Thirteen-year-old Serena is torn from everything that’s familiar on her island home. She leaves her beloved grandmother, her father, and two of her siblings to move with her mother and older sister to Florida and then to California.
“Everything will be better in America,” her mother tells her. They arrive in the US to find nothing as they expected. Speaking fluent Dutch, Spanish, and Papiamentu (the language of her home Caribean island of Curacao), but limited English, Serena learns to pretend that everything’s fine while struggling to live up to her mother’s impossibly high expectations; always afraid to send her mother into another downward spiral of depression. She juggles responsibility for her mother’s well-being with school, a secret boyfriend, and a growing desire for independence, in a foreign land: Hollywood.
The wisdom of her grandmother, a mixed-race mystic, gives her solace, which she clings to tenaciously despite the thousands of miles between them. Coming of age in a foreign land, faced with enormous obstacles, Serena finds her own feet and the acceptance that sets her free.
The House of Six Doors by Patricia Selbert is a coming of age story about a thirteen-year old’s journey from the island of Curacao to Hollywood, California. Serena and her sister are brought along by their mother who has spent her life in search of riches and status as a way of being loved and accepted by people. She is sure that the next great scheme will get them the status and attention that she feels she and her children deserve. But mama is an immigrant who does not understand the ways of America, and fails to learn and teach them to her children. Serena and her sister spend their childhoods trying to please mama and keep her affection. Meanwhile, when mama does not achieve what she is after, she spins into one of her many depressive moods, leaving Serena and her sister to cope with managing the household. Without the help of their “oma,” whom they relied so heavily on in Curacao, it is up to them to try and sort things out and keep things going for their family. And ultimately, Serena and her sister’s lives go in vastly different directions. Through many trials, heartache, and hard work, Serena learns to become a strong independent woman that any mama would be proud of.
Selbert develops a strong cast of characters, and her story is well-written, but for some this may be a tough read. Traveling along through Serena’s life is nearly as tough on the reader as it is for the character in the book. One wonders if Serena will ever have a positive outcome. But it is this sad tale that keeps the reader going, hoping that things will turn out alright. And they ultimately do, but not until the very end.
Every reader will find some element that they can relate to and will wish that they could have given her a hand somewhere along her road to adulthood. This story is not for the faint of heart looking for something light to read. But it will definitely give the reader pause to reflect on what is important in life, namely love and respect. And isn’t that what all of us want out of life?
The House of Six Doors is in stores now. We recommend it for older teen readers and adults, not younger readers.