Loteria is a Latin American game of chance similar to bingo. Each player has a 4x4 board. Numbers and pictures are called out from 54 cards, and the first with a certain grid pattern wins--Buena! This debut novel by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a former ballet dancer, uses the loteria to shape its structure, much as Milorad Pavic and Italo Calvino created novelistic forms based on Tarot cards.

Here, the cards' dealer--and our narrator--is an 11-year-old girl, Luz Maria Castillo, who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her family: "We all fought. We all hit each other." She's alone in a center for children. The image on each card dealt (La Arara, La Chalupa) stimulates her to write something in simple and direct language in her journal. She won't talk to anyone, not to Aunt Tencha or the social worker, Julia. She writes to God: "What I write is for You and me and no one else." Luz uses some Spanish as she writes, frequently referencing Spanish-language TV shows and movies.

As the days pass, her story and her family's takes shape. Her sister Estrella is in the ICU, her father in jail, her mother has disappeared. At the story's heart is a mystery--something terrible happened--to be slowly revealed as each card is turned over, image by image, word by word. This is a smart and powerful tale, beautifully rendered by a sensitive artist. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

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