Lobizona (Wolves of No World #1)
by Romina Garber
Expected Publication: August 4th, 2020, from Wednesday Books
For much of her life, Manuela Azul has lived in a small Miami apartment with her mother and surrogate grandmother. Manu and her mother are undocumented immigrants hiding from both the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and Manu’s father’s crimelord family, who are the reason they fled Argentina. But Manu’s undocumented status isn’t the only reason she must hide– her strangely hued eyes mark her as different, and so Manu dreams of the future when she’ll have her green card and the surgery to fix her eyes. Until then, she lives through her books. But even this circumscribed life has its dangers, as Manu discovers one horrible night when her mother is arrested by ICE, and her surrogate grandmother is attacked. Suddenly, Manu is on her own until she follows a lead to a hidden, magical school where everyone has eyes like hers, and everyone has a gift of magic. But the magical school doesn’t provide an idyllic world like the ones in Many’s books, for even here she must hide who she is, because even among the brujas and lobizóns of her true people, Manu’s very existence is forbidden. If her true self is discovered, she faces a fate far worse than deportation.
“Catalina didn’t say anything to Saysa and me when she regrouped with us, but she was definitely quieter than she’s been around me. Like she’s mulling over whether it would be worth exposing me to gain her mother’s approval. After all, their plan to use me to find Fierro is looking less probable by the day; I’m no closer to making a flower bend to my will than I am to becoming a US citizen.”
Though the myths and legends of Central and South America have been in the United States since before it was a country, they have been overlooked or outright ignored in favor of European tales dragged across the ocean by European immigrants, to the point where it would seem easier to find a leprechaun on the green hills of Oregon than to find Tata Duende in the forests of eastern Texas. With her new series, Wolves of No World, Argentine-born author Romina Garber seeks to bring some of these legends to a wider audience and to put a human face to the issue of immigration, which is too often reduced to mere numbers.
While Manu has lived the majority of her life in hiding, she’s like most teenagers: she longs for friends who understand her, a romance to be swept away by, and a future she fits into. But her differences and her undocumented status make these things improbable, and so she lives through her books, her favorites being Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and the Harry Potter books. In them, she finds the escape she longs for until, when her world is turned upside down in a night, she ends up in a real-life magical school where the things she’s always wanted are finally within her reach.
In less steady hands, Lobizona might have become a story about Manu’s madcap adventures with her bruja friends and a lobizón boyfriend, a light and breezy romp that would have felt more like Miami-based Harry Potter fan fiction, and no one would have blamed Garber for doing so. Glossy, shallow stories about badass girls going out and kicking ass have been tickets to the top of bestseller lists for many YA fantasy authors, but Garber has a deeper story to tell. This magical school is not Hogwarts, where your future is determined by your greatest attributes. The shine of Manu’s new world tarnishes quickly, for it has its own strict rules and cultural norms, and anyone who dares to tread a new path will quickly find themselves in dire straights.
Stories of teenagers fighting a stratified society are nothing new– that’s what most young adult fantasy is about, after all– but Lobizona reachers deeper than your garden variety YA tale. There is no Dark Lord to fight, no McGuffin to retrieve, and no wise mentor to show the way forward. Manu and her new-found friends must find their own way into a brighter future where they can live their lives on their own terms, and not be bound by the strictures of an old world that values tradition over freedom.
While Lobizona might be based upon old legends from South America, its take on the well-used magical school trope makes it feel relevant for more reasons than Manu’s immigration status, while Manu herself, with her complexities and her ardent desire to be seen and accepted for who she is, and not who she is expected to be, make her a character that readers will root for until the final page has been turned.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.