Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

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The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora
Pablo Cartaya
Viking, 2017 239 pages
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Meet Miami native, Arturo Zamora. He helps his extended family run the family business: a neighborhood restaurant featuring the delicious Cuban food that his beloved Abuela became locally famous for cooking. Now Abuela is old, Arturo's mother has taken over chef duties and Arturo is delegated to a job washing dishes for the summer. Even though his two best friends are away during the school break, his life brightens when family-friend Carmen moves to their neighborhood with her father after the loss of her mother. Arturo and Carmen make an instant connection and he finds himself experiencing his first crush and getting all tongue-tied around his former playmate. Carmen loves poetry and Abuela shares her late husband's writings and love of poetry with Arturo as inspiration to connect to Carmen. Meanwhile, an oily developer takes the neighborhood by storm. He wants to build a giant high-rise building with many amenities, gentrifying the neighborhood, and pushing the family restaurant out. The neighbors seem thrilled with the projected project and Arturo's family is faced with fighting a battle for their livelihood, as well as for the preservation of the soul of the neighborhood. Then tragedy strikes as Abuela's health begins to deteriorate. Arturo has to discover life’s true priorities and to fight for them, finding inner courage and personal strength along the way.

I enjoyed this book a lot, penned by a relatively new author, Pablo Cartaya. The Miami setting is unusual in juvenile books and is fully realized and integral to the story. At its core this is a book featuring a boy who must find his inner courage to help his family and do the right thing in a classic battle of good verses evil. The developer is clearly the villain and is presented almost as a caricature, yet kids will feel comforted in the clear-cut lines of who the good guys are. Other themes besides the pitfalls of urban development and the importance of family include loyalty, standing up for what is right, overcoming grief, and the magic of finding one's soulmate. The "Epic Fail", as hinted at in the title, refers to Arturo's confession of love to Carmen, of which she initially seems to reject. He gets the girl in the end, which results in some innocent kissing. This is a story that is aimed mostly at boys, but girls will enjoy it as well. Because of all of the character building within the novel, it would be a great fit in the classroom. The Epic Fail also offers readers a glimpse into Cuban-American culture, which adds an extra dimension to the story. Spanish word and phrases are sprinkled throughout and, although exact translations are not given, the meaning is clear through the context of the sentence. Beyond all of this, Arturo is a very likable guy and readers will enjoy spending 239 pages with him. Zamora offers interesting back-matter, including Cuban recipes and further information about Carmen and Abuelo's favorite poet, Jose Marti. The last page opens a door to a possible sequel, hinting that perhaps the evil developer may run for city council. My favorite line from this book comes from a letter written by the deceased Abuelo, "Remember: sometimes life's answers are hidden in poetry." So true!

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