ARC was provided by NetGalley and Tor Teen in exchange for an honest review.
This review is being published before the release date (September 15th, 2020)
Content/Trigger Warnings: Depictions of graphic violence, graphic injuries, death, allusions to an animal death, emotional and mental abuse, domestic abuse, grief, alcoholism, child abuse, trauma
Friends, I have to admit something… I have never read a book by Mark Oshiro until now. Okay, I said it! However, this book was so good though and now I have a mighty need to pick up anything by Mark Oshiro. There’s something about fantasy books that combine survival, deserts, and semi-apocalyptic elements that lures me in. Or perhaps it was the synopsis about a main character who deserves happiness. Either way, I was blown away by this book!
Our story follows Xochitl, the la cuentista of her village, Empalme, taking the stories of her villagers and returning them to Solis. Until one day, Xochitl decides to keep a story and nothing is ever the same. When Julio, the murderous man who has has conquered their town, unleashes his wrath like never before and Xochitl’s secret has been revealed, she has no other choice, but to leave her village into the unforgiving desert, to find a kindred spirit who will understand her.
“Solo quiero ser vista. I only want to be seen.”
I truly loved the experience and the way Oshiro built the world in this book. You feel the heavy sense of how harsh the environment is and how sacred water truly is. You have areas that have been scorched or turned to ruin. It really adds to the apocalyptic elements of the world. You also get to experience the mythology Oshiro built surrounding cuentistas. As Xochitl is traveling throughout this book, she encounters various people from many different places who have different relations, experiences, and stories of cuentistas. These challenge the beliefs that Xochitl has always been told and we see, despite the differences, how those beliefs can coexist without there being a default “right” or “wrong” way.
I also really loved the relationship between Xochitl and Emilia. Both of these young women are trying to find their place in the world after each of them have experienced so much. Somehow, despite all the pain they’ve experienced, held back from others, they find comfort within the company of one another. Their relationship isn’t the main focus of this novel, but it’s a consistent slow build throughout the whole book. And if you’re fan of slow burn romances, with slight elements of enemies to lovers, then you’re going to love these two. I also want to take how throughout this book, LGBTQ+ relationships were normalized through this book. There’s no pain, no hardships, you just get these glimpses of them being with one another and living in that moment of happiness.
There’s also a huge theme of community and togetherness throughout this book. Whether it’s through the storytelling or when Xochitl and Emilia are traveling through the desert. There’s just a large sense of connection to everyone and everything. It made my heart so warm and causes the reader to pause to cherish the stories that have been passed to them whether through family, friends, or your relationships.
“We’re shaped by the experiences that we live.”
Also, let me say how much I loved the Spanish included throughout this book. I don’t say it enough, but it truly is a breath of fresh air to see an author speak their native language or a language that’s a huge part of them. I think for many readers who aren’t familiar with Spanish, never learned Spanish, it might be hard to understand certain parts throughout the book. However, it truly makes for an exceptional experience and makes this book an even better read.
Overall, I really loved this story and so many elements this book holds. The journey in itself and the many messages this book holds are unforgettable. I have no doubt that this book is going to impact so many readers. I can’t wait to read more from Mark Oshiro and see where they’re next book takes them! I also want to recommend that if you’re reading this review, then please make sure you look up Latinx book reviewers for their thoughts on this book. I’m not Latinx so I can’t comment on the cultural elements laced throughout this book. But if you are Latinx, please let me know so I can link you.
Below I’m including some reviews from other reviewers that really touched my heart, but you should also read and support them as well!
The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.