Leaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation And Her Eventual Escape by Isabelle GecilsLeaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation And Her Eventual Escape by Isabelle Gecils

Leaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation And Her Eventual Escape

byIsabelle Gecils

Paperback | May 10, 2016

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Leaving Shangrilais Isabelle Gecils's story-a universal story of the search for belonging and normalcy. Isabelle's search, however, was constantly interrupted by adults who failed her, blocking the attainment of her dreams. Deciding to chart her own path, Isabelle, using limited resources, fought for her freedom, yet the survival skills she acquired to achieve it came back to haunt her.
Isabelle Gecils grew up in Shangrila, a remote farm in a lush jungle in Brazil.Leaving Shangrilais the story of Isabelle's journey from a life others choose for her to one she created for herself. To support the writing of this memoir, Isabelle completed the Stanford Creative Nonfiction Writing certificate program. She lives in Belmont...
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Title:Leaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl, Her Transformation And Her Eventual EscapeFormat:PaperbackDimensions:340 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.68 inPublished:May 10, 2016Publisher:Morgan James PublishingLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1630476846

ISBN - 13:9781630476847

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Read from the Book

I did lie. But what I remember is omitting the truth, never outright lying. Simply because nobody ever asked.My entire class staged a school play, except that unlike everybody else, I watched it rather than act in it. Joining the theater troop required almost daily rehearsals at one of my classmates' lavish colonial homes near school. I was not invited to join the group. They already knew I would not come. At the school grounds, my classmates cracked jokes about what happened the day before during their afternoons together. They perched on one another as they traded stories and exchanged hugs. I heard about the English classes they took after school, their boat trips around the bays of Rio de Janeiro, the excited chatter that accompanied field trips that I was never allowed to join. When the entire class decided to spend a lightly chaperoned weekend in Cabo Frio, a town with white sandy beaches, and coconut trees lining up the boardwalks my jealousy meter spiked. For two months, that is all anyone talked about. Since I did not even receive an invitation, nobody spoke with me. I felt lonely observing them. I longed to be as adored as the two most popular girls in my class. Isabela, despite the discolored white spots all over her skin due to Type 1 diabetes, was the reigning queen. The boys swooned over Flavia, two years older than the rest of us, because she repeated third and fifth grade due to her poor academic performance. I observed these two girls, searching what it was about them that made them special. Yes, they were both beautiful. While their beauty may have helped with their popularity, it surely was not the main factor, as there were other pretty girls too. What they had in common, that nobody else did, was that they were the best athletes in my class. Even perhaps the best in all of the school. Isabela and Flavia were always the ones everybody wanted to have on their team and as their friend. They were either team captain or the first pick. They seemed to try harder than everybody else. So I thought that if I truly focused, then I could be just like them. If only I could excel in the handball field - as girls did not play soccer, despite the madness surrounding the most popular sport in Brazil - then maybe, just maybe my social standing could change too. I made a plan. One day, I would be just as great as these two. One day, I would be chosen first.At the beginning of each week, the P.E. teacher assigned two captains. They in turn picked their team for the week. We played handball on Tuesdays, volleyball on Thursdays. And every week, for the past three years I was the captain's last, grudgingly chosen pick. I knew why. Had I been captain, I would have chosen myself last too.I did not score any goals in handball. My throws were either too weak or out of bounds. Knowing this, my team did not bother passing the ball to me. I spent the game playing defense, barely succeeding at blocking the other team's powerhouse players as they demolished the teams I was on. When an opponent charged towards me dribbling the ball, I got out of the way. In volleyball, I removed my thick glasses for fear they'd be broken, and as a result, could not see the ball coming to hit me in the face. I did not particularly enjoy playing sports. However, to change my standing in the team's selection pecking order, I practiced with a purpose. During games, I became more aggressive. I wore my glasses. I reached for the goal whereas before I simply stood on the sidelines. I blocked more aggressively too even if it meant pulling my opponent's shirts or hair, irrespective that this often led to a penalty against my team. During these early weeks, I returned home with two broken eye glasses, earned a couple of red cards and made my team mates angry.At home, after completing my homework, I begged my two sisters to play ball with me. They did play, but not for long. When they tired, I threw the ball against the wall, attempting to increase my arm strength. When my arms felt tired, I ran around the farm to increase my speed and reflexes by dodging a pretend ball. At night, as I slumbered towards sleep, I prayed silently so that my sisters would not hear me plead "God please, make me be chosen first."As weeks turned into months, I became quite adept at catching the ball as it ricocheted from the wall towards me. I was no longer chosen last. That horrible fate was bestowed on a shy and almost as awkward classmate who had the extra disadvantage of being overweight which slowed her down compared to my scrawny self. Yet, despite months of efforts, I did not score any more than before, did not throw the ball any harder or accurately, mostly hardly touched the ball at all. Since I often increased the penalty count given my newly aggressive tactics, the coach had me sit out whenever there was an odd number of players.A year into this futile attempt, I felt a deep sense of disappointment but realized the foolishness of pursuing an utterly impossible dream. Maybe one had to be content with their lot in life, I concluded. And any attempts to try to change who one was, or what they wanted were inutile. Feeling defeated and deflated, knowing that despite any effort, the sports court was not a place for me, I talked myself out of my goal. I stopped practicing in the afternoons. I removed my glasses again during games. I accepted that I was not meant to be popular and that the world where my classmates lived did not belong to me. I hated my life. I hated going home where there was nothing to do and nobody to play with. I hated how different we were - with our roundhouse, with our religious meetings, with our inability to do anything other than go to school. Not knowing what to do to change any of it I returned to my routine, finding friendship in books and getting all my validation from my grades.Two months later I felt sick.My head and muscles hurt, my nose was running and I coughed uncontrollably. I barely slept. My mother suggested I stay home. No matter how sick I felt, I would never chose to stay home with my stepfather lurking around. Anywhere was better than home. Despite my illness, I dragged myself to school that day. It was a Tuesday, which meant handball day. That morning, I walked to the handball court my swollen eyes and a drippy nose hoping to avoid playing at all."Coach, I am sick," I said with narrowed eyes. "Can I sit out the game today?" "Being sick isn't enough reason not to play," the P.E. teacher said not bothering to even look at me. "So go play." Although students never questioned the decisions of a professor, I protested feebly.He dismissed me again as a little pest who could not be taken seriously. "Here is what you will go do," he told me. "Your team needs a goalie. Go defend it," he said pointing towards the goal. The regular goalie was also sick that day, but unlike me, she had the good sense to stay at home. Off to guard the goal posts I went, grateful at least that I did not have to run and be pushed around in court. I hoped that a strong team defense would prevent me from having to exert much effort. My teammates groaned and shook their heads in disbelief as they saw me standing in front of the goal, mumbling that the team had already lost. The opposing team congratulated themselves before the whistle blew. "This will be easy," they bragged within earshot, ensuring I knew they thought to have already clinched victory. Having me guard the goal was the same as having no goalie at all.A surge of anger and despondency bubbled up within me upon hearing their snickering. I felt tired to always be at the bottom of the totem pole. To feel snickered at, to feel different. I puffed my chest as if this would make me larger, ignoring how painful it felt to take deep breaths. My team's defense did not keep the end of their bargain. The balls from the opposing team flew towards the goal at unreasonable speeds, from what appeared to be impossible angles. Yet, I blocked them out. I blocked every single ball that came towards me. I shielded that goal as if my life depended on it. At the end of the game, my team won by a landslide. Not used to the taste of victory, I did not distinguish the elation I felt from the confusion at this unexpected turn of events. My dumbfounded classmates looked at me as if they saw me for the first time, trying to make sense of what had just happened. They, and I, were in awe. My feat as the goalie made the gossip circuit and by the following week, despite some lingering doubt about my abilities, I was picked third in the line-up. I had jumped 7 places in one week! This was better than an improvement. It was a major victory! At the sound of the whistle, the players moved. I tried to concentrate. Not feeling as angry this time as I did the previous week, my confidence waned even before the game started. But I wasn't playing for the game. I was playing for my dream, my rank in the social pecking order, and my desire that for once, people would pay attention to me. Nobody pierced my defense of the goal. My team won again.Two weeks later, the captains planned the team selection for the school's annual Olympic Games. The teams played together for two months in preparation for the week long competition at a sports complex where all the parents and extended large families that most Brazilians' had watched the games. The Olympics was the talk of the school. My class split the girls into teams who would play both handball and volleyball. The P.E. teacher selected the team captains. To my utter surprise, Isabela was not one of them. Thus there was a possibility that Flavia and Isabela, the two best players, could be in the same team together. And that, I was sure, would lock victory for whichever team they were a part of. I hoped that I would be chosen, even if last, to the better team. It was obvious to me that the opposing team would have no chance but to simply be crushed. There was an air of excitement and nervousness at the school playground as the captains readied themselves to make their picks. Flavia, was one of the captains. Anna Christina, a strong, but not stellar player was the captain of the opposing team. After a coin toss, Anna Christina was first to select players."I want Isabelle," she said pointing at me.She clearly meant Isabela, with an "a", and not me, with the French spelling of a name most Brazilians did not get right. It made no sense to me that she would have chosen otherwise. So I did not budge."Your heard her Isabelle," the coach said tapping me on my shoulder. "Hurry up and move to Anna's side." I was too stunned to hear the loud murmur emanating from the cluster of the other girls at this unexpected choice. This could not be right. I thought Anna had been crazy to select me. This choice guaranteed that Flavia would pick Isabela next. Anna Christina's team would be decimated. No team could win against the two stronger players. I looked at Anna Christina with panic in my face and shook my head "don't do it," I whispered, "pick Isabela first". She looked at me puzzled."Why?" she asked "Get the next strongest player. Don't let them be on the same team. Worry about the goal-keeper later!" I stated with a modicum of desperation in my voice. She stared at me with a serious frown on her face and gestured impatiently beckoning me. "Isabelle, just come over here." As I walked, she spoke loudly enough for all the other girls to hear. "If I do not choose you, Flavia will. Then my team will not ever have the slightest chance. Nobody can score when you are defending that goal. You are the most important player here and the one I want on my team."Still stunned I moved next to Anna as the selection continued until all girls were sorted into teams. Once I got past my horror that we would now face Flavia and Isabela together, I remembered my wish made months earlier, the one I gave up so easily, about being chosen first. Yet, even in my wildest dreams, I had never expected that it would happen during the most important and visible athletic event of the school year. I felt an unfamiliar feeling of elation fill my chest. I felt I could burst. A broad smile seared itself in my face. I went home screaming with joy "I was chosen first! I was really chosen first!"And for the first time in my life, I believed I was good at something.

Editorial Reviews

The poignant life story of a woman who escaped a restrictive past to embrace an independent future. Gecils' resonant chronicle explores themes of belonging, family allegiance, and starting over. As it does so, it effectively tells the story of the burgeoning liberation of a young girl who had her eye on a bright horizon. A well-paced memoir steeped in strife, struggle, sorrow, and, eventually, freedom. --KIRKUS REVIEW