Title: Life and Death
Author: Selenia Paz
Genre: Middle Grade/Children’s, Fantasy, Mythology
*Thank you so much to the author, Selenia Paz, for sending me a copy of her novel for this review!
Life and Death follows a journey between two friends, Miguel and Natalia, as they search the darkest corners in Mexico to find Natalia’s missing brother. Miguel’s grandfather passed away just days before Natalia’s brother mysteriously disappeared– Miguel remembers he heard a woman’s shrill scream that night, but he isn’t sure if it was just a grief-induced dream. When Natalia tells him she heard the same scream, they realize Miguel’s abuelo’s death and Natalia’s brother’s disappearance were no accident. Filled with leyendas from Mexico that spark wonder and strike an emotional chord, Life and Death will teach young readers about grief, love, life, and death.
My first reaction to the book was how stunning the cover is: the dark shadows of the mythical characters against the bright, white full moonlight perfectly captures the vibe and mood of the novel. I was floored when I first saw it (hint-hint: the second installment in the Leyendas series, Gods and Demons, is even more beautiful).
The novel is definitely best suited in the Middle Grade/Children’s genre. The writing is simple, clean, and straight-forward: perfectly comprehensive for its audience. As an adult reader, I did feel like there wasn’t as much time spent on character development. In many ways, the book is a coming-of-age story for Miguel because of the many difficult, serious, adult things he needs to face. So although Miguel did undergo a transformation, that process wasn’t as extensively explored as it probably would’ve been in a more mature genre. The pacing was quick, which made the action exciting, but didn’t always allow for enough time to hone in on one scene and allow the tumultuous journey to settle in with readers. Despite this, Paz does a great job providing space for readers to create emotional ties to the characters– each character, even the ones who aren’t human, has their own backstory that is rich and moving.
The stars of the novel, the different mythical figures, are the perfect companions for the journey. They are entertaining and fun and bring a lot of joy, mystery, and tension to the novel. Along with many others, we meet some characters from Mexico’s most famous leyendas like La Llorona, El Charro, La Mujer del Candil, and even Death. I loved that many of these characters had a separate chapter that told their legend as a way to introduce them into the story; it will really help readers who don’t have that background knowledge of these myths. All of the descriptions are immersive, and had a dark, spooky vibe because the majority of the time the characters are traveling at night through a thick forest or other unknown creepy territories and encountering all sorts of fantastical characters.
My favorite character: Conde! Miguel’s abuelo’s dog. The cutest, purest little thing. He was protective and loving and so wholesome.
This was overall such a fun, exciting, entertaining and touching story and I completely recommend it to young audiences but older audiences will have fun with it too!
Rating: 9 out of 10