A timely but unflinching look at the distressing impact of drugs on the U.S.–Mexico border.
Arturo is a teenager living in Colonia de Anapra, a poor neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez. He gets by doing odd jobs and hustling small amounts of cash with the card game calavera. Faustino, an old friend and now a member of a drug gang, has stolen a large sum of money from the gang, so he begs Arturo to help him replace it. Seeing Eva, Faustino’s girlfriend, and her baby, Arturo agrees to help. Santa Muerte, the titular St. Death, looms large over the plot, invoked in italicized passages between chapters that act as a Greek chorus. Arturo is reluctant to believe in Santa Muerte, but he lights a candle anyway. Over the course of the night that follows, Arturo plays a desperate game of calavera to redeem the debt, and as the stakes rise, so does Arturo’s faith in Santa Muerte. And as Arturo’s game inevitably fails him, Santa Muerte watches him closely. Printz winner Sedgwick (Midwinterblood, 2013) makes great use of unitalicized Spanish throughout the story, with an English translation following most of the Spanish. His third-person, present-tense narrative combines his characteristic precision of English prose with Spanish punctuation conventions in his dialogue. The use of em dashes instead of quotation marks and surrounding questions and exclamations in the Spanish fashion (“—¿What? No way”), while initially distancing for readers unfamiliar with the convention, ultimately creates a dizzyingly immersive experience.
Readers will be both devastated and inspired by Arturo’s devotion to Faustino and his faith in Santa Muerte. (Fiction. 14-adult)