Cover of Lotería which looks like a Lotería card with a red rose against a blue background

About the Book

Title: Lotería
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: Montell Jordan Award
Adoption Certificate: Heck Yes
Talky Talk: Auténtico
Bonus Factors: Lotería Cards, Diversity, Houston
Trigger Warning: Domestic Abuse
Relationship Status: Amigos De Por Vida

Content Warning: This book is neither incredibly graphic nor overly traumatizing, but physical abuse is a key element in the story.

Cover Story: Montell Jordan Award

GIF from Montell Jordan's music video "This Is How We Do It"

In addition to being straight up gorgeous, the artwork is designed to look like a Lotería card image, which obviously pertains to the story. Also, would you be able to look at this cover and guess that it’s YA? No and EXACTLY.

The Deal:

It’s been five days since Luz Castillo ended up at a state-run home for kids. Five days since her sister Estrella was rushed to the hospital. Five days since her father was thrown in jail. And five days since Luz has spoken to anyone. With a journal as her only confidante, she uses a set of Lotería cards to inspire her words and guide her recollections while she attempts to process the painful secrets of her family. What Luz decides to tell her social worker will determine whether she remains a ward of the state or moves to Mexico, but before she can speak, she must sift through the past to find her true voice.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Luz is only eleven, but her life experience has colored her perspective a darker shade of age. With her mind still reeling from recent events, her heart is understandably numb, but as she fills the pages of her journal with pieces of memory, the rawness of her emotion becomes apparent. She’s a survivor, sure, but she’s also a kid– a kid that I wanted to hug super, duper hard. Luz has a lot of anger and grief to work through, but I never had any doubt that she was an incredible human being, and I would be honored to call her my own.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

I’m really glad that there’s no romance in this book, partially because it would detract from the core story and partially because, given the way things are going in Luz’s life, it would probably add just another layer of sadness. And I really couldn’t handle that.

Talky Talk: Auténtico

Damn, Mario Alberto Zambrano, where did you come from?!! Oh, contemporary ballet? The Iowa Writer’s WorkshopHotness Central? Dude, quit hogging all the awesomeness, ok?

But seriously, this book is beautifully written. Luz’s voice is stark, and her observations pierce the page with the power of their meaning. By focusing each chapter on a different Lotería card, Zambrano strings together a compelling series of vignettes that paint a complex portrait of adolescence. In addition, his skillful inclusion of Spanish enriches the narrative without ever dumbing it down for the reader.

Bonus Factor: Lotería Cards

A picture of all of the cards in a Lotería deck, with symbols like a rose, a scorpion, and a skull

Not only did Lotería cards make for an excellent structure, they’re also just really cool. I loved how each chapter started with an illustrated card, and now I can’t stop picturing Lotería wallpaper in my bathroom. (Too much?)

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

Latino culture permeates almost every aspect of Luz’s story, from music to language to religion, and it colors her world in an incredibly authentic way.

Bonus Factor: Houston

The downtown Houston skyline behind a park with cyclists

HOUSTON MAKE SOME NOISE!!!! I love me some H-town, and even though it wasn’t a big part of the book, I enjoyed catching the few references. (Especially Astroworld. RIP!)

Relationship Status: Amigos De Por Vida

From the get-go, this book launched itself into my heart, and it had a high amount of emotional baggage to unload. But I shouldered the burden gladly, because this story has a beautiful spirit in spite of its pain. We immediately became close, and even though it didn’t share everything with me, it offered a glimpse into a life I found both tragic and inspiring. This book is special, and I’m honored to know such a unique and wonderful read.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a free review copy from Harper. I received neither cocktails nor money for this review (dammit!).

Sarah lives in Austin, TX and believes there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure, which is part of why she started FYA in 2009. Growing up, she thought she was a Mary Anne, but she's finally starting to accept the fact that she's actually a Kristy.