I want to preface this review by saying that as a white woman in America, I have experienced the privilege that comes with that and have never faced family deportation. I can’t speak to that representation in the book and whether it is true to the experience. I can say, however, that Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland is a magical gift of a novel, pure moonlight, shining, and hopeful. I also think that it should be required reading in America for readers of all ages, not only because it is timely and necessary, but it is a marvel of a novel—blending realistic issues with science fiction seamlessly.
Sia’s story is one happening all over America, a child fighting for herself and her family’s rights when the leaders and authorities in her town say she should not have any. Years after her mother was deported and presumed dead after she tried to cross the Sonoran desert, Sia suffers microaggressions and ignorance at the hands of classmates (including the awful son of the corrupt sheriff who called ICE on Sia’s mom). Sia clings to the stories her grandmother and mother tells, her garden with growing stalks of corn, the candles she lights at the beginning of the world (two cacti reaching for each other in the desert) and her dad and best friend. But all begins to change when a new boy comes to town and mysterious lights appear in the desert sky. Sia is about to give up on her mother ever returning when a spaceship crashes in front of her car on one of her trips to the desert and catapults her and her family on a race away from ICE, aliens, and the secrets that threaten to expose an awful government experiment.
Despite the heartbreaking nature of the concept, this book is hopeful and dazzling. Sia is a character to behold and follow, angry but loyal and brave. I loved her relationship with Noah and Rose, I loved the glimpses we would get of her grandmother’s spirit and her folklore and the magic that she was capable of and shared with Sia. I absolutely loved Sia’s relationship with her father and the love that was bursting through the book. Even at its bleakest moments, the love that came through was truly beautiful.
There are so many aspects of the story that are handled deftly and with exquisite pose outside of racial injustice and immigration. I admired the story for it’s handling and discussion of sexual assault. It was hard to read but ultimately her journey—like the journey of the book—is one of healing and love.
I hope that there is more of Sia’s story to come, to say that it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts would be an understatement and I didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to Sia and her family. I want to see the Sheriff get his and for the oppressors in Sia’s town face consequences. And I want more readers to experience Sia’s story, to feel the anger and the hope and realize that fictionalized or not, there are parts of this story that are very real and hopefully we can learn from this story and do something about it. For all of the people like Sia and all of the families like the Martinez’s, maybe this book might help those feeling the oppression of the ignorant or, at the very least, maybe readers might be able to feel some type of hope or magic after their own loss. I know that Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything can give so much, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to read it.