A drama investigates the role religion plays in the lives of Mexican-Americans living in southern Texas amid the dangers of drugs and violence.
Nancy didn’t go to the same high school as Paco, something he knew immediately when he saw her red hair; she was a guera, someone who was Mexican but looked white. The two quickly start dating and fall profoundly in love, a connection far deeper than typical teenage infatuation. They come from distant worlds, though—Paco is an altar boy with a keenly inquisitive theological mind; his closest friend is a priest; and he intends to enter a seminary one day. Nancy comes from a family with connections to the nefarious underworld of crime. She was once a shiftless teen addicted to meth, and now she rejects mainstream Roman Catholicism in favor of Santa Muerte, a cult saint adopted by many Mexicans in explicit rejection of a Christianity they feel was imposed by European imperialists. Paco has no trouble accepting her sordid past but wrestles with what he sees as a lack of spiritual devotion and the possibility that his love for Nancy forecloses any attempt to fully answer his religious calling. Nancy, on the other hand, is frustrated that Paco thoughtlessly accepts a religious heritage foisted upon his people and interprets his attachment to it as evidence of intellectual dogmatism. Huerta (Broken Brain: Surviving a Traumatic Brain Injury, 2014) starts his engrossing novel by revealing that Nancy somehow died and that Paco left. Now a priest has come to town to investigate the case, though it’s initially unclear why. An acquaintance of Paco’s from school—Esteban—relates the story to Father Willy, who is apparently intent on discerning whether Paco’s devotion to Catholicism survived the loss of his love. Huerta adroitly explores the racial and cultural schisms that characterize the Mexican community—a history of miscegenation and colonial conquest necessarily produced a diffuse cultural identity. He also deftly captures without sentimentality a world caught between squalor and spirituality, where both degradation and transcendence are equally possible.
A thoughtful, moving tale about adolescent love and spirituality.