Lobizona (Book Review)
by Romina Garber
3/5 Stars - YA, Magical Realism
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
The premise of Lobizona is intriguing – teenaged Manuela is an undocumented immigrant from Argentina, living with her mother in Miami. Her mother isolates her in their apartment until one day ICE arrives, spiralling Manu’s life into a direction she never expected (into magic, in this case).
I’ll begin with what I enjoyed. The best thing about this novel is its blatantly unapologetic focus on Latinx culture and mythology while being approachable to anyone. The book raises (valid) points about how dehumanizing the word “illegal” is and how unempowered it can make people. I found the parallels between Manuela’s “magical” illegality and her status in the United States to be poignant (yet heavy-handed, which attribute to it being YA). And while I appreciated the attempts at dismantling patriarchy and gender roles in regular society by depicting an even stricter set of norms in the magical society, it too felt rather didactic (but, again, perhaps not to a YA audience).
The book was very easy to read, the setting is well-described, and the first quarter was engrossing. Unfortunately, where it took a downturn for me was when Manu’s story entered magical realism.
I’m not fond of this genre. In fact, I’d rate it as one of my least favourite. I’m also not a huge YA person. I’ll admit, I did not realize this was YA when I requested it on NetGalley (I believe I was swayed by the gorgeous cover). I was expecting an adventure with horror aspects (given there's werewolves). Yet, these things wouldn’t have mattered if the novel hadn’t fallen into cliché YA tropes.
I give YA novels some leniency regarding tropes when it comes to narrative craft, but at the same time my personal enjoyment of the novel faded when I could see every plot twist and character development coming.
This novel includes:
- A “chosen one” concept.
- “Instalove” with the popular boy (but something vague is keeping them apart!)
- a magical school that explains everything.
- the chosen one doesn’t have to train or learn to use their abilities, despite everyone else having honed their skills their entire life (this particularly irked me).
- the chosen one taking half the book to realize their true self, despite the audience already knowing it because it’s the title of the book.
Despite these tropes, the novel is easy to read and moves at a fast, fun pace, so I wasn’t bored or struggling to finish it. I just wasn’t engaged.
Would I recommend it to my daughter when she’s 13 or so? Definitely! But for an old lady like me, it's a bit too formulaic.
There also seems to be a trend now where authors are leaving their novels unresolved to force you to read the series. I understand wanting to encourage repeat sales, but having your novel end on a cliff-hanger, without stating in the blurb that it’s part of series, is downright annoying and bordering on cheap. This didn’t affect my rating, but I wish publishing companies would stop pushing this marketing tactic.