A brief warning – this is a reread for me. It’s part of the 2020-2021 Wisconsin Battle of the Books list for the middle school level and I am on the BOB committee. Typically, I am a speed reader; I sometimes miss the finer details in a story because I glaze over them as I’m speeding through the plot on my merry way. But when you have to stop every few paragraphs or pages to write a question, you catch things you missed on your first speed through. I always find a second read of books enjoyable slightly because of my tendency to speed through the text.
“The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora” written by Pablo Cartaya, is a 2018 Pura Belpre Honor Book. In the story, Arturo is part of a large extended family, all of whom work in or support the work of his Abuela’s restaurant. When the lot next to the restaurant becomes available for development, Arturo’s family jumps at the chance to submit their plan for the lot to the city; they want to build a room for parties, weddings, and other events. But they soon discover that they’re not the only applicant for the lot. A developer by the name of Wilfrido Pipo has also applied for the chance to build on the lot, and when Arturo and Carmen (the girl Arturo has a major crush on) start to dig deeper into the glorious “community center” of a high rise that Pipo has promised, they realize that the building isn’t going to just be built on the empty lot, but also on the land where the family restaurant stands. Arturo, with the help of his friends and family, tries to save the family restaurant and the neighborhood.
Themes include: family, community, gentrification, and social justice
- This book uses quite a bit of Spanish, which makes TOTAL sense for the character and his family, but it doesn’t provide much direction translation and depends on the reader to use the context clues to figure out what was said. For an adept reader, this won’t be an issue at all and adds to the depth of the character, but it may make for difficult reading for readers who struggle to use context clues to decipher text.
- Arturo has a couple of friends who feature briefly in the book, but interaction between the friends is fairly minimal. I would have liked to see the characters a little more? Super nit-picky, though.
- The villain is pretty ‘one note’ and stereotypical (but so too, are some business people I can think of…). We also have some plot holes that would be lovely additions to the novel if they were filled.
- Arturo is such a lovely, gentle character who embraces family, embraces his identity, and discovers that he holds power, even when it feels like he has none. Family is a CENTRAL theme in this book and Arturo feels confident in his place/roll in the family and it shows through his gentle introspection.
- This book is appropriate for a WIDE range of students. From 4th grade (as long as you don’t mind a little “crush” and a kiss for this age group) all the way through 8th, I think students will connect with the novel on a variety of facets. The reading level sits solidly at a W, but if you have a young reader who needs an “appropriate” W text, this is a great one.
- All of Cartaya’s characters (minus our villain) feel authentic, even those we see for very brief moments throughout the novel. You really get a feel for the Canal Grove neighborhood where Arturo’s family lives. Without the supporting cast of characters, the story wouldn’t mean as much; Arturo wouldn’t be a great without the family and friends who support and bolster him.