Author: Valenti, Karla
In Oaxaca City, Mexico, ancient friends Life and Death discuss free will while engaged in a game of chance, with eleven-year-old Clara as the protagonist of their theories and a pawn in their game, moving inevitably towards her ultimate fate.
Kirkus Reviews (08/15/21)
School Library Journal (+) (00/08/21)
The Hornbook (+) (00/11/21)
Full Text Reviews:
Booklist - 08/01/2021 Once a year, Life and Death meet to play an influential game of Lotería that will decide the fate of one individual. This year, in Oaxaca, Mexico, an 11-year-old named Clara has been chosen. The outcome of the game will either grant her a long life or cut it short, but that is up to the cards to determine. As Life and Death deal the fate-deciding cards, Clara goes in pursuit of her missing cousin, Esteban. Her search leads her to the mythical land of Asrean, where she must encounter strange talking animals, make difficult choices, and travel to the Kingdom of Las Posas to save Esteban from a dreadful fate. In this marvelous blend of magic realism, suspense, and adventure, readers will be rooting for Clara to beat the odds and shape her own destiny. Valenti seamlessly infuses Mexican culture and myth into a spellbinding story that explores free will through a traditional Mexican game. Readers will find themselves asking how they have influenced their own choices and fate after reading this. - Copyright 2021 Booklist.
School Library Journal - 08/01/2021 Gr 3–6—Life and Death have met up for their yearly game of Lotería and the silver strands of fate have chosen Clara this year, a seemingly ungifted dark-haired girl born into a family of gifted people in Oaxaca, Mexico. She does not know that she is being watched, but her prescient cousin Estaban foresees something bad about the happen. And bad things do happen and keep happening. When Clara's aunt dies suddenly, Estaban is blinded by grief for his mother and walks into the dangerous kingdom of Las Pozas where the Man in Red kidnaps him. Clara must follow to save her young cousin before he is trapped there forever by the king. She must learn the rules of this kingdom and begin to trust her talents. All the while, Life and Death play their game to determine her next obstacle and finally, which one will claim her in the end. The discussion of our lives being controlled by fate or free choice appears throughout and while all gets resolved and final choices are made, part of the beauty and brilliance of this tale is making readers comfortable with the concept that life or death can be equally important, and even fulfilling, destinies. The magical realism employed adds a warmth and imaginative quality to the world-building that is only enhanced by the rich feast of language Valenti offers up. Readers will be able to smell the chocolate in Clara's family's restaurant and feel the plants in her aunt's garden. The illustrations that are interspersed as partial and full-page spreads add another access point to this world full of Mexican mythology and characters; detailed imagery of each round of Lotería cards is a powerful tool to see where we are in the game. The use of Spanish is prevalent throughout and is always translated or explained so it can certainly be understood by readers not at all familiar with Mexican culture or mythology. Additionally, the explanations of characters and stories referenced in the back of the book make this story even more meaningful and accessible. VERDICT A magical, philosophical tale rooted in Mexican lore that will hold readers from beginning to end with its verdant language and setting.—Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury P.L., MA - Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.