Author: Romina Garber
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
“You’re saying if no one’s told my story before… I get to tell it the way I want?” ~ Romina Garber, Lobizona
Behold! Marvel at this cover art! Read the synopsis! Isn’t this promising? Doesn’t this make you wish you had a copy? Because, yes—after seeing the cover art and the synopsis, I desperately wanted to read this book. I needed this book. And the bookish gods of Netgalley smiled graciously on me and granted my earnest wish.
my face @ netgalley. yes, I’m aware I’m probably annoying lol
In Lobizona, we follow Manuela (Manu) as she navigates life without detection. Hiding from both the US government and from the people of her father’s past, Manu is undocumented and unprotected. Isolated due to hiding, secrecy is Manu’s constant companion besides Perla and Ma. But hiding Manu isn’t the only secret that gets discovered. When Manu’s mother is taken by ICE, Manu discovers a magical world that is eerily familiar… Now in a magical world, Manu wages forward to uncover the secrets that gnawed on her since childhood. And just like the secrets that fought so hard to remain hidden, Manu must fight harder to uncover the truth.
The book weaves Argentinean folklore surrounding lobizon and bruja into Manu’s world which presents an interesting aspect into the novel. I liked how Argentinean culture was incorporated into the storytelling. Garber naturally incorporates Spanish into the dialogue. I appreciate how flawless and natural it was. However, the Spanish can make the reading experience disjointed if you’re not familiar with the language. There were times where the narrator (Manu) will translate, and other times where one can gauge the meaning from context and times where you won’t get it. I’ll be honest, I’ve never formally learnt Spanish nor learnt how to read it but can only understand and pick it up from sound (because 1. I’m uneducated hahah and 2. that’s how I learnt—when a family member spoke). Often, I’d have to pause and read passages aloud for my two brain cells to figure out the translation. Yes, I’m a child of immigrant parents and as a result, lost my mother’s tongue to assimilating to the culture I lived in… I’m like the meme:
‘Me? Bilingual? More like, bye-lingual’
Therefore, pausing and rereading some phrases often impacted my reading experience. I’m already a slow reader haha… ANYWAY! I like how Garber unapologetically and fluidly weaves Spanish into her novel.
Lobizona is broken down into four phases. I won’t say much to spoil the story; however, the story really picks up in phase two for me. In phase two, we discover more about this magical world. The world-building felt a little thin and due to that, the story felt more of magical realism rather than fantasy.
This book takes a while to get into the promised action. After the 40%, that’s where all the action began and it was great. Although, the pacing felt disjointed at times. For example, the first 40-50% of the book we are dragging our feet to this magical world. And then, at the last 15-20% action happens! All! At! Once! I’d appreciate if there were moments for the audience to process all that is going on.
Despite the pacing, I did appreciate Garber’s writing style. Garber weaves emotions well into her characters without weighing down the narrative with too many descriptions. The read was compelling and I read this novel in one sitting.
I love an underdog character. With everything going on, you can’t help but root for Manu! I was invested in her and her dreams. Yeah, she has her insecurities and doubts, but Manu is determined despite all odds. She dreams and yearns for more and when an opportunity shows itself, she’ll take it. I liked that about her. However, the chosen one trope is strong in this one. If you’re not a fan, you may not enjoy the incessant specialness of Manu. I’m a fan of the chosen trope so I’m never really bothered by such things—in fact, I relish in it.
Other than Manu, there is a large cast in this book (I can’t remember all their names but I remember Cata and Sasya—the two other girls). I enjoyed Manu’s and Sasya’s interactions. Sasya is a kind and gentle soul, the welcoming friend to Manu. Whereas, Cata is perceived to be the ‘mean girl’ who is ruthless to Manu. I wasn’t a fan of how that part was portrayed like the typical ‘popular girl mean to the new girl’ trope.
Another aspect I didn’t enjoy was the romance. long sigh yes, the romance. I didn’t like how the romance gave a forbidden vibe to it (spoiler-y: more like almost cheating vibes). And when the truth came out it felt convenient and cheap. Also, I couldn’t understand why the love interest and Manu had feelings for each other? It felt superficial. I would rather focus on other pressing matters, such as Manu’s mother and Manu’s discoveries.
Aside from the romance, there were many aspects I liked. I liked how alienation and challenging the norm was a major factor in this book. I liked how the themes of alienation and immigration were woven in the story. Manu’s fear of discovery rings true to too many people. Garber writes well, enveloping the reader into Manu’s world that you feel the constant fear and even the threat in living. But despite the fear, there’s the unyielding hope. It was hope in the characters that I loved in this book. Lobizon grapples with and comments on various themes such as misogyny, privilege, undocumented immigrants, amongst many more and I deeply appreciated it did so.
I, myself am a child of immigrants and I have experienced cultural assimilation so on one side, parts of this book resonated with me. I liked how powerful Garber wrote various aspects (especially the first phase). Again, I liked how she wove another language into her book so naturally and how this book was an easy and compelling read. I just wished there were more. In actuality, I think I had higher expectations due to wanting to really love this book. (Why do I do this to myself?) Despite that, I’m very curious to see where this tale (
or… tail) will go.
Recommended for: fans of fantasy schools with magical creatures, fans of YA fantasy, latinx readers looking for latinx authors, people looking for diverse books
Content warning: xenophobia, sexism, bullying, trauma, misogyny, homophobia
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.