An unconventional romance wrestles, at times literally, with issues of identity and belonging.
Gabriel is a good student and grateful nephew to the aunt and uncle raising him in Mexico City since his parents died. He’s out and accepted as gay but has another secret to contend with: the dream of becoming a luchador. In the world of lucha libre, to be gay means wrestling as an exótico, a flamboyant character even by the theatrical standards of the sport. He’s willing to put in the work but wants a character who doesn’t play to stereotype. Author Finnegan (Sotto Voce, 2014) juggles several themes here but they resolve into a story, familiar to the gay community, of choosing your own tribe or family. Gabriel’s problematic first love and subsequent relationship mirror his transformation as a wrestler taking control of his career and happiness; his first mentor is an exótico whose story is a valuable lesson in appearances versus reality. Descriptions of the grimy gyms and the touring company of luchadors and burlesque performers working in Los Angeles as a kind of nightclub act bring the action to life. The planning and execution of wrestling matches is surprisingly exciting; despite the action being scripted, the injuries and potential for accidents are still very real. Spanish terminology is almost all easy to understand in context, but there’s a helpful glossary at the end to help readers distinguish between rudos and técnicos.
The sweat and blood in the ring don’t detract from the sweetness on display here; the setting may be outside the mainstream, but it’s an old-fashioned love story at heart.