Review: Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano

I’m excited to be a part of the blog tour for Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Lotería. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began July 2 and finishes up August 7; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops!

Title: Lotería
Author: Mario Alberto Zambrano
Publisher: Harper
Released: July 2, 2013
Source: publisher (TLC Book Tours)

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retreats behind a wall of silence, writing in her journal and shuffling through a deck of Lotería cards-a Mexican version of bingo featuring bright, colorful images.

Neither the social worker assigned to her case nor her Aunt Tencha, who desperately pleads for her niece’s release, can cajole Luz to speak. The young girl’s only confidant is her journal. Within its pages, Luz addresses an invisible higher power, sharing her secrets.

Using the Lotería cards as her muse, Luz picks one card from the deck with each shuffle. Each of the cards’ colorful images- mermaids, bottles, spiders, death, and stars-sparks a random memory. Pieced together, these snapshots bring into focus the joy and pain of the young girl’s life, and the events that led to her present situation. But just as the story becomes clear, a breathtaking twist changes everything.

Photo by Alex Covarrubias.

What happened to Luz’s sister, Estrella? This is what you want to know from the moment the story begins and while it is unfolding… and Luz is in control of the speed at which we find out. We learn the details slowly, as Luz feels ready and able to write about it, as she writes in her journal while working through a stack of Lotería cards for inspiration. When exactly what happened is finally revealed, I was completely shocked. It was completely believable, but I just didn’t see it coming at all.

There’s a lot of Spanish peppered into the story. Usually context makes the translation obvious, but there are definitely times when there’s no help whatsoever. This has the potential to be frustrating for some readers. However, it adds to the beauty of the writing and gives an authentic atmosphere of the life of this immigrant family.

The voice of Luz, our 11 year-old narrator, makes the story flow by quickly and easily. This is a crazy fast read, but certainly not a light one. The themes that come forth from her words are not what you’d expect – or want – to hear from a child. Domestic violence and child abuse from this young child’s perspective… it’s heartbreaking, complicated, and infuriating. Yet it’s a story told very simply. I think this is a huge reason why Lotería comes across in such a powerful way.

Lotería is Zambrano’s first novel, and I hope to read more of his work in the future. This is a stunning debut.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.