Publishing Date: September 7, 2021
Acclaimed author Karla Arenas Valenti weaves an adventure steeped in magic and mythology, exploring the notion of free will in a world where fate holds all the cards.
It is the hottest hour of the hottest day in Oaxaca City when Life and Death walk into town, ready to begin a new game of Lotería. But first, they need a pawn, a child whose fate will be determined by the winner of the game: a long and prosperous life or an untimely death. Fate finds this child in a robin-egg blue house, tucked beneath a massive jacaranda tree. And so, the game begins.
Every card reveals a new twist in Clara’s fate: a tree, a scorpion, a fateful arrow, a mermaid, a deer, a treacherous rose. But Clara knows none of this. All she knows is that her cousin Esteban has vanished, and she’ll do whatever it takes to save him, traveling to the mythical Kingdom of Las Pozas in her search. And although it seems her fate was sealed as soon as the cards were dealt, Clara just might have what it takes to shatter the game and choose a new path.
This book was SO GOOD. I was expecting a magical middle grade adventure and it was, but it was also surprisingly dark. Like. I would not give this to a young or sensitive kid unless you’re prepared for a lot of tears and possible nightmares. I even cried at the end. It was beautiful, and the darkness only enhanced that beauty.
It was also not focused solely on the kids as I expected. The story revolves around Clara, who is around middle-school age, and Esteban, who is 8, but also focuses on Life and Catrina (Death) who are immortal adults.
The illustrations were lovely and I enjoyed seeing some of the scenes that were described. Which brings me to the descriptions: they were lush and beautiful and made me feel like I was transported to the setting of the book. So many of the foods and plants and other details were unfamiliar to me, but they were described so well I felt I could almost taste and see them.
I also really enjoyed the book-long debate between Life and Catarina about whether anyone had choices / free will or if everything in life was predetermined, and how the story flowed around that framework and offered evidence for both sides.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for providing an e-arc for review.