Rivera, Kaela

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls

(2) 4-6 Twelve-year-old Cece Rios is considered weak by her whole community because she once freed Tzitzimitl, one of the dark criaturas, from capture by her fellow townspeople. But when, thanks to Cece's carelessness on Noche de Muerte, her older sister Juana is taken by El Sombrerón, the Bride Stealer, Cece vows to rescue her even though it means becoming an outlaw bruja. To get to where her sister is being held, Cece needs to win the Bruja Fights, which entails controlling an animal criatura to fight on her behalf, but Cece prefers a partnership with her ­criatura--­legendary Coyote, the Great Namer, who appears in the form of a thirteen-year-old boy and agrees to help her. Cece's "weakness" and soft heart become strengths as she breaks the mold of brujas and draws on water, rather than fire, to fight the dark criaturas. Legends of Central and South America are prominent in this magical desert landscape, filled with details of Latinx culture and Rivera's own take on Nahuatl cosmology. Coyote exudes an appealing vulnerability that lends poignancy to his friendship with Cece. When Cece gains the courage to stand up to her alcoholic father, it's a good sign for her eventual climactic confrontation with El ­Sombrerón. Rich world-building and enticing characterization strike hope for a sequel about the dauntless Cece Rios.


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