Title: Each of Us a Desert
By: Mark Oshiro
Publication: September 15th, 2020
By: Tor Teen
Genre: YA | Fantasy | LGBT+ Characters
Buy it: Book Depository
From the award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life.
Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.
| Goodreads |
First of all, I want to thank Tor Teen for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest thoughts, celebrating “Latino Book Month”
WOW, I’m really impressed by the quality, intensity, reality, and depth of this story, I think it will be one of those difficult reviews to write due to the emotional charge that this book gives me with its pages. There’s so much that I could share with you about the book, but I’ll try to give what I can without spoilers, throwing all my thoughts and feelings here, so I hope it’s understood. In summary, this book is a poem about the strengths and weaknesses of human beings. It’s about overcoming fear & going in search of your own truth and your own destiny, I loved it, obviously!
This story follows Xochitl, “la cuentista” of her village who one day, after a tragic and unexpected event, decides to go out to pursue the truth about her destiny and for this, she must undertake a dangerous journey across the desert. But their path ends up bumping into Emilia’s, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor, and together they’ll go through hundreds of creepy and challenging obstacles to discover their destinies, and meanwhile, something magical begins to emerge between them.
I loved it! Something really magical happened to me with this book, I knew that I would love it from the moment I started reading it, there’s something in which it feels very captivating and unique, so it was inevitable for me to commit myself to the story and the characters. It’s also super special for me due to the amount of Spanish I found in the story. If you’re not Spanish-speaking, don’t worry, the author makes everything understood perfectly anyway, but being Latina myself, it felts super nice to find a story that’s so familiar and fluid in such a special way for you, you know?
The plot is the most unique thing I’ve read in a while, and also something strange and difficult to explain, but I will try. In this book, as I mentioned before, we follow Xo, and she’s a cuentista, which means that she has a special ability which allows her to retain people’s stories and then deliver them to Solís (who’s their god) and so allow these people to feel relieved and not be persecuted for their nightmares or past guilt, and after having delivered those stories Xo immediately forgets about them, but it does drain a lot of her energy which leaves her super tired until even make her sleepy for many hours. So this story focuses on this concept in a world where “Solís” has given this “privilege” to certain people, and they become the most important people in their villages, being a job or duty for life. On the other hand, even when everyone believes that being the cuentista is a great privilege, Xo feels drained by it, and after terrible situations, she begins to see it as a curse. Also, this “power” has been passed to her by her aunt before she died, which is why she has never had a real chance to be or do anything else, you know? And with all that comes this journey in which hundreds of magical, shocking, and supernatural things happen.
In this book, we have a lot of magic happening all the time, even when they’re atrocious situations because it’s not a fairy tale, in fact, it’s a very graphic, hard-hitting, and bloody book, so if you’re an easily impressed person, I recommend discretion. I was so shocked when so many gory and brutal things begin to happen, I certainly didn’t expect it, but I think it’s the tone of the book and that scene remains throughout the course of it. So I could say that it’s a survival story too, because the characters will have to face extreme climates under super scarce resources. In addition to the cuentistas, we also have other beings such as “Los Guardianes”, “Los Sabuesos” and “Los Palidos” among others, who are represented in the form of animals (wolves, cats, bears) as well as in other humanoid forms.
On the other hand, I can’t fail to mention another kind of magic that occurs in the book and they are the relationships between each character, it felt so real to me, especially because there’s a sub-plot in this story where Xo finds poems on the way and feels absolutely attracted to them for things that she still doesn’t know and there’s such a powerful message there of love and of super innocent and sweet energy. I think magic is also in everything the author shows us through small gestures.
The writing style is wonderful, one of my favorite things about the book, it’s easy to read but at the same time it’s complex and poetic, and it fulfills with transmits all the feelings that the characters are going through, it’s a story that although it focuses in fantasy you can feel its great power and strength in the realistic side. I can’t wait to read more from the author to continue experiencing his unique style. In addition, the plot is told from Xo’s perspective, but as telling everything that happened to Solís, which seemed like a great detail to me, as well as we also have small poems, which are beautiful.
There’s a female/female romance happening in the book and I adore it, especially since it’s not 100% focused on it and it’s not very heavy, in fact, it develops very naturally and is a slow-burn kind of romance, which I personally LOVE. I really enjoyed it, each scene of these girls interacting is wonderful, it’s all super organic and perfectly imperfect. In addition to the romance, we have a lot of diversity, obviously, all the characters are Latinos, but we also have gay and lesbian representations, played in a very casual and natural way in these communities, which is great.
The main character is Xochitl, and she’s great! She’s a super-strong young woman, she doesn’t know it, though, because she has lived all her life in the same place and doesn’t know much about life outside her village, but once she decides going out to discover, you can really see the inner strength that she has and a great conviction to find her truth. She has a super noticeable growth, she begins having many doubts about her life and what’s true and what’s not, and after facing so many obstacles that make her grow, we can see a different girl more determined and ready to decide for the first time for herself. I’m proud of the journey that Xo undertakes and above all, of her great growth and personal development. Emilia is amazing too, a super interesting character, she’s the daughter of a ruthless man who goes village by village destroying everything, and at first, you don’t know what her role really is, but when the character develops and we know her whole story, we can know the reason for her attitudes and decisions. I adore Emilia, she’s a really kind soul, and she has gone through so many injustices that really breaks my heart, but also as Xo, she becomes strong and ready to show her true self. Then we have hundreds of characters that we know on our trip and others who live at each stop that the characters make, and although there’s not much development of them, you do can appreciate their personalities and even feel connected to them and their lives. I want to mention Julio specifically because he’s one of the most awful, evil and terrible villains that I’ve read in a long time, I really came to hate him, a ruthless man that dragged everything in his path for his desire for power. Then we have several wonderful and interesting souls that I will mention quickly like Rosalinda, Felipe, Manolito, Luz & Eliazar, all them AMAZING.
The story takes place in the desert, so it’s a fairly vast and desolate image that gives the story a lot of meaning in itself. We also toured villages and towns, desolate and ravaged by what was is called “La Quema”. We also explore places underground, so the whole landscape is quite sad, but also very atmospheric and scary.
This book, in addition to being wonderful because you go throughout a discovery journey and search for freedom, also discusses and questions many belief systems that these people have, and the characters are super confused because they’ve grown up thinking in a certain way and suddenly everything is uncertain and it seems that everything was a lie or that things aren’t as they seem. I liked that this is discussed, as well as “realities are created by our beliefs” and that “we’re shaped by the experiences that we live”. The book forces the characters at times to challenge their biggest fears and is heartbreaking, but also eye-opening for them and makes the plot even more incredible. I think the blurb doesn’t do the story justice, I don’t think this is a simple romance, you know? This book is much more than that, it’s self-discovery, it’s facing the truth, it’s fighting for your freedom, it’s learning to put yourself first and be responsible for your decisions, and it’s to grow and heal. It’s wonderful and I’m very happy to have had the chance to read it.
I know that maybe it’s a disorganized review, but honestly, I couldn’t explain all these feelings with words and do justice to the book, as well as it’s a rather difficult and complex promise to explain in its entirety, even more without spoilers. But, I hope I’ve done my best and that you feel that desire to give it a chance because it’s very worth it. It’s a whimsical story and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy complex and weird storylines, but the best kind of weird, you know? I compare this story a lot with Seanan McGuire’s stories, for some reason they resonate for me, and I remembered Middlegame a lot while reading this book for its original plot and its unexpected twists, but also for the whimsical and crazy of the stories and that power to make you addictive to them. I highly recommend it, and I hope you decide to give it a try as soon as it comes out on September 15th, 2020, I know you have to wait a little while but it’s worth it, I promise.