This innovative fantasy novel takes place primarily in the Mesoamerican underworld beneath the Grutas de García in Nuevo León, Mexico. Twin protagonists Carolina (Carol) Garza and Juan Ángel (Johnny) Garza, who live in the small Tejano border town of Donna, are sent to spend the summer with an aunt in the urban metropolis of Monterrey, Mexico because their mother has mysteriously disappeared. Their grandmother helps Carol and Johnny realize they inherited the ability to be shapeshifters, naguales, who have a tonal, or beast-soul. They must learn how to use their powers, including xoxal, a savage magic, on a daring quest to rescue their mother and hold back dark forces building against their world.
Almost thirteen years old, the protagonists are realistically distinct: Johnny is like his sculptor mother, with a tendency to wisecrack and allude to movies, and Carol is more cautious like her historian father. Their twin bond helps them survive, as each saves the other’s life more than once. In the underworld of Mictlan, they proceed through the Nine Deadly Deserts, full of risks and antagonists, even facing a death sentence by Lord and Lady Death. Helpers include Pingo, one of the tzapame, or Little People, and Xolotl, the canine form of the god Quetzalcoatl. The meaning of the cover design appears when Tezcatlipoca, an enemy of all sides, leaps in his jaguar form through the membrane between worlds. The Smoking Mirror is realistically embedded in adolescent situations, such as bullying, sibling friendship and rivalry, parental loss, and fear of narcoviolence, while developing fantastical scenarios, such as gaining supernatural abilities, descending into the underworld, and battling creatures from Aztec and Mayan mythologies. Published only in English, the novel includes dialogue, songs, and chants in Spanish. The sequel forthcoming in 2016 is eagerly anticipated.
The Smoking Mirror
Garza Twins: Book One.
IFWG Publishing, 2015.
Age Group: Young Adult
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Jeff and George and the Totem Pole brings an entirely fresh visual voice into South African children’s literature. Miles away from moralistic folktales or picture-postcard Africa or bitter flavours of apartheid, author and artist present cold, rainy, modern Cape Town. Jeff is a bored, bed-bouncing boy and George is a very small pronking springbok (That’s what springboks do.) Perhaps an echo there of AA Milne’s Piglet. Set against spaces of cool grey and cream are masses of items for a young eye to explore: the scattered contents of a boy’s room, food in the fridge, materials needed to create the weather-proof Totem Pole inside which boy and springbok can brave the winter weather. And then the sun comes out above the clear outline of Table Mountain with its cablecar. Warmth returns to a child’s world. That is – Emily Child’s world. She is an actress who understands drama and dialogue. The text is pithy and enjoyably sparse. Anastasopoulos is an illustrator whose double-outlined soft-colured style is clear, full of humour and intriguingly arranged. Modern, real and utterly captivating. (And to please every South Africa heart, Jeff has a poster on his wall proclaiming “I ♥ RUGBY”.) Also available in Afrikaans.
Jeff and George and the Totem Pole
Illus. Julia Anastasopoulos
Cape Town: Puffin South Africa 2014. 30 pp.
In This One Summer, cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki give adolescent and teenage readers a coming-of-age story set in Ontario’s cottage country. Narrated by adolescent Rose, whose parents are going through a difficult time, the novel traces Rose and her friend Windy’s summer days. The pre-adolescent and exuberant Windy vacations with her single mother and grandmother, women who both demonstrate and embrace alternative lifestyles. The girls’ interactions with members of the local community, many of them First Nations peoples, center a narrative that runs alongside the problems Rose faces at home. The graphic novel format is perfect for this story as it conjoins spare and relatable dialogue with realistic narration, both of which are heightened by illustrations done in shades of purples and blues on an ivory background. The...