Cover Image: Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa

Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa

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Member Reviews

“I was just trying to finish my movie, inform the masses, and maybe score some extra credit to start off eighth grade…but now? Everything is upside down.”
Twelve-year-old Pilar is an aspiring documentary filmmaker. She doesn’t need to look very hard to find the perfect subject for a film: her cousin Natasha who mysteriously disappeared during the Trujillo dictatorship. But finding answers takes an unexpected twist, when the file she finds with her cousin’s name on it pulls her into another world full of magic and fantastical creatures inspired by Dominican mythology that come to life on the island of Zafa. In a race against time, Pilar must figure out how to save her cousin from a magical prison before it destroys the land and neither of them can escape.

From history and mythology coming together to the blending of culture and language, this story does a great job of bringing important aspects of Pilar’s world to life and proves her to be an interesting multi-dimensional character. Though at first it may seem that Pilar isn’t interested in any world that can’t be made into a captivating film, she really steps into an extraordinary role to help her cousin when everything around her is turned upside down… literally. I really enjoyed the way Randall brought Dominican mythology to life! I was very unfamiliar with this form of mythology and culture, and I really enjoyed learning about it alongside Pilar as she navigated the odd but beautiful world of Zafa. For a magical adventure full of fantastical creatures, culture, laughs, and an empowering young female lead, check out Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa!

(Pine Reads Review would like to thank NetGalley and Henry Holt and Co. Publishing for sending us an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes are taken from an advanced copy and may be subject to change upon final publication.)

PRR Writer and Editor, Taylor Quinn
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Combining historical events with fantasy elements to help educate middle graders.

I absolutely loved to see the Spanish language mixed into the story in a natural way.

While this story is inspired by true events, it was fun to read how the author incorporated these events into a fantasy world with the idea that it would make it digestible for the targeted age range.

Highly recommended for all readers!

Thank you to #netgalley and #macmillan for providing an e-arc in exchange for an honest review!
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Twelve-year-old aspiring documentary filmmaker Pilar’s family moved to Chicago from the Dominican Republic after the disappearance of her cousin Natasha during the Trujillo dictatorship many years before. Her family won’t talk about Natasha’s disappearance and Pilar is determined to unravel the mystery behind it. While waiting to meet with a college professor who may have some important information to share with her, Pilar opens a file with her cousin’s name on it and finds herself transported to the supernatural land of Zafa.  She will need to team up with the inhabitants of Zafa to both solve the mystery of Natasha’s disappearance and help to save Zafa from the villains threatening to destroy it. The action is fast and furious and will keep readers engaged as the author weaves Dominican history and mythology into the events. Pilar is a strong female protagonist with a humorous, authentic voice that will resonate with readers. Spanish words and phrases are integrated into the dialog, adding to the characters, and further anchoring the book in Dominican culture. A great read for middle grade fantasy fans!
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Unfortunately this book just was not my favorite...DNF at 25%....I wanted to love Pilar but I really didn't feel rooted in her character by the time she was transported to Zafa and she came off really brash in a way that I couldn't connect with. I'm sure younger readers will enjoy her personality but it just was too grating when I didn't care about her situation or the world of Zafa.
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I wish I enjoyed this book way more than I actually did. I enjoyed the history and the cultural aspect of the story. The use of  Dominican folklore added to the store and the characters. The Spanish did mess up my reading at the beginning but I was able to adjust and understand the story after reading some more. My biggest issue was the way it was told. I could not get into tense it was being told in which almost made me DNF it multiple times. The story as a whole wasn’t bad but I don’t think I would be able to recommend it to someone considering that.
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The book started out strong and I loved the Spanish sprinkled throughout. I understand enough Spanish that I understood what was being said. However, another reviewer said it felt like the same three Spanish words and by the end I knew exactly which three words they were referring to. 

I liked the story, but it did not hold my attention as much as I had hoped.

Thank you to the publisher and to Net Galley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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I love Pilar and I can't wait to see what other things she gets up too in the future. This was such a fun adventure, I literally laughed out loud at work a few times. I know there are a lot of reviewers saying there is 
"to much spanish" but there really isn't. It was easy for me a non spanish speaker to follow along and it does not take away from the story at all, and if you aren't sure what a word means maybe use google. Pilar goes on a journey not only learning more about her family, culture and heritage but also herself. It is rich in Dominican folklore and history, which for me is twice is fun since I have 0 knowledge of it and I get to learn some while reading too.
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Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa is a dynamic series opener that introduces us to a spunky, unforgettable heroine who is ready to kick some butt and take some names. Pilar is a determined, opinionated, whip-smart young Dominican-American girl, who is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with El Cuco himself if it means saving her family and defending the people she loves.

To start off, I think Pilar Ramirez is perfect for fans of the Tristan Strong series. Both stories are set in fantasy worlds that are inspired by distinctive cultural myths, and they're also both driven by inquisitive young narrators who aren't afraid to tell you how they really feel about encountering magic for the first time. Much like Tristan, Pilar isn't afraid to openly interrogate aspects of this new-to-her fantasy world as she discovers them, and hearing her recount the story has the same feeling of sitting across from a close friend as they tell you what they've been up to lately. Her voice is personable, entertaining, and distinctive, and I think it perfectly captures that very specific flavor and rhythm of Dominican Spanglish.

This is a fast-paced, captivating fantasy-adventure story, and I think it has a lot to offer young readers. First and foremost, I appreciate how Julian Randall has created a fantastical middle grade story to help young people process the horrors and trauma of the Trujllo dictatorship. There's a traumatic legacy that comes with that, one that many people are unable to talk about, and so it's powerful to have a young heroine like Pilar being able to confront her culture's history and grapple with it in way that's tangible and immediate. In a way, she's discovering her family's culture and history directly for the first time, and figuring out how to navigate it in a very literal sense as she takes on this epic journey to free her long-lost cousin.

With Pilar discovering this world of magic, there's also an interesting narrative thread exploring the reclamation of power. Even though her ancestors and her family were victims of a horrendous dictatorship that essentially rendered them powerless, Pilar is still able to dig deep and find magic within herself that she can use to fight against the literal evils of this fantasy world.

There's also a line that gets repeated in this story about "becoming a threat," and I think that can be a powerful mantra for young marginalized folks who are battling against oppressive systems that don't want them to exist. The idea is that if someone out there is going to invest resources into your destruction, it's because they fear your power and they see you (and potentially your community) as a threat. So if someone believes you to be threat, why not become one and bring about the very destruction they fear? That is an incredibly powerful call to action.

As you would expect, this story is also a rumination on the power of stories. Stories and myths passed down from her family are what has prepared Pilar to face and understand this fantasy world she finds herself in, and in listening to the stories of people currently living in Zafa and suffering through this war, she's able to better arm herself for the battle ahead. The magic that moves through Zafa is also powered by memory itself, and it draws on the collective power of Zafa's people as well as the humans who were abducted there during the war. That is another worthwhile message: that forgetting or erasing tragedies of the past does not lessen their impact, but remembering what your community has endured can make you a stronger person going forward.

If I'm being honest, I wanted a little bit more from the world-building. In terms of the actual portal that transports Pilar to Zafa, it's never made clear whether her sister's professor had anything to do with it or whether it was just pure coincidence. There also doesn't seem to be any long-lasting consequences to Pilar's fantastical adventure, especially because everything wraps up just a little bit too neatly. In fairness, maybe that's something that will be further explored in the second book, but only time will tell. I also wish we could've seen even more of Zafa itself, because the story is primarily focused on a few key locations, and we don't get a strong sense of how big this fantasy world truly is by the end.

Even with that said, I still really enjoyed this. I love that this story is so voice-y, I appreciate the blend of the historical and the fantastical, I enjoyed the humor and the adventure, and the stakes also feel incredibly real for the characters. The author's poetic background also comes through in the thematic resonances of the story, which makes it stand out. What's more, there's *possibly* a sapphic dynamic being set up between Pilar and Carmen as well, and I'm super interested to see how (and if) that unfolds in the final installment. Overall, I think this is a great addition to the shelves of any middle grade fantasy reader, and I cannot wait to see what else Julian writes in the future.
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23% and I'm having to force myself to keep reading. This book is just not for me. The protagonist comes off as a bit too much of a know it all and I feel like 1/4 into the book I am still clueless as to what is happening. Unfortunately a DNf for me.
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I absolutely loved Pilar Ramirez and the journey she went on in this book! I wrote a blog post about it and am attaching the link because All that I needed to say was in there! I'm hype for the next book!
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Pilar Ramirez's family left the Dominican Republic, while it was under the control of dictator Rafael Trujillo, to live in Chicago and she wants to know more about that history including why her Mami's cousin, Natasha, disappeared. When her sister arranges for Pilar to meet with a professor who may be able to provide her with information, Pilar is mysteriously transported to the island of Zafa where she hopes she can find Natasha. This book has action, magic, insight into Dominican myths, and a brave heroine.
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A great MG Read that explores and introduces Dominican myths and legends. I love reading and learning about more myths and legends from around the world. Pilar's cousin, Natasha, disappeared many years ago from the Dominican Republic, and when Pilar hears that her sister's professor studies disappearances, Pilar goes to talk with the professor about the disappearance of her cousin. 
In the professor's office, Pilar opens a folder with her cousin's name on it and gets sucked in, and comes out in a place called Zafa. On this island of Zafa Pilar finds that her cousin is trapped in a magical prison and she has to go up against the Dominican boogeyman to try to get her cousin freed. 
I enjoyed this story a lot and am always one to love an MG read with Mythology in it from around the world. It's always interesting and great to see a different side of the world, life, culture, and mythologies and I enjoyed this one a lot. If you like Dominican Myths and Legends, MG reads, and portal fantasy adventures then I'd recommend checking this one out. It is a bit different with the bilingualism, but I can see how it would be great for others though and I did understand it as I know Spanish.
Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Children's Publishing Group/Henry Holt and Co. for letting me read and review this fun MG read. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Oh goodness, Pilar Ramirez has my whole entire heart. This book gives such strong Dominican vibes, while also being and immersive fantasy where you can't help but cheer our protagonist on. It's full of Spanglish and may be the first book I've read that's written this way and it's FANTASTIC!
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⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Pilar Ramirez is a 13 year old from Chicago who goes on the adventure of a lifetime. Pilar is a budding filmmaker and is filming a documentary about her Aunt who disappeared years before during the Trujillo reign in the Dominican Republic. Pilar literally falls into the pages of a story into the magical world of Zafa while looking for her aunt. While in Zafa she meets many different characters she thought only existed in her grandmother’s stories. With many references to true events, this is also a Dominican legend/folktale. There were parts that felt slow to me, but I really liked the overall story. I do wish there would have been a list of all the Spanish words and their meanings. I knew most of them, but I don’t think most kids reading the book would. Great for fans of Percy Jackson, this would be a great addition to any middle school library!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance copy
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Thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan Children’s for the ARC of this! 

This was an action packed middle grade portal fantasy that gave me some Jumanji vibes! Pilar was such a fun character, and I loved the history and mystery woven into the exciting, fantastical plot. Recommend for fans of Aru Shah, Percy Jackson and anyone who is excited for Dominican characters in middle grade stories!
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Pilar Ramirez is a young Dominican photographer growing up in Chicago.  Things in the neighborhood are changing (gentrifying) and since her sister Lorena has gone off to college Pilar is feeling off.  Pilar’s family moved to Chicago after fleeing the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic and after her cousin Natasha went  in Miami.  After finding herself in the magical world of Zafa, Pilar works to defeat the villains of Zafa (El jefe and El Cuco) but also solve the mystery of why her cousin went missing.  

Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa is a fun adventure story that intertwines magic with Dominican culture.  Pilar herself is relatable Latinx protagonist who is rightfully suspicious of what her eyes are showing her and is always looking to investigate more.  Pilar has confidence in her own abilities as an adventurer and her decision to join in the campaign against the villains  in Zafa makes sense.  The world building is deep in this novel as Zafa is a colorful place with coconut shaped predators and shape shifting butterflies.  

The author Julian Randall does use some Spanish slang in Pilar’s vocabulary but that just makes her personality and culture shine.  Anyone who grew up in a Spanish speaking home will appreciate the relatability of some of the things that Pilar’s family experiences especially those who have relatives that have had to flee their homes due to violent dictators.  The sprinkling of Spanish words only strengthens Pilar’s connection to her community and culture.  Perfect for young fans of adventure, I hope that Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa is the first in many adventures for this character.
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Pilar Ramírez and the Escape from Zafa is the start of a new Middle-Grade series by Julian Randall. The author obviously has talent. The writing and plot are well paced and fun.
The author sprinkles many Spanish words into his writing. I speak Spanish, so I enjoyed this. Make sure to have google translate open if you or your middlegrader aren’t up to speed on Spanish.
I had a problem with some of the world building. The story explains that people who “disappeared” during the Trujillo dictatorship were actually taken to a different world by El Cuco, the Dominican Boogeyman. This seems incredibly disrespectful to the memories of the people who suffered this fate. I’m surprised the author felt comfortable adding such a fantastical spin on such a real and tragic story, especially considering his own family almost suffered the same fate.
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This is a fun book that reminds me of Kwame Mbalia's Tristan Strong series. It is full of humor, adventure, magic, and important themes_ such as growing up and when a beloved community changes. 
The book is full of Dominican myths and legends that come to life too, which caught my attention. 

Any way, it follows twelve-year-old Pilar Violeta “Purp” Ramirez who, as a said, her world is changing, because her sister Lorena moved away for college, her chores doubled, her family refuses to talk about a cousin who disappeared in the Dominican Republic fifty years ago during the Trujillo dictatorship, and her Chicago neighborhood is gentrifying. However, after she tries to find out the mystery of her cousin's disappearance, she finds herself in Zafa, an island of magic and mystery, with various creatures, and where her cousin may be. Can she save her? Will she be doing this all alone? Find out! 

I just reviewed Pilar Ramirez and the Escape from Zafa by Julian Randall. #NetGalley
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Pilar has a very strong voice and personality. The adventure picks up VERY quickly, and I didn’t have any trouble following what she is doing or why. It is an interesting angle to teach kids about history while also exploring mythology and family history. 

 I couldn’t really piece together the timeline at all. Pilar is 12. She appears to be living in the present day, with cell phones and 2021 slang. But her mom moved from the DR in 1957 at 13. So her mom is 77 years old? And she’s 12? 

The use of Spanish was different than I typically have seen. The words in Spanish were words like pero (but), porque (because), pues, and similar, whereas I’m used to more phrases, descriptions, and feelings. My guess is that this is because of both Pilar’s personality and because of the younger audience. 

Overall, I think this book has a lot of potential as a quick, fast paced read, especially for its target audience of 9-10 year olds — who probably won’t be so caught up in the timeline as adult me, and more interested in the forest adventures. But I would also totally understand if someone said it wasn’t for them.
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*Note I have received a free copy of this book and it will not affect my thoughts or feelings towards this* 
This book was such a fun adventure to go on and watch Pilar grow as a character. I thought the world building was interesting and had me wanting to know more about the world. I felt like the small (but important) commentary that is made is done really well for and easy to understand for younger readers. I loved the plot very much because it felt like a fun adventure that never slows down to much. Pilar as a character was fun because we get to watch her grow as a person and come into herself and not be scared to be who she is which is different from everybody else. Overall this was a fun quick story that is defiantly worth the read. Overall rating 4/5 stars
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