I have to thank Bibliophiliac for for blogging about this book. I hadn't heard of it, but was intrigued by the premise of a young girl, 11-year-old Luz, writing a book using a loteria deck for prompts. Loteria is a Mexican game, similar to Bingo, but frankly, it sounds a lot more fun.
Fun, however, is not necessarily what Luz is writing about. Addressing God, she's in a child detention center, her father is in jail, and her sister is in the hospital. Where's Mom? Unknown. Luz is clearly suffering and trying to work out how she came to be where she is, and how her family came to be where they are.
Here's the thing. There are books that take on a topic and then labor that topic to death. Loteria, thankfully, transcends those problems. Yes, this is a book with a topic--family violence, and that's no spoiler, you find that out pretty early on--but more than that, this is a story of a family, one specific family, with fleshed-out characters as seen through Luz's young but knowing eyes. When violence happens--and it's not always as you'd expect--it's not a global or societal issue, it's Luz's family's issue. And because Luz is so likable, even though she's very flawed (how could she not be, raised in these circumstances?), the violence hurts more.
What's more, this is a complex story because of the family ties and, yes, love. It's an uncomfortable story, told in the beautiful framework of the loteria cards, which are illustrated (full color!) throughout the book.
The story isn't told in a linear way, but as Luz remembers things based on the loteria card she draws from the deck. That works very well here, as memory is at best highly random, and for an 11-year-old, even more so.
When Bibliophiliac blogged about it, she said it was that rare book she wanted to read again right away. I want to read it again, but not right away; it needs some time to settle. The blurbs I read talked about an astonishing plot twist at the end. Frankly, I saw it coming, but that didn't bother me. The author builds up the family story so well that it almost seemed inevitable, if painful.
Beautifully written. And it's a debut novel. Hurray! More to look forward to.