responsibility for his own life remains unclear but there is some indication he’s at least starting to try when the book is concluding.
This reader was initially disappointed that the book might be another depressing story of an unwed mother, seemingly a frequent theme in her reading lately. But the author provides generally credible characters and their stories are told in a non-judgmental way. She doesn’t ask you to like any of them nor does she let any of them off-the-hook for their situations, but rather she shows their challenges, how they sometimes meet them and sometimes don’t, and the corresponding consequences for themselves and their families. She incorporates some Spanish words and idioms which appear authentic and helps create the setting more completely.
This reader recommends this novel as one that will make the reader look at a segment of society to which they may not belong and give that reader a more complete picture of it than they had when they start reading the book.