Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls is such a great read. I was captivated from page one and did not want to put this book down. With a great message and amazing worldbuilding based on Mexican folklore, this is one memorable read.

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The summary, from Amazon:

When a powerful desert spirit kidnaps her sister, Cece Rios must learn forbidden magic to get her back, in this own voices middle grade fantasy perfect for fans of The Storm Runner and Aru Shah and the End of Time

Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.

When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.

With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.

Buy Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls here.

Wow, what a story! Cece lives in a world where humans fear and fight criaturas, mystical beings that those familiar with Mexican folklore might already know a little bit about. As a child, a criatura “cursed” Cece with having a soul of water, while everyone in her town is entirely fire. Cece is empathetic and unable to perform the same magic as her family, and they see her as a weak link because of it. But when Cece’s sister is captured by a criatura, Cece enlists the help of Coyote, another criatura, to rescue her sister. All the while, she must essentially become a bruja, even though the people of her town do not trust these witches, nor do criaturas, and rightfully so.

This story has a beautiful message concerning the quiet and powerful strength of emotional vulnerability and empathy. It also has a great, kid-friendly message about consent. There’s a brief but powerful arc concerning a family member dealing with alcoholism who is implied to be physically abusive, and Cece’s strength and empathy in choosing to love this person from afar is admirable.

The backmatter contains a helpful glossary of the Spanish terms used in the book.

Overall, this was an engaging, fun, emotional, and powerful middle grade read, so I have to rate it 5 stars.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

Cece Rios and the Desert of SoulsCece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I adored this story with an important message about consent, emotional vulnerability, and empathy.

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Book Club Questions

  1. Is having a soul that’s more water than fire, both in this story and in real life, a good or a bad thing? Which is better?
  2. How is Cece different from her family and the people of her town? How does she use these differences to be a good person or to her advantage?
  3. Is Cece brave?

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