Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

Rivera, Kaela. Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
April 13th 2021 by HarperCollins Children's Books 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Cece lives in the small town of Tierra del Sol with her parents and older sister Juana. When she is young, she wanders off into the desert when she is watching a sunset with other children, and is approached by a criatura. Luckily, it is Tzitzimitl, who is a protector of human children, but she curses Cece, who is considered a bit suspicious by her family, who worry that she will become a bruja like her aunt. When her sister Juana dances in the Amenazante celebration, she is stolen away by el Sombreron, the Bride Stealer. Cece is unable to save her sister, but tries to figure out a way that she can get her back. She is aided by a criatura she saved from starving, Coyote, who agrees to work with her so that she can join the battle of the brujas and be able to go through the Devil's Alley and win her sister back. Cece doesn't want to be a bruja-- they are considered evil because they capture the souls of criaturas and keep them in their power. Cece has the ancestry, as well as the ability, to do well against the other brujas, but she doesn't want to join them. Luckily, her kindness wins her help from other criaturas, including Little Lion and Ocelot, and she manages to keep up the quest for her sister without her family knowing that she is running with creatures they consider evil. Will she be able to build her powers, get her sister back, and keep the peace with the family she loves?
Strengths: This was a great action adventure novel with deep underlying philosophical themes of love, family, and personal identity. Cece's secret mission to save her sister with skills that were present in other family members in the past is a great way to show agency in a tween without killing the parents. (Although there is a grandmother who has passed away.) The southwest setting is one that hasn't been used quite as much in fantasy novels, and is much more interesting than yet another Anglo-Germanic medieval fantasy! This appears to be Ms. Rivera's debut novel, and is a great start. 
Weaknesses: While the glossary is really helpful, I could have used a few more notes on the cultural and folklore details so that I could understand more about brujas, cueranderos, and the criaturas. I looked up a lot of information, which was fine. A lot of authors don't want to marginalize their own cultures by italicizing words in languages other than English, and I understand the philosophy behind that. Still, if I am a bit confused, my students may be as well. Scaffolding some of the background information would be very helpful. 
What I really think: This is a good addition to fantasy books with a cultural basis in MesoAmerican culture, like Mejia's Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, Salazar's Land of the Cranes and The Moon Within, Cuevas' The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, Barron's Maya and the Rising Dark, and Meriano's Love, Sugar Magic series. 

I do need help on terminology. Would this be considered Latinx literature? There are some similarities in these titles, but I have a strong suspicion they are different enough to need their own categories. Any thoughts? There is some Spanish language in many of these, so would Hispanic be the term to use?

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