Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

A descendent of the Sun god, twelve-year-old Cecelia Rios grew up hearing the legends of the criaturas. Of all the legends, she likes Coyote’s the best. How was she to know that some day their stories would intertwine?

Cece has soft eyes and a compassionate heart, but in the desert of Tierra del Sol, criaturas are dangerous and must be destroyed. In order to survive, according to Mamá, weakness invites death, so she tells her daughter: “You cannot let your tears make you more water than fire” (9). But Cece has a soul of water, not of fire—so she rescues Tzizimitl, a criatura the townspeople have captured and wish to kill. For that action, both her familia and the town reject her as weak.

So, when Cece’s older sister Juana is stolen by El Sombrerón, one of the dark criaturas, Cece blames herself and vows to get her sister back by going to Devil’s Alley, the criatura’s world. But in order to do that, she much become a bruja—sacrificing her humanity. She must ignore the gentleness inside her in order to get a criatura’s soul to bow to her command and control.

Not cut from the cruel cloth of a bruja, Cece struggles to treat her criatura like a slave or to abuse him unjustly. Still, she has to do this to save Juana since only five of the fiercest brujas will be welcomed to El Cucuy’s castle in Devil’s Alley. After saving Coyote’s life, she acquires his soul, which sets her on the path to enter the world of violence. Even though Coyote is a criatura and is supposed to be bad, Cece sees his kindness and goodness—a fact which fuels her confusion. Soon, she’s wondering about the painful cycle of animosity and whether the peace that the curanderas perished trying to create is worth forgetting simply because of fear and the potential for hurt.

Even though a soul of water doesn’t appear welcome anywhere, Cece risks her life to protect the people she loves. Occasionally, she has to adopt the armor of anger to accomplish her goals, but at her core, she is a caring person at war with her beliefs. On her quest, Cece learns that love isn’t easy to bear and that when we’re in pain, we do terrible things in an effort to bandage our broken hearts. She eventually embraces her truth—that she would rather give power than take it. And to do that requires that she disrupt the circle of hurt and hate and violence—but at what cost and at what risk to her own soul?

Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera is an adventure story that draws on classic Mexican folktales and features a strong female protagonist. Cece teaches the reader many valuable lessons—among them, that binary thinking limits one’s knowledge and that “it’s okay to be afraid, . . . as long as you don’t let it stop you from being the best of who you truly are” (324).

After all, we don’t live in a binary world where something is strictly right or wrong, good or evil, brave or foolish, criatura or curandera.  Even though our brains crave the clarity of a world that unfolds in a straight line, much of life is lived in the gray areas and follows a circuitous path.

  • Posted by Donna

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