Some people ARE illegal.
Lobizonas do NOT exist.
Both of these statements are false.
Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.
The beginning of “Lobizona” is nightmarish.
Manuela Azul’s life is laden with eggshells, and she walked on tremulously, fraying a little more every time she had to put on her mirrored sunglasses to hide the unnatural bright yellow engulfing her eyes from the whites to the irises, the dread and fear rising through the cracks. The possibility of being snapped up by ICE, or of her father’s past catching up to her first, is always there, hovering in the air like an axe. Her whole life, Manu had waited for them to find her and her mother. She never doubted that they would.
And then they did.
Alone, Manu sets out to look for answers to the thousand questions circling inside her head like harpies, and finds a magical school for witches and lobizones (Argentinian werewolves). For years, Manu’s eyes were a strange fact she had to bend her life around, yet here is a place where she fit with the familiar comfort of a well-worn coat. But Manu’s lies about her family are as thin as a zither string, and when her father’s real identity is dragged to the fore, the truth of it blows out the embers of hope that let Manu believe she finally had somewhere she could call home.
Young adult fantasy gets another jolt of diversity with “Lobizona”, a vibrant representation of Argentinian culture and folklore. One of the things I relish most in fiction is when fantasy is interwoven with our world and its timeline. “Lobizona” dwells in the low-lit overlap of myth and reality—and the way it owns that space is spellbinding. The notion of werewolves and witches is exhilarating, and the authors milks it for all its considerable worth. A book like “Lobizona” doesn’t undo any clichés—it deals in them, and while it’s not particularly complex or unpredictable, it perfectly counterbalances the elaborate world-building elements Garber has managed.
The strength of the novel, however, lies in its thematic gravity: the author touches upon a smorgasbord of topics that inform many conversations today (race, immigration, prejudice), and the passionate politics of the book come through with vivid clarity because we’re lost inside the experiences of its protagonists. There’s a sympathetic sense of dislocation and dread that permeates every corner of the story, and which kept my interest firmly moored to the page. Manu has lost the unbruised part of herself when she lost her freedom to exist without the constant fear of being wrenched away from her home. It’s the sort of truth that one can say only when they’re looking away from it, offhand, distracted, because to meet its eye is enough to curdle your blood. But hope is small enough to nest within Manu’s palm, and seeing all her courage pile itself hand over hand was a welcome respite.
All in all, this was solid debut.