In her solo debut, Dávila Cardinal draws on the lore of her Latinx roots.
Sixteen-year-old Lupe, “the Gringa-Rican from Vermont,” is determined to get to know the real Puerto Rico, away from tourist hot spots, while visiting her father’s extended family over the summer. Javier is holding onto sobriety on the cusp of his 18th birthday when childhood friends begin to be killed in gruesome ways. One young man in the crosshairs is Lupe’s cousin, setting her on a course to discover the truth that entangles her with Javier and other islanders who view her as an interloper. Setting differences aside, Javier and Lupe work together but find their top suspect to be a figure from legend, El Cuco—the mythical monster Latin mothers warn their children to steer clear of by making wise choices. In the end, however, the true fight is not with a supernatural bogeyman but with one’s inner demons. Dávila Cardinal brings both the colorful culture as well as the struggles of Puerto Rico to life, illustrating the saying, “When the U.S. gets a cold, Puerto Rico gets pneumonia.” Though pacing is tight through most of the story arc, the climax drags, trifling with the reader’s willingness to continue to suspend disbelief. Nevertheless, this novel is a thrilling spin on legendary source material as well as a study in identity, community, and connection.
A story that lingers in sinister shadows. (Supernatural thriller. 14-18)