The Courage of Elfina
The Courage of Elfina
When it came time to get on the plane, I did as Aunt Evoala ordered. I walked on board like a robot, not knowing what lay ahead.
My eyes brimming with tears, I felt my past fading away.
When we arrived in Montreal, I followed, as silent as a stone. A driver dropped us off in front of a big house at the end of an avenue lined with giant trees.
The red-brick turret, big windows, and high walls could have made me believe I was about to enter Cinderella’s castle, but I was in no mood for daydreaming.
That evening, we ate at a restaurant. It was the first time I’d ever done that.
My reality check came the very next day when Aunt Evoala put me to work.
I had to unpack the suitcases, hang up the clothes in the closets, and learn how to run the household appliances.
I had so many things to learn in so little time that my head was spinning.”
Elfina is only 12 when her life changes completely. Since her mother’s death, she has lived with her grandmother in a village in Paraguay. To Elfina’s surprise, her Aunt Evoala invites her to come to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, to live with her aunt, uncle and cousins. This seems like a chance at more education and a better life. However, circumstances change radically when the entire family moves to Montreal and Elfina becomes a servant for the others. Eventually, Elfina finds refuge and help in a church and is able to return home to Paraguay.
Author Andre Jacob gives readers a remarkably strong and resilient young teen as protagonist of this graphic novel. As Elfina realizes just what her aunt expects of her and understands that her dream of an education and a better life are dissolving, she begins to rebel. This takes the form of small acts of revenge. Computers are unplugged as she dusts, and too much salt is added to the soup she prepares for the family. There is a coming-of-age theme as Elfina changes from a shy and awkward young girl to a much more daring and strong young woman. While the story takes place within only one year, it seems Elfina has matured by a decade.
The novel should spark strong feelings and conversations among those who read it. While the story is told in just a few pages, the theme of child labour is very clear. Elfina’s aunt forces her to work as a servant, taking her passport and allowing her very little time outside the house. It is only with the help of the church staff, the police and a social worker that Elfina is finally able to break free and that her aunt and uncle are brought to justice.
At the end of the book, readers find information about the International Labour Organization and the issue of child labour around the globe. Some solutions are suggested, such as fighting against poverty and protecting the basic human rights of children everywhere. Both print and on-line resources for further study are also listed.
The illustrations by Christine Delezenne add information and understanding to the story. She captures scenes, personalities and emotions, helping readers delve more deeply into the novel. Interestingly, they are done in black and white with only a soft blue as a third colour.
Knowledge and awareness are critical components when trying to solve any problem, and this small but powerful novel arms its readers with information which they may use to confront the issues of forced domestic labour.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.