Lucha of the Night Forest

Random/Make Me a World. Mar. 2023. 368p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593378366.
Gr 9 Up–“Olvida was the lifeblood of Robado—and the rotting death creeping through it.” When protecting her sister in Robado triggers a deadly power in 16-year-old Lucha, a drug king imprisons her, and enslaves 13-year-old Lis. Desperate, Lucha bargains with a dark specter called El Sediento; if he helps save Lis and destroy Olvida, Lucha will free him. When Lucha and Lis finally escape to the night forest, they find a friend waiting for them. Paz is a devotee of Almudena, the forest goddess—the light to El Sediento’s dark. Though Lucha accepts Paz’s help, she knows she cannot give in to her attraction to Paz or tell her of the bargain with El Sediento. Because Olvida must be destroyed, whatever the cost. This dark fantasy offers equal measures of horror and mythology in an intricately built, dystopian world ravaged by drug dealing and addiction. The complex plot explores trust, choice, freedom, betrayal, identity, and hope. In addition, characters are layered and flawed, especially the tough Lucha, who has believable vulnerabilities that others—on both sides—try to exploit. Though the trek through the forest is overlong, faster-paced sections will keep readers enthralled. All characters are coded Latinx. Violence, implied sexual exploitation of a minor, and drug use make this a better fit for high schools.
VERDICT In this dystopian fantasy, a teen with unsuspected power is drawn into an ancient struggle between dark and light. Recommended for high school collections.

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