Title: Saint Death
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
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//I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review//
A propulsive, compelling, and unsparing novel set in the grimly violent world of the human and drug trade on the US-Mexican border.
On the outskirts of Juarez, Arturo scrapes together a living working odd jobs and staying out of sight. But his friend Faustino is in trouble: he's stolen money from the narcos to smuggle his girlfriend and her baby into the US, and needs Arturo's help to get it back. To help his friend, Arturo must face the remorseless world of drug and human traffickers that surrounds him, and contend with a murky past.
Hovering over his story is the unsparing divinity Santa Muerte, Saint Death--and the relentless economic and social inequalities that haunt the border between Mexico and its rich northern neighbor. Crafted with poetry and cinematic pace and narrated with cold fury, Saint Death is a provocative tour de force from three-time Printz Award honoree Marcus Sedgwick.
Arturo is a teen living in Mexico...so close to the U.S. border that he can see America from his home. So close that he could simply walk across the border through a gap in the fence if he gathered up the courage. He has lived his entire life in poverty, watching American businessmen set up factories in Mexico so they can get rich and use cheap labor. In an attempt to help a friend escape to the freedom that America has to offer, Arturo finds himself entangled with the drug cartels and desperately fighting to save his life.
First of all, I ADORE Marcus Sedgwick. I absolutely love his writing style and how he presents his stories. His writing is always very unique and beautiful in a very subtle way. Unfortunately, however, Saint Death did not live up to my expectations. Sedgwick embarked on quite an undertaking with this book, and I think he fell a little short of his goal. I still really enjoyed it, but it is definitely not one of my favorites and I think a lot of people may have trouble enjoying it.
There is actually not much I can tell you about Saint Death that isn't a spoiler, so I can't discuss the plot very much. Something that I did really enjoy about the book was the relevance to our current society and culture. Sedgwick took on the lofty task of discussing immigration issues that we hear debates about daily. There were multiple facts and statistics that were included about things such as drug cartels, immigration, and maquiladoras. I found that totally fascinating, but I don't know if many people will. Most people aren't looking for a sociological exposé when they pick up a YA novel. I am, but I will be the first to admit that I am not the norm.
Another difficulty with Saint Death is the writing style. I say "difficulty" because I don't want to call it a problem or issue; the writing itself is not a problem, but it may cause some readers to avoid the book or have problems connecting with it. The writing is more akin to an adult narrative than a YA novel, which may dissuade some readers. I didn't even realize that it was a YA story until I was almost finished with the book, when I noticed a note about a YA marketing campaign on the back of the ARC. I didn't realize that Arturo was supposed to be a teenager because the age of the characters was mentioned only once toward the end of the book.
If you are looking for a typical YA book, you are probably not going to find what you are looking for with Saint Death. This book is current, important, and beautifully written, but I fear that many people will shy away from it. The characters were difficult to connect to and there was very little action, making the book feel slow and boring at times. If you are interested in current affairs, this is definitely a book that you need to pick up, but if you are looking for something more action-packed, maybe try one of Marcus Sedgwick's other works. It is quite unfortunate that this book missed the mark with its target audience, because it deals with a topic that we could all be more informed about.