TITLE: Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls
AUTHOR: Kaela Rivera
PAGE EXTENT: 352
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy
MY RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐️
SOURCE: Received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the author in exchange for an honest review.
When a powerful desert spirit kidnaps her sister, Cece Rios must learn forbidden magic to get her back, in this own voices middle grade fantasy perfect for fans of The Storm Runner and Aru Shah and the End of Time.
Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.
When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.
With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.
“But maybe I’m strong enough to know it’s okay not to be strong enough to do it alone.”
Have you ever read a book that’s so good you can’t help but think about it for days? And you struggle to articulate your thoughts into a well-written review because there are so many thoughts swirling through your mind and you want to pen it all down but you’re at a loss for words? This was that book for me. I would give this book a thousand stars if I could.
Cece Rios is a 12-year-old from the town of Tierra del Sol. After a major mishap when Cece was younger, she is treated differently by the people of her town. But when Cece’s older sister Juana is kidnapped by the dark criatura El Sombreron, Cece realises that the only way to get Juana back is to venture into Devil’s Alley and the only way to do it is to resort to something extremely feared and dangerous: brujeria. Or witchcraft. The brujxs are people who control criaturas and that is a very very dangerous territory, let alone for a 12-year-old. So what happens when Cece joins hands with Coyote, an infamous criatura and embarks on a quest to get Juana back? Read the book to find out more! And trust me, you will instantly fall in love with this book!
This is a contemporary fantasy richly steeped in Mexican culture and mythology written with a perfection very few happen to achieve! Be prepared to meet a myriad of mythological beings such as El Sombreron, El Cucuy, La Chupacabra, La Llorona, Tzitzimitl and many more! One of the reasons I love #ownvoices books: when someone from the community writes about their community, not only does it attain a stellar level of accuracy, it also embodies their struggles, their culture, their cuisine and all the amazing things that make up their community, well, their community! #ownvoices books Stan forever!
There is not a SINGLE boring moment in this book. With crisp writing and fighting scenes that will keep you hooked, Kaela has made sure the reader will be glued to the book from cover to cover, be it a young reader or a slightly older one, like me!
Cece, as a protagonist, is one of the most fearless and brave characters I have come across in Middle Grade! She is the embodiment of fierce love for your family, loving them with all their flaws; sheer grit and determination and most importantly, the lengths you go to for the people you love. Having a strong female POC protagonist will show all young girls who pick this book up how they can achieve anything in life with sheer will power and motivation!
It’s not a surprise anymore that Middle Grade is my ultimate favorite genre out there! But WHY? FRIENDSHIPS. I am a sucker for strong and true friendships in books and Middle Grade delivers them in truckloads! The friendship between Cece and Coyote in this book is probably one of the best I’ve come across so far and there were so many cute friendship moments that had me in tears from time to time! Kaela, can I please call dibs on an ARC of Book 2? 🥺💕
Not only does this story offer you an action-paced, adventurous plot, it also highlights an issue which we face in real life. Society is super quick to judge someone without even getting to know them and places so many stereotypes that at one point, they become impossible to get rid of! The criaturas are feared and hated and considered abominations but they are such cute munchkins and fluff balls that will end up occupying every corner of your heart! 😭💖
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is definitely on the list of my Top 10 Best Middle Grade Reads of All Time and if you still haven’t read this battle of good vs evil, you’re missing out on so so much! I have so many thoughts about this book but I don’t want my review to end up being an essay so I’m going to put a stop here. Please pick this one up and we can rant about it all day long!
!Muchísimas gracias por escribir este libro estupendo, Kaela!