Book Review of Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti

In Oaxaca City, best friends, Life and Death, play their annual game of Lotería. Without knowing it, Clara has been chosen by Life and Death as the pawn of their game. If Life wins, Clara will have a long life. If Death wins, Clara dies. After tragedy strikes, Esteban, Clara’s cousin, goes missing. Clara will do everything in her power to find and save her dear cousin from the magical kingdom of Las Pozas, where no one does anything for free.

Full of Mexican folklore and imagery, Lotería by Karla Arenas Valenti explores free will vs. determinism. Is everything in our life determined to happen? Or do we have the power to change our life’s path with the choices we make?

Valenti’s advanced prose shines with her use of magical realism and mythology. Dana SanMar’s rich-in-culture illustrations perfectly match the cards, settings, and events. But make no mistake, Lotería is a dark story. For example, Clara encounters magical creatures in Las Pozas, but they always want something in return, giving them an unkind trait.

I recommend it for advanced readers in middle grades and teenagers, as the story focuses on philosophical questions about life, and the ending can be difficult to process.

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