by Damaris Leal
Part of LibroMobile's Tiny Review series
Have you ever wondered if witches need healing? In her novel River Woman River Demon, Jennifer Givhan takes us on a suspenseful journey through the healing of a bruja. Evangelina Santos Moon (talk about a charming name) suffered a traumatic experience as a teenager and another as an adult, when a close friend drowns and she is once again implicated. Unresolved issues of the past become entwined with the present as Evangelina (Eva) tries to figure out what happened in both cases. The author pulls us right into Eva’s supernatural, Chicana perspective, with an underlying reference to the cultural icon La Llorona. La Llorona’s contested myth representing misunderstood women is reflected in Eva’s story. She was shunned for a crime she does not remember committing, and as an adult she does not have anyone that truly “gets her.” Moreover, she actually seems to be haunted by the women in her life, both dead and alive.
The reader encounters death early on in the book and it tints the rest of the story, filling us
with a sense of urgency. As Eva narrates her story, her stream of consciousness reveals her innermost struggles, allowing us to get to know her and to see her vulnerability. This closeness connects her to the reader and prompts trust and sympathy. The author also helps relieve the tension of Eva being hit with one shock after another by creating a magical aura around Eva with language that depicts her deep-rooted bond with nature, the moon, and of course the element of water. At times, these environmental “bodies” almost appear to become living characters or Eva appears to personify them. Water often emerges as an extension of her, but her untamed magic demonstrates this element can easily overpower her. While she questions her whole world, who she is, what she has done, and starts making unsound choices, the reader may start to question her credibility
An ultimate twist keeps us captivated, however, and as the shadows surrounding certain characters dissipate, we begin to see things more clearly. We also realize that some of those female characters that disturbed Eva are, in fact, misunderstood empowering figures that actually support her. With the care she receives, she exemplifies a liberated Llorona. Although it might be ironic that a witch could not solve her own problems, we can all relate to having a limited perspective when it comes to ourselves. The protagonist might be even more relatable to a Chicana millennial; but overall, this is a very inclusive book with various aspects that can expand any reader’s knowledge.