Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
Last November, I went to the grocery store and saw a display of Día de los Muertos - Day of the Dead - stuff on display - imported from a non-Latin American country overseas, in plastic. I was unimpressed. It's problematic when we gank cultural celebrations from multicultural groups for the purpose of selling them as something new and cool and "must have," for those seeking coolness-by-proximity-to-culture, and it's just done so frequently. So, you'll understand that when I looked at the cover of LABYRINTH LOST, I had an oh, snap! moment until I saw the author's name. And then I thought, "Oh, her background is Ecuadorian; this should be interesting!
Synopsis: Alex just wants normalcy. No smoke, no spirits, no blood, no death: just high school. Unfortunately, she's been born into a family of brujas - witches - and not getting some of the family heritage isn't possible. All the power has meant to her is loss -- her cat, her father, her favorite aunt -- all have died or disappeared. With absolute power comes absolute chaos, and Alex just wants peace - to hang out with her quirky friend Rishi, and just chill like everyone else. She can't even have a normal birthday party to which she can invite friends -- oh, no, Alex gets a deathday -- the day the family celebrates the flowering of her power. Frustrated and fearful, Alex is tempted to repudiate her magic. Nova, a gorgeous boy who is a power in his own right, has implied that Alex is so powerful that maybe she could... maybe. Regardless Alex knows that magic always has its price -- and the price Alex pays for selfishness is what she's always feared -- losing everyone. Permanently.
But with great power comes ...okay, yeah, great responsibility, but also serious potential. Alex - one of the most powerful brujas in her generation, is the only one who can even hope to undo the damage that she's done. She doesn't know what she's doing. She doesn't know who she can trust. Obviously, that means she's just going to jump in anyway.
Observations: The jacket copy says this is Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I thought it was more Alice's Wonderland meets Homer's Odyssey meets Jim Henson's original Labyrinth with an Ecuadorian twist -- because there's a whole lot of color and crazy going on.
This is both a quest and adventure book. The plot is clearly the Heroine's Journey is painted in bright new colors - Alex starts oh, so reluctantly, she's dumped out into the world because the world she knew is broken, and then her journey begins in earnest... she walks it, has an "okay, you'd better accept yourself, because wreckage has already happened and will happen again" moment, and then the book concludes. It's a strong usage of an old trope.
I refuse to offer up much in the way of spoilers here, but this isn't "Sabrina, Teen Witch" with Alex's bruja tale. Through fear and selfishness, she symbolically rejects her culture without truly exploring it - contempt prior to investigation. This contempt and fear leads her to a choice the recoil and reverberations from which tear her family away from her, and tear Alex from her roots, from her foundation. Alex literally has to take this burden that she tried to throw away and accept it as a part of her, as an extension of her truest self. The novel takes this complex metaphor and stretches and molds it and shades it into a creepy story that works on multiple levels.
There is romance in the novel, which doesn't feel as necessary nor as heartfelt as I might have liked -- but it doesn't detract, as it isn't even worked out in Alex's mind quite what's going on with it. That, I found to be pretty realistic. As a reader I was more invested in the relationships between women in this story, and the depiction of women's power through matriarchy, and thought that was worth the price of admission, even without the love story.
Conclusion: A lovely addition to the YA canon, this darkly powerful adventure reveals a diversity of Latin American culture and realistic magical tradition which will have readers wishing to connect strongly with the bruja within themselves, and straighten out the maze of their own lives. It'll be interesting to see where sequels in this series lead.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After September 6th and just in time for back-to-school, you can find LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Cordova at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!