Scholastic. Mar. 2020. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781338157864.
Gr 3-6–Eleven-year-old Maximiliano Córdoba lives in Santa Maria village with his father’s extended family of stone masons. On the mundane level, he wants to join a fútbol clinic with his friend Chuy, but an abandoned stone tower—La Reina Gigante—makes him wonder about hidden refugees fleeing the neighboring country of Abismo. While Max’s father is away, Max encounters a refugee, Isadora, and learns his family are secretly guardians who help people flee to safety. In his father’s absence, Max determines to guide Isadora to the next stop with all the dangers that entails, partly to discover information about his long-absent mother. As always, Ryan’s strength is in her visually expressive language. Readers can picture the village, the personified tower, and Max’s journey through rough country. Poignant, memorable moments are created with just a few sentences. On the other hand, the novel is slow to start. Additionally, the imaginary country construct vies with specific details found in real life such as Catholic churches, fútbol, and a Portuguese water dog. The first half of the novel is an uneasy detente of this paradox. However, as Max and Isadora set out, the imminent danger and their growing friendship will pull readers fully into this world and make Ryan’s story feel solid.
VERDICT A gem of a story with timely messages whose main audience is educators and contemplative children. Nevertheless, a required purchase.

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