I’m not sure I can adequately describe the intensity of my feelings after finishing this book. Focusing around the game of Lotería, this story incorporates a wealth of Mexican history and culture within its succinct narrative. Through stunning descriptions and an exquisite design, this story incorporates much more than a coming-of-age experience; it actively examines the question of destiny versus free will and is a mind-bending look at life through a specific cultural lens. This is a fantastic story, and I hope you get a chance to read it. Please read my full review below!


Each fork in the road of life feels like a decision one chooses to make; but how many of those moments truly involve free will? Life and Lady Death, or Catrina as she prefers to be known, have joined together for yet another game of Lotería in which they play to reveal the fate of one preselected human. Eleven-year-old Clara is the unsuspecting focus of the game, and her destiny is tied inextricably to the cards being played. As each fateful round of Lotería unfolds, Clara’s life takes seismic turns while she pursues her heartbroken cousin Esteban through countless dangers in an effort to return him safely home.

Profound and thought-provoking, this tale transports readers to Oaxaca City, Mexico, where the sights and sounds of Mexican culture pour from each page. Elegant descriptions of the varied settings in which this tale takes place paint vivid pictures for readers whether or not they have visited Oaxaca themselves. From cultural references to the decadent flavors of tamales and chocolate, English and Spanish words come together to weave a multifaceted mental tapestry.

At the age of eleven, Clara is coming to terms with who she is and who she wants to become. Though she lacks outward prowess in any one skill, she nonetheless is the one family member to track Esteban into an unusual and nefarious parallel world. Initially insecure, Clara’s promise to protect her cousin propels her to make decisions she otherwise might not, helping her to develop into a markedly more mature version of herself. But the question lingers; is she making decisions for herself? Or has every action been predetermined?

Through the voice of an omniscient narrator, the plot shifts among characters to give readers a full sense of each of the moving pieces in this story. Not only do the human protagonists undergo growth in the narrative, but the supernatural characters do, as well. Occasional illustrations and brief chapters make the story accessible to newer middle grade readers, but the depth of the overall message is suitable for all ages. An author’s note at the end dives into some of the more complex elements of the plot, inviting readers to enhance their understanding after the story ends. Gorgeous in its design and superb in its delivery, this is a high-class addition to library collections for middle grade readers.

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