Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick | SLJ Review

redstarSEDGWICK, Marcus. Saint Death. 240p. ebook available. Roaring Brook. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626725492.

YA-Sedgwick-SaintDeathGr 9 Up –Arturo is scraping by, living in Anapra, on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico. He can see El Norte from his small shack, but America feels distant compared with his reality spent hauling things at the auto shop and trying to avoid the notice of gang members and the cartel, who have carved up Juarez into their own sections of territory. Arturo’s childhood friend Faustino reenters his life, preparing to use stolen money to send his girlfriend Eva and their son illegally across the border. With his gang boss on the verge of discovering the theft, Faustino is desperate for help to replace the $1,000 he has taken. Arturo reluctantly agrees to try to win the money playing Calavera. Looming over his story, and Juarez itself, is Santa Muerte—Saint Death. The folk saint watches impassively as people in the border town struggle in the face of a vicious drug trade, dangerous trafficking, corruption, and income inequality. It’s possible that Santa Muerte might help Arturo if he prays hard enough and proves himself. But it’s also possible she’ll watch as Arturo heads toward his tragic ending. Arturo’s narrative alternates with commentary from nameless third parties on conditions affecting Mexico, and Juarez specifically, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, climate change, the city’s founding, and even the worship of Saint Death herself. The formatting and language underscore that this is a book about Mexican characters who live their lives in Spanish—non-English words are not italicized, and dialogue is formatted according to Spanish-language conventions. This well-researched novel is an absorbing, heart-rending read and a scathing indictment of the conditions that have allowed the drug trade and human trafficking to flourish in Mexico. VERDICT Eerily timely and prescient, this ambitious story is a necessary purchase for all collections.–Emma Carbone, Brooklyn Public Library

This review was published in the School Library Journal March 2017 issue.

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