Every year I participate in the Cybils Awards, I read books more quickly than I can review them. Here’s another one left over from the fall. And though it didn’t make it to the finalist round, I was very excited when it won a Pura Belpré Honor this year.
The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez
by Adrianna Cuevas.
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2020.
ISBN 978-0374313609. Read from library copy.
Nestor is starting sixth grade at his sixth school – his father is deployed disarming bombs at an undisclosed location, probably Afghanistan. Now, instead of living on base, he and his mother are moving in with Nestor’s Abuela in New Haven, Texas. Nestor is a fast-talking kid, used to using his words and humor to help with the struggles of always being the new kid. But though he’s very used to change, even he is surprised when a smart-aleck raven starts talking to him. He is also rather alarmed to hear stories from multiple people of pets and goats disappearing in the woods. School life includes new friends Talib and Maria Carmen, as well as a bully, Brandon, and actually joining the trivia team at school. But one of the teachers, Miss Humala, is so over-the-top cruel that it’s truly frightening. Then, the kids catch glimpses of giant animals – a snake, a spider and a wolverine – creatures that fit too neatly into the old Panamanian and Costa Rican legend of the evil witch or tule vieja. If they can believe the stories, the only way to stop her is during the eclipse – coming up in just a few days.
Nestor is an utterly believable kid, his patter and wit covering the deep pain of having his dad gone most of the time and never having had a place to put down roots. Even as he’s getting to know his grandmother better and making real friends, he has a hard time believing that this is the place he’ll actually stay. Life as part of a military family is covered only rarely, and it’s good to see this portrayal. Though the scope of the baddie is limited to the town rather than the whole world, this has enough action and ties to myths (even if less familiar ones) to appeal to fans of the Rick Riordan style, as well as to kids who enjoy stories of kids learning to put down roots.
Though the feel is lighter, the Love Sugar Magic series by Anna Meriano is also excellent middle grade about magic in Texas.