Mercedes Moreno rediscovers her muse at a mysterious, invitation-only artists’ sanctuary.
Latina high school senior Mercedes is desperate to create a painting worthy of her junior-year award-winner, Food Poisoning #1. But Food Poisoning #2 isn’t coming along, and Mercedes feels blocked artistically and personally. Recently out as bisexual, Mercedes is secretly in love with her white, dancer best friend, Victoria. Mercedes is also stuck watching over her 14-year-old sister, Angela, while their mother is in Puerto Rico taking care of comatose Abuela Dolores. A week after their mom’s departure, a piano shows up on the sisters’ front lawn, and Lilia Solis, a beautiful artist Mercedes thinks might be Latina as well, moves in next door. Lilia invites Mercedes to accompany her to her “studio” in the Red Mangrove Estate, a shuttered old Sarasota beach condo, where Mercedes finds she has boundless energy to paint and meets other artists, musicians, and photographers fulfilling their artistic dreams. The catch? Nothing created at the Estate can be taken out of it; time inside the Estate seems to work differently; and Mercedes begins to crave being there. Unfortunately, the execution hobbles the premise. Mercedes remains mostly unlikable despite the first-person narration, and the dialogue comes across as affected and inauthentic, as in the way Victoria constantly calls Mercedes “dearie” or how often the teens wax philosophical about art.
Initially compelling, this tribute to young artists ultimately underdelivers. (Magical realism. 12-17)