BOOK REVIEWS

Charlie Hernández & the League of Shadows Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-09-08 
Review Score: 5 out of 5 star From 45 user ratings
ISBN:1534426590
LANGUAGE:English

"Charlie Hernández is this kid in Miami whose parents up and disappeared one day. Then weird stuff starts happening to him, stuff that nothing in his experience has prepared him for except – and this is a weird exception – that it increasingly reminds him of the Hispanic folklore his late grandma used to teach him. Charlie doesn't know where to turn when, for example, horns pop out of his head and, later, he breaks out in feathers. Other than a suspiciously friendly girl at his school, who may or may not be interested in him only as a subject for a school newspaper story, poor Charlie has to face an increasingly scary succession of Latin American and Spanish monsters all on his lonesome – until a secret society devoted to fighting the darkness is revealed to him.

A boy's quest across the magic of multiple countries, united only by a Spanish-speaking culture, would be thrilling enough. More than Charlie's life is at stake, though. His adventures work on a similar level to Rick Riordan's repackaging of Greco-Roman, Egyptian and Nordic myths and legends, complete with the present-day kid's street-wise attitude and goofy sense of humor. Another book this reminded me of is The Avion My Uncle Flew, with its clever way of getting the reader to read (maybe aloud) words and phrases in a (ha, ha) "foreign" language, in this case Spanish. I think it's a lot of fun, and I would recommend it not just as an edifying lesson in cross-cultural understanding but as a solid piece of entertainment. And that, amigos, is as American as apple empanadas.

This is Ryan Calejo's debut novel. A sequel, titled Charlie Hernandez & the Castle of Bones, is set for release Oct. 22, 2019.
" said.

" I LOVE this book! Oh my goodness I want to see more books like this. I love how it makes learning about Spanish culture's myths and legends exciting and fun. The book flows nicely and you find that you are wanting to read more of the book because you want to learn more about these myths and see if Charlie ever finds his parents. Also, you can't help but wonder, what is going to grow on Charlie's body next. I recommend this for young middle school and upper middle school readers. It was amazing! " said.

"A relatively fun fantasy/adventure romp. The highlight is its showcasing of myriad Hispanic myths and folk tales that span the spectrum from friend to foe. Calejo's writing is rather forced and contrived (do kids still say "blow chunks") and I didn't find the humor natural. I did like the super-competent sidekick Violet with her investigative skills along with the sprinkling of Spanish language casually inserted throughout. For fans of Percy Jackson or the Emerald Atlas. I feel like this is going to be the first in a series." said.

"First line: "Myths, my abuela used to say, are truths long forgotten by the world."

This book dives head first into action. In this forward momentum, there is no time for the main characters to doubt the fantastical world they uncover. Having just finished some rich, world-building adult fantasy, this was unsettling for me but will certainly be appealing for younger readers.

The female lead is problematic, falling into a young version of the manic pixie dream girl. She excels at everything she does, and she literally does everything. She is the captain of the cheerleading team, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper, and head of the debate team. She is the prettiest girl in school, an amateur sleuth, and is unafraid to take a stand against bullies. It even took her 10 minutes to make cookies from scratch and put them in the oven. TEN. MINUTES.

With a thesaurus propped up next to the author as he wrote, the writing is slathered in synonyms and similes that sometimes dont make sense and there are a lot of logical fallacies that may be grating to young fantasy/sci fi fanatics. For example, Charlie throws an anchor out of a speeding cart and it catches something but a half second later, it snaps "like a shoelace." Within that half second, he manages to shout, "It worked! It actually worked!" I encourage you to try and say that in a half second.

Finally, the true villain that Charlie must face isn't properly introduced until the last 20 pages which makes for a slightly lackluster defeat.

Aaaaall this being said, I'm totally going to finish this book because the subject material is desperately needed and is amazing. Much to the delight of latinx children, Calejo includes an incredible amount of Hispanic folklore (and provides an index for those that are unfamiliar with the names), and uses Spanish words throughout (with natural translations for those that dont speak Spanish). I just wonder if I'm letting my adult brain impinge on my ability to imagine a child enjoying the book.
" said.

" Really fun middle grade read. Loved the Spanish sprinkled throughout the story. I felt like it flowed seamlessly (the language mixing) and added a lot to the feel of the story. I enjoyed learning some Hispanic and Latino mythology. " said.

"So much waffling lately with ratings. My biggest struggle seems to be deciding whether to give a book two or three stars.

I want to give this book three stars because it did have moments that really gripped me. Unfortunately, I sort of had to convince myself to chug through it by the end, which is never a good sign for me.

As always, I really loved the idea behind this book. I wouldn’t pick up a novel if I had misgivings about its overall concept. I love the hijinks and adventure and heart behind Percy Jackson, and I love learning about mythologies of all cultures (particularly ones that mass media ignores) — so I was thrilled to see this book. The notion of a PJO setup with a Hispanic/Latino/Aztec context was intoxicating to me. I had a taste of this lore in another book, and I was really eager to know more.

In a lot of ways, this novel does satisfy that hunger. Ghoulish calaca (walking skeletons) and weeping witches who kidnap children and mythical bruja ... there’s a darkness and a danger to these old myths that really struck me, and they certainly figure heavily in this novel. A particularly gripping moment is when the protagonist faces a demonic horse beast known as ‘La Sihuanaba.’ The creature looks like a woman from behind and takes on the form of the main character’s missing mother; then turns around to reveal a face so horrific that it nearly cripples the protagonist’s mind. That’s powerful imagery.

I also thought that the protagonist’s (Charlie) at-times-self-deprecating personality was charming. His ability to point out his own flaws makes you sympathize with him and seek out his better traits for him. Like PJO, there’s also a lot of comedy in his voice, an ability to laugh at himself that often lightens the mood.

Finally, I really appreciate how much Spanish language is in this novel, particularly because it’s directed at kids. What better way to get kids to want to learn a new language — or celebrate your own language, if you are a bilingual, Spanish-speaking reader?

Unfortunately, despite these positive elements, I struggled with a lot of this novel. My largest problem was that the book felt rushed to me — which leads to underdevelopment.

For example, the first few chapters are only a page or so long; they introduce and then kill off Charlie’s grandmother, who is a central figure in the novel given that she gives Charlie the mythical knowledge that he needs to survive these Spanish monsters. If the novel had spent maybe ten pages on their relationship in a first chapter, then flashforwarded and had the grandmother die in present day — having the main character go through the whole funeral process — we would have ‘felt’ the relationship instead of simply being ‘told’ about it.

Another example of this rushing comes with Charlie’s parents. Around five pages into the book and we discover that his house burned down and his parents are missing. We do not get to see this traumatic event happened, nor do we get to see what Charlie’s relationship is like with his family. We are, of course, told about these things in detail, but it’s all recounted in hindsight, and we never see this event or relationship for ourselves, not even in a flashback. I really feel that if the author had slowed down and shown us these events — especially what Charlie’s life was like before his parents’ disappeared — we could suspend disbelief more easily, and feel for Charlie so much more.

Large dollops of information are dropped on the characters all at once, who accept it quickly in favor of pushing the plot along. In particular, Charlie takes a big reveal about himself rather well — so well that it’s almost understated — and important plot points are revealed very suddenly and (in my opinion) a little abruptly. The speed by which these concepts are dropped almost gives me whiplash, keeping me from submerging in the story.

Another struggle for me is how the characters behave. Charlie’s parents are missing and he’s living with an old lady in foster care — you think his friends would be tiptoeing around him, concerned, expecting him to be an emotional wreck, right?

Nope.

Obviously, the fact that Charlie’s in a band and they have a competition coming up (a plot line that sort of fizzles into nothing) are much more important than his mental state. How dare he act distracted or unconcerned about the band ... ! He’s only been displaced from his home and ripped from his guardians for no reason, after all. Why should his friends have to be sensitive at all in speaking to him? Why should they have to ask him how he’s doing, or if he needs any extra help or support? Might as well completely and totally ignore that fact.

I know the characters are kids — but if you care about someone at all, wouldn’t you find yourself at least halfway wondering how they feel emotionally in such a horrible situation?

It doesn’t help that Charlie’s friends hardly figure in the novel at all. In fact, the book has barely any characters outside Charlie and his super-supportive friend (love interest) who builds a relationship with him very quickly at the beginning of the book. She’s also pretty much perfect, but somehow still manages to accomplish very little — always a difficult character type to inject any reality into.

Overall, very interesting ideas, but rather rushed and underdeveloped.
" said.

" 2.5 starsFull video review of Charlie Hernandez and Dactyl Hill Squad can be found here. While it was great to see untranslated, unitalicized Spanglish and folkloric beings from across multiple cultures interacting together on page, the consistent use of ableist language, lack of development for important female character, and the poor choice of using a colonizer as a "good guy" ultimately left me disappointed. " said.

"Calejo, Ryan. Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows. Aladdin, 2018.

Charlie loves studying the mythology of his Latin American culture. He knows all the stories about all the different monsters and gods from all the countries in Central and South America. But when Charlie is teleported into the very mythological world he loves so much, he will have to keep his wits about him in order to save his family and the rest of the world.

This book is a perfect read-alike for the many Rick Riordan mythology stories, and as there are still scores of fans of these books, this will be an easy book to recommend. There is plenty of adventure and fantastical stories in this book, and the compelling, action-filled story will keep readers turning pages to find out what happens next. Recommended.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: mild fantasy peril
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Storm Runner

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Edelweiss for the purpose of review.
" said.

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