Written by Donna Barba Higuera

I didn’t read the publisher’s blurb describing this book until I was over halfway through the book, and I’m glad I didn’t. With each early chapter there were surprises, mysteries, setbacks, and expectation-altering events, and the blurb spoils much of what the author has done to build this for the first half of the book. I’ve attempted to craft a teaser below that doesn’t reveal too much, but I still urge you to proceed with caution before reading it if you want an open experience reading this book.

In a post-apocalyptic western America (possibly Idaho and Montana) that gives by turn Mad Max and The Giver Quartet vibes, tween orphan Leondro and his little sister Gabi are Cascabels, part of a Spanish-speaking migrant community who for hundreds of years have travelled the barren landscapes foraging in the mountain forests. In all their wanderings the Cascabels have never encountered other living people until they unwittingly cross the “wyrmfields” and happen into the valley of Pocatel. There a community of English-speaking people initially welcomes the Cascabels, offering them help and a place to stay, but then holds them outside the village proper, purportedly to prevent them bringing in sickness and to maintain order. Now Leondro and Gabi are forced to work in the potato fields for the Pocatellans day in and day out, receiving just one or two potatoes for themselves for the day (when they are lucky enough to gather enough potatoes that aren’t rotten.) Any rebellion or rule-breaking leads to exile in the wyrmfields, where carnivorous nocturnal sandworms churn up toxic spores and prey on anyone unfortunate to be there past sundown. Leondro has careful plans for his and Gabi’s escape back to the mountains. As shifting circumstances lead him prematurely down this path, Leondro learns that nearly nothing about Pocatel is what it seems, and the seemingly magical technology of the distant past may not be as dead as the Cascabels or Pocatellans have been led to believe.

This was a satisfying read. The characters were complex and fully realized, the cultures and worldbuilding were rich and plausible, and events and decisions led in surprising directions. As a reader I was angry on behalf of the characters as they dealt with situations of classism, racism, social control, greed, and dishonesty that mirror situations in the contemporary world. In the face of these issues there’s a classic, cathartic “tweens taking down the corrupt adult system” survival adventure, though it is perhaps tied up a bit too nicely to be realistic from my adult perspective. Spoiler alert: there is a Marvel-esque epilogue teasing a connection between this book and The Last Cuentista which I found equal parts intriguing and infuriating: infuriating because I wasn’t expecting it, each book stands so well on its own, and it made me feel foolish for not remembering enough about the ending of Cuentista, so I assume it would be even more confusing for someone who has not read Cuentista; intriguing because it indicates Higuera is likely crafting further thoughtful science fiction adventures for middle grade readers, and that they will all be connected.

Reviewed by Joshua Whiting, Media/Technology Specialist, Granite Educational Techology Department
Review shared in March 2024
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 5-9

Written by Donna Barba Higuera
Levine Querido
404 pages
Release Date: October 3, 2023
ISBN: 9781646142637

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1 thought on “Alebrijes”

  1. Thanks for the reveiw Josh! I have a few students that I think will enjoy this. I will look into purchasing it for our school.

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