Book Review: The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

the-smoking-mirror DESCRIPTION FROM THE BOOK JACKET: Carol and Johnny Garza are 12-year-old twins whose lives in a small Texas town are forever changed by their mother’s unexplained disappearance. Shipped off to relatives in Mexico by their grieving father, the twins learn that their mother is a nagual, a shapeshifter, and that they have inherited her powers. In order to rescue her, they will have to descend into the Aztec underworld and face the dangers that await them.

MY TWO CENTS: David Bowles’s Pura Belpré honor book, The Smoking Mirror, is a fast-paced, masterful journey through Aztec mythology and pre-Columbian Mexican history. Bowles, who was inspired to create a fantasy novel in the tradition of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson that featured a Latinx protagonist, weaves a captivating story of epic proportions, all framed by familial love. (For more from Bowles, see his guest post.) Moreover, though this is a diverse book with two Latinx protagonists, their Mexican heritage is important insofar as it provides the ethos for the setting of the text, but this is not a story about race or ethnicity and it is all the better for that. Bowles instead focuses on the supernatural elements of his source material and the hero journeys of his twin protagonists. The book is a quick read, full of page-turning action, which will intrigue even the most reluctant reader. Additionally, because it has both a male and female protagonist in twins Johnny and Carol, it should appeal to boys and girls. The Smoking Mirror, like many middle-grade books, has shorter chapters that maintain the pace of the narrative and keep readers constantly engaged without seeming overwhelming.

While Johnny and Carol’s journey through Mictlan is riveting, I was most captivated by Bowles’s exploration of their relationship, particularly of their twin connection. As a twin myself, I am always uncertain if an author will be able to capture the unique bond we feel, and Bowles does so in spades. This is not the tired good-twin/bad-twin nonsense that pervades literature and media. Bowles is sure to individualize both Johnny and Carol, and they are depicted as complex characters with strengths and flaws that set them apart from each other; in fact, their differences improve their relationship as the text unfolds. Johnny and Carol begin the story having grown apart following their mother’s mysterious disappearance. But when their father sends them to stay with their family in Monterrey, México, they must rely on each other in a new environment. When they both discover that they are naguales, or shapeshifters with special magic, their bond is cemented and they begin their journey to Mictlan to rescue their mother from Texcatlipoca, the god of destruction. Likewise, as naguales, Johnny and Carol share an intimate psychic connection, which they use to communicate telepathically. Their internal connection comes in handy as they journey through Mictlan, where they must constantly save each other. In these moments, they realize that their differences do not separate them, rather that they are complementary, and by the end of the text, Johnny even tells Carol, “‘you are my balance’” (198).

The backdrop for Johnny and Carol’s quest to save their mother is a richly populated mythological world full of terrifying creatures and powerful deities. By his own admission, Bowles mixes Aztec and Mayan mythologies to create his Mictlan. The result is an expansive, multilayered underworld that rivals Dante’s Inferno. Bowles, a scholar and professor at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley, has also done translation work from multiple languages, including Nahuatl, the language spoken by many Mesoamerican indigenous peoples. It is obvious, then, that Bowles knows his source material. However, my only complaint with this text is the difficulty involved in keeping track of all of the Aztec- and Mayan-inspired beings that Johnny and Carol encounter, due to the similarity and/or complexity of their names. Because I’ve studied pre-Columbian, Central American literature (though certainly not as extensively as Bowles), I consider myself to be familiar with Aztec mythology/history; yet, I was confused in multiple places throughout the text. Bowles does include a thorough glossary and pronunciation guide, which I frequently needed to consult, but for a book that is so fast-paced, this disrupted the reading process. For the uninitiated reader, this could be a barrier to feeling fully immersed in the text.

Ultimately, I was riveted by Johnny and Carol’s impassioned search for their mother. Even when I was confused by the terminology, this book continued to be un-put-down-able. Bowles makes his characters feel real, and I became deeply invested in their story. From the snappy dialogue, infused with Spanish words and phrases, to the intricate world-building, Bowles keeps his reader’s attention from beginning to end. Now I’m itching to get my hands on A Kingdom Beneath the Waves, which was published in 2016, as well as the other three books in the series, forthcoming in 2017, 2019, and 2021.

TEACHING TIPS: Bowles’s website  has a fairly extensive teaching guide for The Smoking Mirror, including information on his Aztec and Mayan source material. This information would be particularly relevant to a social studies or literature unit on mythology, as it broadens the scope of ancient mythologies beyond Greco-Roman perspectives. This book would also suit language arts lessons that explore the hero’s journey or other themes and images in canonical texts like The Odyssey. Students could compare the trajectory of the journey in both texts or examine the character types—hero, mentor, guardian, etc. This question becomes further complicated by Bowles’s twin protagonists: could both Johnny and Carol be the “hero” of the text? Why or why not? Or, for a more creative lesson, students familiar with mythology might be encouraged to create their own mythological world, drawing on preexisting myths and legends, just as Bowles does. Regardless, The Smoking Mirror is a valuable addition to any classroom or school library.

David BowlesABOUT THE AUTHOR: A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots, David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río Grande Valley of south Texas. A recipient of awards from the American Library Association, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Texas Associated Press, he has written several books, most notably the Pura Belpré Honoree The Smoking Mirror. His work has also been published in venues such as BorderSenses, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Stupefying Stories, Asymptote, Translation Review, Huizache, Metamorphoses and Rattle.

 

CrisRhodesABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is a doctoral student at Texas A&M University – Commerce. She received a M.A. in English with an emphasis in borderlands literature and culture from Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, and a B.A. in English with a minor in children’s literature from Longwood University in her home state of Virginia. Cris recently completed a Master’s thesis project on the construction of identity in Chicana young adult literature.

Book Review: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

 

Reviewed by Cindy L. Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley; ARC received from Sourcebooks Fire.

Labyrinth Lost CoverDESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER:  Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

OUR TWO CENTS: We’re thrilled to kick off our new blogging year with a celebration of Labyrinth Lost, an action-packed, urban, portal fantasy with a powerful, complex Latina main character. This novel tackles family, friendship, love, survival, and self-acceptance all while Alejandra Mortiz and her friends Nova and Rishi fight for their lives in a dangerous underworld.

Alex, a 16-year-old Ecuadorian-Puerto Rican, has been fighting against her magical powers for years, feeling her growing abilities are more of a burden than a blessing. She believes her magic is responsible for her father’s disappearance, and she fears more harm will come to herself and her family if she wholly embraces her magic during her Deathday ceremony. Alex, therefore, sabotages the ceremony, which causes her family to be kidnapped from their Brooklyn home to Los Lagos, where they may die at the hands of The Devourer, an evil, power-hungry bruja who’s happy to destroy anyone who gets in her way. The first few chapters really establish Alex’s character and her position in her family so that you understand and care about how conflicted and guilty she is about her family’s disappearance. The stakes could not be higher, and you want Alex to succeed.

Labyrinth 1Alex’s journey through Los Lagos feels very classic. The different communities she encounters, each with its own history and strengths and weaknesses, may remind readers of classic adventures like The Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, and Alice in Wonderland. Every new area of Los Lagos brings a ton of action. Not every writer can create battle scenes so the reader can clearly visualize them without having to re-read. Zoraida is GREAT at this.

For those who like some romance with their action-adventure story, Labyrinth Lost delivers there as well. Alex has feelings for both Nova and Rishi throughout the narrative, making her one of the few bisexual Latinas in young adult fiction. We especially love that neither Alex’s bisexuality nor her bruja lifestyle are depicted as “issues” or morally problematic. Alex struggles to accept the responsibility and consequences of her magic and her place within her immediate family and the larger bruja community with its deep history and traditions. But, neither her cultural identities or sexual preferences are depicted as “the problems,” thank the Deos.

Labyrinth Lost, the first in a series, ends in a way that will leave you hungry for the sequel with promises of further family complications and more development of secondary characters, Nova and Rishi. We can’t wait!

TEACHING TIPS: 

  • compare/contrast inhabitants of Los Lagos with creatures from other folklore traditions and classical mythology
  • research Santeria and other traditions listed in the author note–which is amazing and a must-read
  • re-write a key scene from the point of view of Nova or Rishi
  • include this novel in a study of the supernatural, and witches specifically, in literature, along with titles such as MacBeth.

    Zoraida 3      Zoraida 2

AND NOW FOR TONS OF AWESOME BONUS STUFF, including Chapter 1, the book trailer, and a giveaway!!

FIRST, you’ve got to see this:

NOW, you’ve got to read this:

Chapter 1:

Follow our voices, sister.

Tell us the secret of your death.

—-Resurrection Canto,
Book of Cantos
The second time I saw my dead aunt Rosaria, she was dancing.

Earlier that day, my mom had warned me, pressing a long, red fingernail on the tip of my nose, “Alejandra, don’t go downstairs when the Circle arrives.”

But I was seven and asked too many questions. Every Sunday, cars piled up in our driveway, down the street, and around the corner of our old, narrow house in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Mom’s Circle usually brought cellophane–wrapped dishes and jars of dirt and tubs of brackish water that made the Hudson River look clean. This time, they carried something more.

When my sisters started snoring, I threw off my covers and crept down the stairs. The floorboards were uneven and creaky, but I was good at not being seen. Fuzzy, yellow streetlight shone through our attic window and followed me down every flight until I reached the basement.

A soft hum made its way through the thin walls. I remember thinking I should listen to my mom’s warning and go back upstairs. But our house had been restless all week, and Lula, Rose, and I were shoved into the attic, out of the way while the grown–ups prepared the funeral. I wanted out. I wanted to see.

The night was moonless and cold one week after the Witch’s New Year, when Aunt Rosaria died of a sickness that made her skin yellow like hundred–year–old paper and her nails turn black as coal. We tried to make her beautiful again. My sisters and I spent all day weaving good luck charms from peonies, corn husks, and string—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. Not even the morticians, the Magos de Muerte, could fix her once–lovely face.

Aunt Rosaria was dead. I was there when we mourned her. I was there when we buried her. Then, I watched my father and two others shoulder a dirty cloth bundle into the house, and I knew I couldn’t stay in bed, no matter what my mother said.

So I opened the basement door.

Red light bathed the steep stairs. I leaned my head toward the light, toward the beating sound of drums and sharp plucks of fat, nylon guitar strings.

A soft mew followed by whiskers against my arm made my heart jump to the back of my rib cage. I bit my tongue to stop the scream. It was just my cat, Miluna. She stared at me with her white, glowing eyes and hissed a warning, as if telling me to turn back. But Aunt Rosaria was my godmother, my family, my friend. And I wanted to see her again.

“Sh!” I brushed the cat’s head back.

Miluna nudged my leg, then ran away as the singing started.

I took my first step down, into the warm, red light. Raspy voices called out to our gods, the Deos, asking for blessings beyond the veil of our worlds. Their melody pulled me step by step until I was crouched at the bottom of the landing.

They were dancing.

Brujas and brujos were dressed in mourning white, their faces painted in the aspects of the dead, white clay and black coal to trace the bones. They danced in two circles—-the outer ring going clockwise, the inner counterclockwise—hands clasped tight, voices vibrating to the pulsing drums.

And in the middle was Aunt Rosaria.

Her body jerked upward. Her black hair pooled in the air like she was suspended in water. There was still dirt on her skin. The white skirt we buried her in billowed around her slender legs. Black smoke slithered out of her open mouth. It weaved in and out of the circle—-one loop over, under, two loops over, under. It tugged Aunt Rosaria higher and higher, matching the rhythm of the canto.

Then, the black smoke perked up and changed its target. It could smell me. I tried to backpedal, but the tiles were slick, and I slid toward the circle. My head smacked the tiles. Pain splintered my skull, and a broken scream lodged in my throat.

The music stopped. Heavy, tired breaths filled the silence of the pulsing red dark. The enchantment was broken. Aunt Rosaria’s reanimated corpse turned to me. Her body purged black smoke, lowering her back to the ground. Her ankles cracked where the bone was brittle, but still she took a step. Her dead eyes gaped at me. Her wrinkled mouth growled my name: Alejandra.

She took another step. Her ankle turned and broke at the joint, sending her flying forward. She landed on top of me. The rot of her skin filled my nose, and grave dirt fell into my eyes.

Tongues clucked against crooked teeth. The voices of the circle hissed, “What’s the girl doing out of bed?”

There was the scent of extinguished candles and melting wax. Decay and perfume oil smothered me until they pulled the body away.

My mother jerked me up by the ear, pulling me up two flights of stairs until I was back in my bed, the scream stuck in my throat like a stone.

Never,” she said. “You hear me, Alejandra? Never break a Circle.”

I lay still. So still that after a while, she brushed my hair, thinking I had fallen asleep.

I wasn’t. How could I ever sleep again? Blood and rot and smoke and whispers filled my head.

“One day you’ll learn,” she whispered.

Then she went back down the street–lit stairs, down into the warm red light and to Aunt Rosaria’s body. My mother clapped her hands, drums beat, strings plucked, and she said, “Again.”

AND NOW, you’ve got to get this:

To find Labyrinth Lost, check your local public library, your local bookstore, or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble. You can also…..

CLICK HERE FOR A RAFFLECOPTER GIVEAWAY

317988_632439229822_92623787_nABOUT THE AUTHOR: Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic.

Author Website: http://www.zoraidacordova.com/

Labyrinth Lost Website: http://books.sourcebooks.com/labyrinth-lost/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CordovaBooks

Twitter:  @zlikeinzorro

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wanderwheel/

Author Tumblr: http://wanderlands.tumblr.com/

Labyrinth Lost Tumblr: http://labyrinthlostbooks.tumblr.com/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ZoraidaLand

Labyrinth Lost Coloring Page: http://www.sourcebooks.com/images/LabyrinthLost-ColoringPage.pdf

Book Review + Giveaway: Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

Moving Target 2

Reviewed by Lila Quintero Weaver

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

What if you could control destiny?

Cassie Arroyo’s world is ripped apart when her father vanishes. What could anyone possibly want with a middle-aged art history professor? But there’s no doubt that he’s being chased by a dangerous organization called the Hastati—and Cassie is their next target.

Cassie learns that she is a descendant of an ancient bloodline that enables her to use the Spear of Destiny: an object that in the right hands can shape the future, and in the wrong hands destroy it. But the spear has been missing for years. It seems that the Hastati will do whatever it takes to control it—and if they can’t find the spear itself, they’ll go after the ones who can use it.

On the run, with only her best friend, Simone, to help her, Cassie must stay one step ahead of the Hastati as she tries to decipher the clues that will lead her to the spear. Her life—and the fate of the world—depend on it.

MY TWO CENTSMoving Target is a middle-grade fantasy thriller starring Cassie Arroyo, a Cuban-American expatriate living in Italy. It’s the first in a series, with the sequel scheduled to release next fall. The plot rides on the journey of three teen characters: Cassie, her friend Simone, and Asher. Asher is the nephew of Brother Gregorio, the monastic figure who provides shelter to Cassie after her father is struck by a hail of bullets, whisked off to surgery, and then vanishes, as far as his daughter can tell. When Cassie discovers that she, not her father, is the main target of the assassins, she teams up with Asher and Simone to recapture the Spear of Destiny, a medieval artifact mysteriously linked to Cassie’s family line and the reason that her formerly blasé life at a private school is shattered overnight. In their quest, the kids must decode cryptic clues, navigate secret tunnels, hitch rides with sketchy characters, and elude menaces by the dozens, including the lurking possibility of betrayal from people entrusted with their care.

The setting for Moving Target is Rome and its surrounding countryside. It’s the perfect backdrop for a contemporary story with ancient implications, one that pairs narrow alleyways with Vespas, and Italian Renaissance art with cell-phone-dependent teenagers—not to mention gun-toting assassins. These combinations feel familiar and cinematic, since many of us have acquired such mental images from the world of high-adventure movies. Christina Diaz Gonzalez seems comfortable in the realm of taut intrigue. Her previous novels capture similarly tense life-and-death stories set The Red Umbrellaagainst vivid backdrops. The Red Umbrella takes place in revolution-era Cuba, with threats encroaching on the main character’s family before and after she and her brother escape to the United States, courtesy of the Pedro Pan airlift. In A Thunderous Whisper, the plot bristles with espionage and Thunderous whispermortal danger: the main character’s father fights in the Spanish Civil War, and the family loses everything in the Nazi bombing of Guernica, their hometown. The intensity remains in Moving Target, but here the author replaces history with fantasy, drawing liberally on religious iconography, mythology and elements of the supernatural.

Cassie Arroyo may be Latina, but as a plot-driven novel, Moving Target’s focus is on adventurous twists and turns. Cassie’s ethnicity remains mostly in the background, although Spanish dialogue and cultural references do occasionally find their way into the picture. In the thriller genre, where protagonists tend to be Anglo by default—as pointed out by Matt de la Peña in a comment published on CNN’s website—books like Moving Target help to normalize the presence of Latina characters in all types of stories, even fantasy thrillers. This is something to applaud.

Christina GonzalezChristina Diaz Gonzalez is the award-winning author of The Red UmbrellaA Thunderous Whisper, and Moving Target. Her books have received numerous honors and recognitions including the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults, the Florida Book Award, the Nebraska Book Award, a Notable Social Studies Book and the International Literacy Association’s Teacher’s Choice Award.  She speaks to students across the country about writing, the importance of telling their stories and the value of recognizing that there is a hero in each one of us. Visit her website at www.christinagonzalez.com for further information.

Check out Christina’s recent guest post for this blog’s Cuban series here.

 

IMG_1291Lila Quintero Weaver is the author-illustrator of Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Darkroom recounts her family’s immigrant experience in small-town Alabama during the tumultuous 1960s. It is her first major publication. Lila is a graduate of the University of Alabama. She and her husband, Paul, are the parents of three grown children. She can also be found on her own websiteFacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

 

ENTER HERE TO WIN A COPY OF MOVING TARGET, PLUS A POSTER, BOTH SIGNED BY CHRISTINA DIAZ GONZALEZ.

 

Book Review: Signal to Noise by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia

 

22609306By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER A literary fantasy about love, music and sorcery, set against the background of Mexico City.

Mexico City, 1988: Long before iTunes or MP3s, you said “I love you” with a mixtape. Meche, awkward and fifteen, has two equally unhip friends — Sebastian and Daniela — and a whole lot of vinyl records to keep her company. When she discovers how to cast spells using music, the future looks brighter for the trio. With help from this newfound magic, the three friends will piece together their broken families, change their status as non-entities, and maybe even find love…

Mexico City, 2009: Two decades after abandoning the metropolis, Meche returns for her estranged father’s funeral. It’s hard enough to cope with her family, but then she runs into Sebastian, and it revives memories from her childhood she thought she buried a long time ago. What really happened back then? What precipitated the bitter falling out with her father? And, is there any magic left?

MY TWO CENTS: This is an intimate tale that, while telling us both the story of teenage Meche and how she has grown up – and not – in the intervening 20 years, has its foundations in a pure coming-of-age romance.

Teens today should be able to relate to 15-year-old Meche, who is equal parts charismatic and surly. Growing up in Mexico City in the 1980s with an alcoholic father and an overbearing mother, she protects herself from the indignities of teenagehood in the earphones of her Walkman. (For those born after the 1980s, Walkmans are the precursors to our wonderful digital devices that can sync up with iTunes.) One day, she discovers that the power of her records can make magic–literal magic, just like her grandma, Mama Dolores says exists.

She convinces her best pals, Sebastian, a literature-loving pseudo-punk, and Daniela, who dresses all in pink and still has a soft spot for her Barbie collection, to help her use magic to meddle in romantic matters and take revenge on those who wrong her and her friends. Classic rock beloved by her father and artists like Miguel Bose and Duncan Dhu spur on her magic, which becomes dangerous as she gets deeper and deeper. Until the bonds between her and those closest to her are stretched to the utmost limit.

We hop back and forth in time from the ‘80s to 2009, when Meche, a successful professional living abroad, returns to Mexico City for her father’s funeral. We find out that they’ve been estranged, which is a surprise, since we know how much Meche’s father (through passages in his book in his point of view) adored her. Much as she did as a teen, adult Meche feels out of place in her old neighborhood. Will she find a place for her in her old neighborhood or is the magic gone forever? Sebastian may have something to say about that.

TEACHING TIPS: Much like the books that have won Alex Awards, Signal to Noise has appeal for both teens and adults. The universal themes of alienation and parental discord are emotions that anyone of any age can relate to. Modern teens may find themselves fascinated by the description of life in Mexico City nearly 30 years ago and discover it’s not so different from their lives today. Teens in local book clubs could compare and contrast how they think teens in the ‘80s would have communicated with their friends (with no fancy technology, horror!) or completed homework assignments (studying honest-to-God paper books at the library, anyone?). A fun craft that librarians could work into a book club discussion is decorating T-shirts with neon puffy paint or stylishly shredding an old pair of jeans. I know of several people who still have records (and one public library as well), so perhaps an old-fashioned listening party is in order?

Book club facilitators could also prompt teens to imagine what their lives will be like in 20+ years. What sort of technology may we see in 2035? What sort of social progress may we have made, if you’d like a deeper discussion? What sort of things have their parents seen happen in the past few decades that seems like no-brainers to youth of today. (Gay marriage and women’s rights come to mind. However, groups may want to explore how much advancement we’ve made regarding racial equality in light of the recent Charleston shooting and the events of Baltimore and Ferguson.)

S_Moreno_20150516_0492_print-1020x1530AUTHOR (DESCRIPTION FROM HER WEBSITE): Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music, magic and Mexico City, was released in 2015 by Solaris. Silvia’s first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was released in 2013 and was a finalist for The Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons. She has co-edited the anthologies Sword & Mythos, Historical Lovecraft, Future Lovecraft, Candle in the Attic Window and Fungi. Dead North and Fractured are her solo anthologies. Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press, a Canadian micro-publishing venture specializing in horror and dark speculative fiction.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Signal to Noise visit your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

 

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

22295304By Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION: (from Goodreads): Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future. Shadowshaper releases June 30, 2015.

MY TWO CENTS: Sierra Santiago is one of my new favorite heroines. She makes plans and follows through, is clear-eyed about the shortcomings of people she loves and takes charge with attitude. As Sierra follows her grandfather’s direction to find Robbie and fix the murals in her neighborhood, more and more secrets keep coming to light and she discovers an entire spirit world that has been hidden to her, but to which she is strongly connected. Older weaves in many great discussion points among the action and supernatural fighting, including colorism, gender expectations, ethics (or lack thereof) in anthropology and handling difficult family members. The Brooklyn setting and Sierra’s group of friends add realism and humor to the story, making this fresh, exciting adventure a must read for YA fans.

TEACHING TIPS: There are many different ways this title could fit into the classroom. The themes of appropriation and anthropology would fit nicely into a history or sociology classroom. Librarians will want to recommend this to teens who love fantasy or adventure stories with urban settings. Art teachers could also add this title to a list of books involving murals and large scale public art projects, as well as discuss the tradition of honoring the dead in art or have students design their own murals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, which began in January 2015 with Half-Resurrection Blues from Penguin’s Roc imprint. Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History and guest edited the music issue of Crossed Genres. His short stories and essays have appeared in Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs regularly around New York and he facilitates workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis. You can find his thoughts on writing, read dispatches from his decade-long career as a NYC paramedic and hear his music at ghoststar.net/ and @djolder on twitter.

RESOURCES:

Interview from Source Latino: http://thesource.com/2015/06/08/source-latino-interview-with-shadowshaper-author-daniel-jose-older/

Review from Debbie Reese about overlap with Indigenous history: http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/04/daniel-jose-olders-shadowshaper.html

Interview from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/2015/06/interviews/qa-urban-fantasy-counter-narrative-daniel-jose-older-on-shadowshaper/#_

Interview from The Rumpus: http://therumpus.net/2015/05/the-rumpus-interview-with-daniel-jose-older/

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Shadowshaper, visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Cackley_headshotCecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.

Book Review: Sanctum: Guards of the Shadowlands, Book One by Sarah Fine

13482750By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This month we are taking a look at Latin@s in science fiction and fantasy. On Monday, we had a Q&A with Sarah Fine, author of the Guards of the Shadowlands series. Today, we take a closer look at her debut novel, first of the series, Sanctum, which features a 17-year-old Latina protagonist.

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

MY TWO CENTS: Sanctum by Sarah Fine offers an engaging blend of fantasy, action, romance, and contemporary social issues, sure to appeal to a variety of readers. Protagonist Lela Santos has spent most of her life in foster homes and the sexual abuse she suffers at one causes her to attempt suicide. Her abuser interrupts the suicide, but Lela was gone long enough to glimpse hell. When her best friend Nadia kills herself and Lela dies accidentally soon after, she is determined to save her friend from the city that preys on souls’ worst fears, insecurities, and vices.

Problem is: Lela doesn’t belong there. The city won’t sustain her, which puts her at risk of dying–again.

Another problem: Creepy creatures called Mazikin claim broken souls and are preparing to bust out of the city. The fights are fierce between the Mazikin and the Guards, and Lela proves to be a badass even before any formal fight training.

Yet another problem: Lela is falling in love with Malachi, the leader of the Guards. And while the romantic tension between them is hotter than Hades itself, a love affair in this setting isn’t likely to last. Plus, Lela is still healing from traumas experienced in her mortal life, which means she doesn’t easily trust people even in the afterlife.

One of the things I liked most about Sanctum was the development of the characters’ emotional journeys through pain and into healing. They all suffered so severely in life they decided to commit suicide, and that decision landed them in a place that continues their torment. Still, as difficult as it is, in life and this afterlife, some are able to overcome the worst experiences and find purpose in life and even love. I won’t give away what happens when Lela finds Nadia, but I will say I wasn’t entirely surprised at Nadia’s response to the rescue effort. The point that we all heal at our own pace is an important one to remember (in real life) when trying to help people with mental health issues.

TEACHING TIPS: One thing the Common Core State Standards asks is for students to compare different treatments of the same subject or analyze how one work of literature has influenced another. One way Sanctum could be used in the classroom, even if only parts are used, is to compare Fine’s version of hell with other versions of hell and purgatory in literature. Discussions about the afterlife and the particular fate of those who commit suicide would be appropriate in higher level English classes that consider the Bible’s influence on literature and history/social studies courses that include a comparative study of religions.

AUTHOR: Sarah Fine is the author of the Guards of the Shadowlands, a YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing), including Sanctum (October 2012) and Fractured (October 2013). The third and final book in this series comes out in October 2014. In May 2014, Putnam/Penguin published Scan, the first of two thrillers she co-authored with Walter Jury. Her gothic young adult novel Of Metal and Wishes will be published by McElderry/Simon & Schuster in August 2014. When she’s not writing, she’s psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.