In photojournalist Diederich’s harrowing debut novel, 13-year-old Liberio “Boli” Flores endures the effects of narcoviolence sweeping Mexico.
Brutal change comes to the pueblo of Izayoc when the townspeople discover the severed head of a teacher. Soon, new cars with California plates appear in the village, driven by men in flashy clothes. After another body—a woman’s—turns up in a field, Boli and his village suspect the worst: “Something was going on.” Boli’s parents go to nearby Toluca to request assistance from the federal police. Meanwhile, life goes on, and Boli and his best friend, Mosca, shine shoes to scrape together enough money for a wrestling event at a fair. When his parents fail to return, Boli longs to uncover the truth behind their disappearance, as he solicits help from El Chicano Estrada, a washed-up, jaded luchador. Though he filters this narrative through Boli’s starry-eyed perspective, Diederich doesn’t hold back in his depiction of corruption and loss. Full of grim and shocking violence, Izayoc here represents a demoralizing reality perhaps already too familiar. Boli and Chicano’s investigative efforts expose nothing but bad news: “We are a country built on lies. Listen, forget the illusion that the world is a good place. It’s not.” The conclusion provides only a dubious sense of closure.
Childhood at its most hopeful and heartbreaking; readers seeking lighthearted, sanitized fare should turn away. (glossary) (Fiction. 12-15)