Tag Archives: Hispanic culture

The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera

Petra wanted to be a cuentista, a storyteller, just like her abuelita. When she boards the spacecraft with her scientist parents and her little brother, Javier, she comforts herself that at least she can spend the 380 years of their flight in stasis with all of the world’s mythology and stories being downloaded into her brain. When they arrive at their new planet, she will be the cuentista for a whole new civilization. Then, just as she is being strapped into her pod, she finds out that her parents said no to the storytelling download. She will just have the much more practical botany lessons for the whole flight. Her pod fills with gel, her body functions are stopped, and she is supposed to be asleep. But she realizes that she is still conscious, and there is no way to tell the Caretaker that she is not asleep. She can’t call out, wave her hand, or even move her eyes.

Three spaceships are leaving Earth because a great comet is on a collision course with the planet. The survivors are chosen because of their skills that will be useful for a fresh start on a new Goldilocks planet, but some were selected to live out normal lives—working, caring for the stasis pods, reproducing, and dying—just as they would have on Earth. But 380 years is a long time, and people get ideas, and the isolated culture that lands on the planet may bear little resemblance to the ones who boarded the ship long ago.

The Last Cuentista won both the Newbery Medal and the Pura Belpré Award this past January. From the title and the cover, I was expecting to dive into a traditional South American story with magical realism, but just a few pages in, we were boarding a spacecraft! Somehow, Higuera’s Latina protagonist was able to transport her Hispanic culture into a futuristic setting. The story is filled with the tension of most sci-fi tales dealing with survival in alien landscapes, but the more Orwellian terror of ruthless power structures is what propels our heroine into action.

Higuera uses both the past and the future to show that, although our history is filled with war and tragedy, human beings have also created art, music, and loving traditions that should not be abandoned. The richness of our past is the foundation for building a beautiful and meaningful future.

Highly recommended for young teen to adult.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews

All the Crooked Saints, by Maggie Stiefvater

All the Crooked SaintsThe Soria family was driven from their home in Mexico because the people there were afraid of their magical powers, so they settled in the Colorado desert in a place they call Bicho Raro. Pilgrims come from all over the world to ask for a miracle. The first half of the miracle is that the saint will make your darkness visible in concrete form. The second half of the miracle is distressingly difficult and sometimes endless: the pilgrim has to find a way to deal with his own darkness before he is healed, with no help at all from the saint, the saint’s family, or anyone who loves a Soria. If the saint tries to help the pilgrim, his own darkness will come out, and a Soria’s darkness is much, much worse than any pilgrim’s.

Joaquin Soria and his cousin Beatriz run an AM radio station from the back of a box truck that has been abandoned in the desert. Their cousin, Daniel, is the current saint of Bicho Raro. Pete Wyatt is on his way to Bicho Raro, because he has been promised that he can work for the Sorias in exchange for a certain box truck. Unfortunately, Pete is bringing disaster along with him.

True confession: I have been a Maggie Stiefvater fan for years. If she writes it, I will read it. I had no idea how she could follow the spectacular success of her “Raven Cycle” series, but I can tell you now that she did it by changing gears completely. All the Crooked Saints is a love letter to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and all of the other South American writers for whom the veil between the rational world and the world of infinite possibilities is gossamer-thin. Stiefvater’s new work is soaked in magical realism, which means that I am all in from page one. However, the old-world feel of this 1960s story is also shot through with Maggie’s own sly, winking humor. Brilliantly conceived characters and a complex, desperate plot are told through a filter woven of Latino culture and the intricacies of a singular family legacy.

This novel will be available in October, 2017. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read a signed advance reader copy of this book, which I obtained at SLJ’s Day of Dialog. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews