Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

What an exciting story this is! Cece Rios lives in the desert, but instead of her soul being infused with fire like others in her town, hers is bound to water. Though she is seen as weak in comparison to her community, Cece learns through the course of this book just how strong she truly is. I loved the blending of folklore with magic realism and human relationships found in this story, and I think Cece is a heroine who will inspire young readers to choose their own paths after the book ends. Please see my full review below!


For her entire life, Cece Rios has struggled to secure the affection she desires from her parents. Her older sister Juana is perfect in every way, highlighting the features Cece appears to be lacking. When Juana is suddenly taken by the criatura El Sombréron and Cece can do nothing to stop it, Cece is regarded even more dismally by her parents. In an effort to bring her sister back, Cece does the unthinkable, challenging the accepted nature of both brujas and the supernatural to discover her true identity and make her family whole again.

Gripping and action-packed, this story leaps into the heart of the narrative with very little preamble. The inciting incident is Juana’s kidnapping, but the bulk of the story revolves around Cece’s journey of self discovery. As an almost 13-year-old, Cece is beginning the inevitable transition from child to teenager, piecing together what she has been told with what she knows to be true in her heart. She spends time questioning the established norms of her society, making decisions that are at once unconventional and profound. In a world filled with darkness and conflict, Cece uses her innate strength to infuse it with light.

This story beautifully incorporates folklore and culture into the context of a middle grade novel. Spanish words are embedded throughout the narrative, making Cece’s story more vibrant than it would be through English alone. Readers familiar with Mexican culture will recognize familiar names like La Llorona, but will view them differently through this unique and compelling story. Intense emotions and tenacity permeate this story, inspiring young readers to choose the path that is right instead of the one most traveled, especially when doing so is difficult.

Compelling and engaging, this book is a delight for middle grade readers. Interestingly, the story feels like it could lead into future installments while simultaneously resolving with a satisfying conclusion. Culture and humanity weave together in this inspiring tale, blending seamlessly with the action and danger in which Cece finds herself. Advanced middle grade readers with an interest in folklore and magic realism are sure to fall for Cece and her big heart; this is an excellent addition to library collections for young readers.

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