I was really interested in the book after having studied a lot about the US-Mexico border and being a Breaking Bad fan, a narrative that focused on the other side seemed right up my street.
The novel is focalised through Arturo and spans 24 hours from the moment his old friend, Faustino, comes to ask for his help as Faustino owes the cartel $1000. The only way Arturo can save his friend is to gamble, and try to win the money back. Despite being set in a short time span, the novel does explore the history and lives of the two boys, as well as life in Juarez and Anapra, where Arturo lives. However, the book is short, under 300 pages, and doesn’t develop the history of the characters as fully as I would have liked – it might have been good to learn about some of Arturo’s family history before he went to the city for example, otherwise it seems like it comes out of nowhere.
The gambling scenes were well plotted and entertaining, and many of the characters were intriguing as we hear them fleshed out more fully. Sedgwick has a literary tendency in his writing and the book is full of symbolism although sometimes this is made to obvious – we know the significance of the number 5 reoccurring without Arturo having to think it for us. In some places this literariness is effective, Faustino’s name for example referencing the deal he has made through recalling ‘Faustus’ or the imagery of Santa Muerte. However, in other places it felt out of place – interspersed online conversations debating the ‘state of the nation’ just seemed to jar and interrupt the story rather than adding something of value. As a teenager I would probably have loved these segments for making me feel engaged and knowledgeable about world affairs but now I feel like they we glaringly conspicuous and these issues could have been woven into the fabric of the novel more.
As a YA novel it was well-pitched, and I would expect nothing less from Sedgwick with such an extensive back catalogue. There is swearing, but doing it in Spanish adds authenticity to the setting, while equally, sex and violence are present and necessary rather than used gratuitously.
Overall it was a good story and a interesting plot and I definitely think it has big appeal as a YA novel.
I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own.
Image from Amazon.