Teresa of the New World is a fascinating glimpse into the era of Spain's colonial expansion into the New World, which began in 1492 with Christopher Columbus and lasted over three centuries. The story of Teresa—a fictitious illegitimate daughter of Spanish conquistador Cabeza de Vaca and a Capoque woman—begins roughly in 1534, when she is four years old. Her father, de Vaca, is one of four survivors the 1528 expedition commanded by Pánfilo Narvaez; he ends up in what is likely Galveston, Texas, where the Capoque band lived.
Throughout his stay with the tribe Cabeza sires two children, Teresa and her baby sister. He also hones his meager medical knowledge into that of a healer. Teresa is a magical child who communicates with the earth and animals. While Cabeza seems to have affection for his daughter, he is pragmatic. His mission is to explore and document; he takes her on his journey, at her insistence. She will never see her mother or baby sister again.
Cabeza abandons Teresa at the Governor's, leaving her behind because of political conflict. Teresa will never see her father again; however she will read his accounts about the native people he encounters in New Spain (current-day southwestern US and Mexico), and their ability to survive. His words will speak to her because she has heard the stories in the book he writes. She ends up working in the kitchen and loses connection with her magic. She leaves at sixteen, when everyone around her succumbs to measles.
Teresa carries the measles virus, but she does not come down with the sickness. She befriends a warhorse and a shape-shifting Maya boy who also carries the virus. The Plague (another shape-shifter) and the wall of Fear chase and attempt to trick the three of them. Teresa discovers her magic and it is powerful stuff. Parts of the story were reminiscent of fairy tales I heard as a child.
I would have very much appreciated a map and more historical detail. I feel the age group this book is written for (12 years and older) would appreciate this, too. There is a guide for teachers who decide to use the book as part of their curriculum.
Sharman Apt Russell was raised in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, and in 1981 settled in southern New Mexico as a "back to the lander." She is a longtime professor in the Humanities Department at Western New Mexico University and the author of numerous essays, short stories, and books. More on Sharman and her writing on her website.
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