Cover Image: Woman of Light

Woman of Light

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Member Reviews

Thank you One World and Net Galley for making this ARC available to me.

I had been eager to read Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel after I heard Emma Straub recommend it during an on-line interview.  The story opens like a fairy tale when an infant is abandoned on the doorstep of an elderly woman, Desiderya Lopez, known as the Sleepy Prophet.  When the child, Pidre Lopez, grows up, he leaves the Land of Early Sky to make his way as a businessman in the white world.  From this mythical beginning, readers are transported to 1930’s Denver, Colorado where we are introduced to Luz “Little Light” Lopez, a laundry girl and tea leaf reader, and her older brother, Diego, a factory worker and snake charmer.  

Luz and Diego live with their maternal aunt, Marie Louise, and navigate the racism that pervades their community.  Fajardo-Anstine details how Mexican men, even those who were born in the United States, were deported to make room for white men without jobs, how Anglo neighborhoods were home to Klan marches and cross burnings, and how park rangers would run off Chicano families who stayed too near the picnic tables at the local park. 

The novel flags a bit after Diego is driven out of town by an angry mob of white men and Luz goes to work for David Tika, an Ivy-league educated civil rights lawyer who fights for fair wages and affordable rent.  It then picks up again when Fajardo-Anstine reveals Marie Jose’s backstory and circles back to Pidre, exposing his connection to Luz and Diego.  

Fajardo-Anstine has said that she used her family’s tales to write this novel and she conducted extensive research.  She presents a fresh migration story that focuses on the place of Indigenous Chicanas in the history of the American West.  By focusing her novel on these Latinx women, showcasing their strength and resilience, she provides her ancestors with a form of social justice.
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I normally live a multigenerational saga but I just couldn’t get there with this book, sadly. Maybe it’s because I have a young toddler and couldn’t dedicate the long, interrupted stretches needed to really connect with it? Beautifully written and I’m grateful to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read it in exchange for my honest opinion.
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Big Thank You to Random House Publishing for providing me with an early copy of a highly anticipated novel Woman of Light.

Unfortunately, I will not be continuing on with this novel. I have been at 11% for the past 6 days and cannot make it through.
It isn’t the novel for me, but I know many people love/will love it once it is out on 6/7.

I will not be posting any review on any platform as I did not read past 50%.

Thank you again.
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*Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review. Pub date: June 7, 2022

An enthralling multi-generational tale of one Indigenous Chicano family in the west that unfolds poetically between the 1890s and 1930s. This gives you a glimpse into the lives of these characters but unfortunately left me wanting much more and asking why, feeling as each persons story was left open ended and unresolved. This was beautifully written but there were a few times where the language felt oddly current instead of appropriate for the historical time period. Definitely worth a read for any fan of historical fiction—the author vividly brought scenes of this time to life. 

“They’re men, white men.” ... “That’s what they do.” A line relevant over 100 years ago unfortunately still rings true today.
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When an author chooses an epigraph, they are giving the reader a peek into the heart of the story, offering someone else’s words as a hint at what’s to come in their own. National Book Award finalist Kali Fajardo-Anstine has chosen two passages to open her novel Woman of Light: one from an Ingmar Bergman film and the other taken from a statue at the National Archives: “What is past is prologue.” This line, a phrase inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, seems a simple truth for a piece of historical fiction, a story that insists that the narratives of older generations have relevance to those who come after. But Woman of Light rejects such simplicity, asking readers to consider the ways the past might move through and around each generation, emerging into the present in complicated ways.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book opens with a prologue, set in The Lost Territory in 1868. This geographical name may not be familiar; in fact, a search on the term produces results about the colonization of Thailand and nothing on the huge swaths of Mexico gained by the United States following the Mexican-American War. In the opening pages, Fajardo-Anstine introduces the oldest generations of this family saga: the Sleepy Prophet of Pardona Pueblo and the infant abandoned on the bank of the arroyo.

Desiderya, the Sleepy Prophet, had “dreamt of stories in her sleep,” but was called from her bed to that arroyo, where she stood, “smoking her pipe and considering the sloping way blue darkness layered the nearby mountains.” The description goes on, “The Spanish had named the stream Lucero because starlight shimmered over the water’s trickling back, as if the earth had been saddled with sky.” Fajardo-Anstine writes effortlessly stunning sentences, each unspooling to create a rich and engrossing tableau. In fact, Woman of Light is much like the visions Desiderya experiences, plunging readers into an unfamiliar past, one that seems to hold vital truths if only we will see them. 

The child Desiderya rescues is Pidre, later to marry the widowed sharpshooter Simodecea Salazar-Smith (years after a tragic accident during their act caused her to shoot her beloved husband). Their love produces Sara and Maria Josefina – one the mother of Luz and Diego, the other the woman who would raise them. Luz is the shining heart of the novel, so much more than “just some poor Indian and Spanish laundry girl.” She, too, is a seer, able to see both the future and the past in sharp, sometimes painful detail. After their abusive father leaves and Sara loses herself in grief, Maria Josie brings the children to Denver, and as each section unfolds, readers will float between time and place, every character fully alive in the present and the past.

Following an ill-advised relationship with an Anglo woman, Diego is forced to flee Denver, leaving behind his family and his work as a snake-handler. The snakes, whose “tips hissed like tin cans of pebbles,” can’t accompany him on the migrant circuit, where “every hello possessed within itself a farewell. People were as transient as crops, picked and packaged, shipped afar, feeding the mouths of families Diego would never see.” In his absence, Luz works as a secretary for David, son of the generous Greek grocer in their neighborhood, who has come back home to practice law and fight for social justice. Through her relationships with David and the gentle musician Avel, Luz is forced to reckon with her warring desires and the complicated role of race and class. 

With any multi-generational narrative, it is impossible to summarize the complex layers of detail woven by the author. This book is about Luz and Diego and Denver and the Lost Territory; ultimately, though, it is about stories - who gets to tell them and which ones survive. Pidre understands this after leaving the Lost Territory and stumbling into the entertainment industry:
"he had entered the strange world of Anglo myth, characters resurrected from the language of story, populating the realm of the living, side by side, if only for one night and one night only. Pidre came from storytelling people, but as he passed a big top devoted to the reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand, he couldn’t help but think that Anglos were perhaps the most dangerous storytellers of all – for they believed only their own words, and they allowed their stories to trample the truths of nearly every other man on Earth."

Woman of Light proves the past is the prologue, insisting we map the Lost Territory onto our stories even when search engines don’t recognize the term. It is a sprawling and gorgeous exploration of the land we have come from, the past we have failed to acknowledge, and the persistence of stories through time and space.
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This book was MAGICAL!!!! It’s a multigenerational, historical read set between the 1890’s and the 1930’s. This book is both inspirational and heartfelt. We go back and forth between generations starting from the beginning of the Lopez family, a mixed Chicano/indigenous family. We have the most powerful of the characters who is a young woman by the name of Luz, who has a special gift, and as things are going crazy around her, mainly like corruption when it comes to the unfair treatment of POV and the rise of the KKK, her abilities are starting to become stronger. Luz goes from being a reader of leaves, to having vivid dreams of her lineage, people she had never met before, and very sad visions of her family now, and all the sacrifices her aunt had made for her and her brother. So much goes on and this book had me hooked from beginning to end, it was perfection.
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I enjoyed this story.  This is my first book by this author and I look forward to see what is next for them.  I enjoyed how the author's attention to details not only brought life to the story but also made me feel as if I was right there with the characters.  This is a well written story about family, secrets, lies and love.  It is a fast paced story that has characters that you won't soon forget.  They are strong, supportive, connectable characters.  I enjoyed what they brought to the story.  They had me coming back for more.  I also enjoyed the growth of the characters as well as the plot which made the story easy and entertaining to read.  This is a story you don't want to miss.  I highly recommend this book.
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A multigenerational story told through a nonlinear timeline and follows five generations of an Indigenous Chicano family. Mainly set in the early 20th century, Kali-Fajardo Anstine created a unique atmosphere in a time period I don’t think many writers have chosen to write about in this light.

Having read Sabrina & Corina a while back, I knew the writing here would not be disappointment. It sucked me right in and I devoured it, hence how I finished it in a day. The author truly creates scenes well, they were vivid in my mind and for me, flowed smoothly; not purple at all. My favorite aspect of this book. Second would be the themes. This tackles racism, police brutality, and gun violence to name a few. Considering the time period - which depending on the chapter you’re on - could be a hundred years ago or close to it, just shows how not much has changed at all. The book was open-ended which I thought was fitting since the problems highlighted don’t have a resolution at present (not yet anyway).

On the other hand, what stopped me from giving this a higher rating was the lack of a plot. It felt more like a day in the life of the characters; the characters I didn’t feel connected to, despite how well-written they were they still lacked something. I’m leaning towards character development but it’s not just that, I can’t really pinpoint it. Luz, as the central character, was hard to get behind. I didn’t understand the reason behind her actions most of the time. The magical realism was also not very fleshed out in my opinion, and wasn’t a very big part of events either way but more emphasis on the significance of “the sight” would have been a welcome addition.

I liked this, although I wouldn’t call it memorable exactly. I’d recommend to those who love historical fiction, won’t mind slow pacing, and messy family ties.
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I just couldn’t keep the different storylines straight. I read the prologue and first few chapters over and over and I just gave up. It is beautifully written but I got lost.
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Thank you Netgalley & publisher for this e arc of Woman of Light by Woman of Light.
This is a historical fiction novel. 4-4.5*.
Synopsis: "There is one every generation, a seer who keeps the stories.";  As Luz navigates 1930s Denver, she begins to have visions that transport her to her Indigenous homeland in the nearby Lost Territory. Luz recollects her ancestors' origins, how her family flourished, and how they were threatened. Written in one voice, a multigenerational western saga; survival, family secrets, betrayal, and love..."
3 things I liked:
1. I love a good western and this was one of my first with an Indigenous MC
2. I love a good family saga, especially with strong women
3. I loved the MC, Luz and her Aunt the most; the leaf reader aspect for Luz was interesting. I liked her brother and several male characters; although the snake element was terrifying (I have questions).   
3 things I disliked or was neutral on:
1. This is a slower read, you can't rush it if you want to soak up the novel (I did not really mind-I was in the mood for a slow saga, but just make sure you are not in a hurry)
2. A lot of things happened, but it was just a lot of short stories vs a significant event 
3. I can't say I loved the end. I did not like or dislike it. 
I was glad to read this one. I recommend it to anyone that likes a HF multi-generational saga with a western setting.
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If you are looking for a book that celebrates women and their pasts, this is it. If you are looking for a book that you could read over and over again, this is it. And if you are looking for a book that had to be the only book you ever read, this is IT.
I loved the characters, the writing, the story, the history. I know it's a Book of the Month pick but I don't think it has gotten enough hype. This would make a great book club book for any group of women. 
I loved the pacing of the story, how the more we hear from Luz, the author then takes us back to the past to learn about Luz's family history and how it is affecting her decisions in her present time. And where she got her gifts. Luz, even despite her faults, she is so smart and doesn't just accept that she needs to get married and start a family to do the "right thing". That she can make her own choices, good or bad. 
Go read it.
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🌟WOMAN OF LIGHT🌟 by Kali Fajardo-Anstine ~to be published June 7, 2022

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Pretty prose relating the travails of an indigenous Chicano family in 1930s Denver. Multigenerational flashbacks are weaved in, although the story is not as epic in scope as its back cover suggests. 

Sincere thanks to @oneworldbooks @randomhouse and @netgalley for the complimentary advance review copy. All thoughts are my own.

I am constantly in search of #diversespines that deliver. Actually, that should be its own hashtag: #diversespinesthatdeliver. Well, this one delivers! I loved it. I loved the writing, I loved the story, I loved how it centered the experiences of native peoples and Latine/Latinx peoples. Fair warning that it is a pretty slow burn. You have to be ready to take your time and savor the story! 

We meet seventeen-year-old Luz “little light” Lopez, who is coming of age in 1930s Denver. While much of the story reads like historical fiction, with mining and discrimination working together to push out the indiginous populations of Colorado, elements of magical realism are also at play. Luz’s brother, Diego, is an incredible snake charmer (who also seems to have a talent for charming women). And Luz is a tea leaf reader who is able to see visions of the future, as well as of her ancestors’ past. While we do get little snippets of the stories of Luz’s ancestors living in The Lost Territory from 1890 onwards (I wish we had gotten even more, actually), the overwhelming focus is on Luz, her relationships, and her ability to navigate and survive her changing world. Luz’s bond with her cousin, Lizette, felt special and is one that I will remember many books from now. Despite its being fiction, I feel like I learned so much about this moment in our country’s history. Absolutely gorgeous story and stunning cover design.

This review will be published on Instagram and goodreads on June 3rd (link to come).
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Woman of Light is an incredible novel about Mexican women in the West/Colorado region in late 1800s-1930s. It contains such beautiful writing.  The backdrop of Colorado evokes such a sense of place and lets nature shine. 
The book has a generational theme but switches stories every few chapters, blending beautifully at the end! One of my top reads of the year. 

Posted to goodreads, amazon, barnes and noble, storygraph.  Instagram post forthcoming.
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** thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for giving me an early copy in exchange for my honest review **
When I first read the premise of this book I was very intrigued but as I started reading I felt I either misread or got it confused with another book, nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised. First, the setting was mostly 1930s Denver with past glimpses of 1890 to early 1900s, from a perspective of a Chicano/indigenous family that we rarely see as the main character in books. From Luz´s eyes, we get to navigate her life as she confronts the inequalities because of her race and when her brother has to leave town due to an unfortunate event, Luz and her aunt are left to manage with their minimum salaries. She then decides to look for a better job and she finds it as a secretary for a lawyer who deals with cases for the non-white communities, mostly. In addition, Luz is a tea leaf reader, and as her story unfolds so does the vision that connects her to past generations.  Sexism, racism, family values, and betrayal are various themes covered in this exquisite story full of color and warmth. 

"Why didn't they deserve heat? they had paid their rent, struggled for it with pawned necklaces, and traded furniture and hands scrubbed raw cleaning white women´s bloody clothes. Luz was red-faced, burning, and for a moment she was gratified with her temper. At the very least, it kept her warm." 

This is an emotional,  beautifully written, and fast pace book that all historical fiction readers will love, as it gives you a unique point in time that is not covered often. The characters, from the protagonist to the side character are all vivid and endearing. We glimpse into a little background on them giving them depth but without deviating a lot from the main story, they are a small community and they are all close (as in most Latinx communities, they are all in everyone's business.). Luz was not sheltered or blind to the injustices of her life but when she started working with David, the lawyer, she discovered there was far more ugliness in the world which helped her character mature throughout the book. Although I did have some trouble with some of the male character's actions and the open ending, I found myself thinking and contemplating on the story days after I read it, and in my opinion that is something, a good book should always do.
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Another Source of Light

“Woman of Light” starts off like a dream, an ancient fable. It is nighttime in the American Southwest, the Lost Territory in 1868, and “...the sky was so filled with stars it seemed they hummed.” A baby, Pidre, is abandoned in a Moses-like passage and is rescued and raised by Desiderya Lopez, the Sleepy Prophet of the tiny pueblo, Pardona. These are the opening pages of a magical journey through generations of an Indigenous Chicano family.

We shift back and forth in time, but the novel’s core revolves around events sixty years later. 
Luz “Little Light” Lopez is Pidre’s descendent, a young tea leaf reader and clairvoyant in Denver in 1933. She and her cousin Lizette work taking in laundry to make ends meet, although they are looking for more substantial income. Luz lives with their aunt Maria Josie, a remarkably strong woman who never hesitates to confront head-on the harsh realities life deals to her family. 

There is an openly hostile atmosphere of prejudice and discrimination the family has to suffer with. Luz is blatantly refused the opportunity to even apply for one job in a white community. Her brother, Diego, makes the mistake of falling in love with the wrong white girl and is beaten badly. After Maria Josie decides she must evict him he flees town altogether. 

Most of the men in this book are ineffectual and weak, others just brutal. Luz exhibits questionable taste in men, partially because her goal is to find a man who will protect her from other men. Pidre shows promise as a character in the beginning of the book, but is soon overshadowed by his wife, the sharpshooter Simodecea Salazar-Smith. Bold women are the backbone of this family’s story, from the Sleepy Prophet Desiderya to Simodecea to Maria Josie. Luz should be a stronger character– she is descended from such remarkable women and pales in comparison. She is a tea leaf reader, she has visions, and yet her inconsistent resolve ensures she remains overshadowed by her legacy. 

Life out west in this era was tough and finding accounts are hard if centering on anyone but a white man. Locating the story emanating from a female’s point of view, and that of a Native American or Latinx family– that is where Kali-Fajardo Anstine has given us a gift. 

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley for providing the advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review. #WomanOfLight #NetGalley
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An epic family saga that blends in magical realism.  Set in both 1930s Denver and the Lost Territories in the 1880s and forward, it's all about Luz's search for her roots and how her family grew and survived so much over time.  It moves back and forth a bit, with some dynamic descriptions of Pidre Lopez who has a Wild West show and then the challenges Luz faces,  It's very much character driven and if you, like me, think it sags a little in the middle, push through because it's a rewarding read.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.
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This book offers a vivid view into life in Denver in the 1920s and 1930s. The book description is a little misleading in that I expected Luz's ability to be more present in the story. The plot develops subtly, but the writing is so gorgeous and engaging that the slow build is not unpleasant. Meanwhile, there is a simmering undercurrent of tension as the sense of something bad to come grows and grows. The majority of the book is spent with Luz, and I was expecting more insight into the previous generations; I especially enjoyed the flashback chapters detailing the lives of Simodecea, Sara, and Maria Josefina. The fulfilling ending closes the story nicely and completely by circling back to an event that takes place towards the beginning of the book. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a solid standalone read, as well as anyone interested in diaspora literature and wanting to learn more about life in Denver in the early 20th century.
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𝐁𝐮𝐭 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐣𝐨𝐛𝐬, 𝐧𝐨 𝐦𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐦𝐮𝐜𝐡 𝐋𝐮𝐳 𝐨𝐫 𝐌𝐚𝐫𝐢𝐚 𝐉𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐞 𝐨𝐫 𝐞𝐯𝐞𝐧 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐠𝐨 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐞𝐝, 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐲 𝐰𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐩𝐨𝐨𝐫, 𝐚𝐬 𝐢𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐢𝐫 𝐩𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐢𝐧 𝐥𝐢𝐟𝐞 𝐡𝐚𝐝 𝐛𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐩𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐥𝐲 𝐝𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐠𝐞𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬 𝐛𝐞𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐞.

First, we meet the Sleepy Prophet of Pardona, Desiderya Lopez. One night she awakens from her sleep to a disturbing noise, upon her search she discovers a baby boy abandoned in the weeds, cold and dusted with snow. She takes the child with her and raises him to the age of eleven. With her visions foretelling of a future for the child, she tells him he will live on the other side of the Lost Territory surrounded by mines and have “a fierce wife and daughters.” She also tells him not to be vengeful people, but he doesn’t understand, for his mind is still that of a child, and he has yet to leave behind his world for the places all the travelers he interacts with come from. As time passes, he is well respected among his people, a businessman who is destined to make his way, but his elders know how their currency is tainted. He, too, will one day learn.

Chapter one begins in 1933, Denver with Luz Lopez “Little Light” earning coins as a tea leaf reader at an annual festival. She and her brother Diego, the snake charmer, have lived in the city with their auntie (Marie Josie) for many years, ever since their mother sent them away, no longer able to care for her children. Diego’s erotic charm is irresistible on the stage and off, fit from his work as a lineman, many women fall for him but attracting the attention of an important Anglo girl fills his sister with dread. When she isn’t reading for coins, she is washing rich people’s laundry. Living in a tenement, working to stay alive, looking at the big, beautiful houses the well heeled inhabit feels like having her nose rubbed in the fact that she and her people are locked out of a better life. With her Mexican origins, she suffers blatant racism daily, from signs telling her where she isn’t allowed, to the brutal reality of murders committed by those with the power. One night Diego is attacked by white men, beaten to near death, he has no choice but to leave, certainly it’s impossible to go to the authorities who will always support their own people. He promises he will be back, but all Luz feels is loss and great abandonment, with her all-seeing eyes pulled into the past (family origins) and confusing glimpses of the future, the present feels like a weight, a trap. What does it matter, the images she can envision of the future or the past, when she can’t change what will befall them? The past is painful, memories of her father’s violence, her mother’s suffering. How will she manage without Diego now? How can he leave? It is hard for her to accept that each of them have a destiny they must seek.

The story moves between past and present, how Luz’s ancestor Pidre cut a path to where her family ended up. The reader witnesses how hard it was for women living without men, worse how impossible it was to make a living when you were Mexican and Indian, or of any origin that wasn’t part of the white community. There are always boundaries one mustn’t cross and if they dare, blood will follow. Luz musters all the grit she has to find a respectable job, with no help from the community. David may be the answer. Papa Tika’s (the Greek shopkeeper) only son has returned to set up his own law office after working for a large law firm in the east. It doesn’t go unnoticed that David is also incredibly handsome. Will he give her a chance, though she lacks the refinement required for office work? Is it possible a fortune teller can rise above the level society intends for her to remain?

It is a tale of inequality, racial and sexual. It is also about the ugly side of history, class, those who have power and what happens when anyone tries to fight it. Too, it is a tale of family loyalty, deception, hatred, and love. It is for the displaced, longing for their homeland while trying to make a living in a new world, despite facing opposition at every turn. Broken families and bodies, aching hearts- there is violence that must be endured and the intelligence and strength it takes to know when to leave and when to fight. The heart’s guidance isn’t a guarantee, love can lead to destruction just as much as salvation.

It was an engaging historical fiction, so naturally it’s not always pretty. Luz has to be strong, come into her own, and she makes mistakes along the way, of course she does. I only wish the chapters were longer, that more time was spent on Diego and Luz’s youth, as well as more backstory on the ancestors. I sometimes felt rushed along. More visions would have been welcome too but I was still engaged.

Publication Date: June 7, 2022

Random House

One World
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In this compelling story of an Indigenous Chicano family in 1930s Denver, Luz is left to fend for herself after her brother is sent away.
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I am going to start with whatever the opposite of a spoiler-alert is and say that, as I got closer to the end of this book, I started to dread where the author was going. I did not want things neatly tied up. So yes, read on, because Kali Fajardo-Anstine did not disappoint!! This was an amazing book, one of those where I realize how little I actually know or understand about the history of my country, and what goes on beyond it's borders. This is a beautifully imagined story of a family, a community, and their land, with a rich mix of heartwarming and unsavory characters. The women are strong and the men are just trying to keep up. So yes, realistic. Though they face plenty of hardship, there is a strong foundation of love for these characters to grow and change. A sometimes tough, but overall, very  worthwhile read.
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