Book Review: Lobizona

I received this e-book free from NetGalley and St. Martins Publishing Group in exchange for an honest review! All opinions expressed herein are my own impartial impressions.

Lobizona tells the story of Manu (Manuela Azul), a teenage Argentinian girl living in Miami with her mother and a grandmotherly figure, Perla. Because of Manu’s undocumented status and the strange gold color of her eyes, Manu’s mother has kept her hidden all her life. Manu lives mostly in books, never knowing why her mother fled Argentina, who her father is or why she must always wear sunglasses into the outside world.

When Manu’s mother’s workplace is raided by ICE, Manu is sucked into a world she never knew existed – a world of Lobizons and Brujas – wolves and witches. It is here she will learn the truth about herself and her past, the reason for her strange eye color and her mother’s overprotectiveness.

The references to Argentinian culture, language and practices really gave this story texture. I loved reading about the family drinking maté  and eating traditional Argentinian food and the dialogue that alternated between Spanish and English. The beginning portion of the book is a really richly woven cultural tapestry. I think for so many Hispanic kids who don’t see themselves portrayed in modern fantasy stories, this book will be a hit.

This book had all sorts of representation – from the modern undocumented immigrant experience in the United States to gender nonconformity to LGBT representation. I think Garber admirably tried to take on a lot of issues, but it was difficult to give them all their due in the limited space and still tell Manu’s story.

I struggled a bit with how to rate this. Is it an important book that offers representation for under-represented groups? Yes. Did it add anything new to the over-saturated YA fantasy market? Not really.

As someone who loves character-driven stories, the characterization in Lobizona was a big hinge for me. Unfortunately, all the characters seemed flat and one-dimensional, to the point where I had to flip back and forth to recall which was which. Ultimately, this led to me not really caring what happened or didn’t happen to them.

For similar reasons, the will-they/won’t they romance between Manu and Tiago didn’t resonate with me, as most of the tension could have been easily resolved (and was in the last 10% of the book) with a simple conversation. Even the LGBT couple that didn’t get revealed until the last fifty pages of the novel felt too little, too late. As many fans of Harry Potter felt with Dumbledore’s “big gay reveal”, does representation really matter if it’s not expressly shown?

The fantasy side of the story also felt a little hackneyed. We’ve seen this plot before. Schools for witches and werewolves have been done to death and the magic system wasn’t overly interesting. There isn’t really a strong villain either. It’s more of a corrupt government entity, whose laws aren’t always clear. Why must all hybrids be killed? Why are witches/wolves killed for fraternizing with humans? What was Fierro actually fighting for? Weak enemies made for weak character motivations and did not leave me with a pressing need to read the sequel…

That said, the book ending with a really touching note from the author about her own experience with cultural assimilation and identity. I think Romina Garber tried to do many great things in this book and should be praised for that. Hopefully in subsequent books, the fantasy world and political issues will be more seamlessly integrated and strike a better overall balance.

Lobizona will be out in bookstores and online on August 4th, 2020.

Have any of you read Lobizona or do you plan on reading it when it’s released?

Until next time,

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Lobizona

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