feature is an excerpt from Isabelle Gecils’ memoir Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of a Girl, Her Transformation and Her
her virtual book tour, Isabelle will be awarding a $30 Amazon or Barnes and
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up in Shangrila, a remote farm in a lush jungle in Brazil. But who really knows
where she hails from? Her immediate family hailed from 6 different countries:
France (dad), Egypt (mom and grandma), Turkey (grandpa), Lithuania (grandpa)
and Poland (grandma). There is a freedom in belonging nowhere and
everywhere at the same time.
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 currently
lives in Saratoga, California, with her husband, four sons and two territorial
Leaving Shangrila: The True Story of A Girl,
Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape by Isabelle Gecils, is the captivating
memoir of a charmingly complex heroine.
Isabelle paints a colorful world as she tells the
tale of how she forged her own path in the midst of turmoil. The story, set in
Brazil where she grew up, is populated with fascinating characters, both good
and bad. From a narcissistic mother to her perpetually flawed lovers to three
resilient sisters, Leaving Shangrila’s motley crew make for an endlessly
Leaving Shangrila begins with young Isabelle,
trapped in a hellish world. Surrounded by lies, manipulation, and abuse,
Isabelle is desperate to escape the adversity of this place. Filled with
tremendous strength and an unyielding drive to survive, she begins her journey
toward freedom and self-realization. Through the trials and obstacles along the
way, Isabelle goes back and forth to balance who she is with what she must do
With themes of perseverance, self-reliance, and the
resilience of the human spirit, Leaving Shangrila: The True Story Of A Girl,
Her Transformation and Her Eventual Escape highlights the important character
traits one discovers on the path to finding their self. Truly empowering and
inspirational, readers everywhere will relate to this coming of age story.
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.
school grounds, my classmates cracked jokes about what happened 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 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 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.
lonely observing them. I longed to be as adored as were the two most popular
girls in my class: Isabela and Flavia. 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 although she
repeated third and fifth grade due to her poor academic performance.
these two girls, searching for 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. I decided that what they had in common, what nobody else had, was that
they were the best athletes in my class, even perhaps the best in all of the
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 on sports,
then I could be just like them. If only I could excel on 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.
beginning of each week, the P.E. teacher assigned two captains. They, in turn,
each picked a 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.
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 team 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, I could not see the ball
coming to hit me in the face.
particularly enjoy playing sports. However, to change my standing in the
team-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 shirt or hair—no matter 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 teammates angry.
after completing my homework, I begged my two sisters to play ball with me.
They did play, but not for long. When they grew 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 drifted to sleep, I prayed silently so that my sisters
would not hear me plead: “God, please, make me be chosen first.”
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 me; I was
slight and scrawny. Yet, despite months of effort, I did not score any more
than before, did not throw the ball any harder or more accurately, and hardly
touched the ball at all. Since I often increased the penalty count with my new,
more aggressive tactics, the coach had me sit out whenever there was an odd
number of players.