Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Fiction
Publication Date: October 2016
The Good: The cover is beautiful! Whoever designed it should get a raise.
Even though this book was published in 2016, it’s still extremely current. It doesn’t seem like the problems along the US/Mexico border have changed much in two years. The story addresses drug wars and gang violence, extreme poverty, racism, police corruption, maquiladoras, and immigration. In addition to tackling the tough issues, the story immerses the reader in Mexican culture.
Marcus Sedgwick is a brilliant writer. His writing style is sparse but powerful. He can say a lot with very few words. The ending of this book will stay with me for a long time.
The Bad: If this book was written by anybody other than Marcus Sedgwick, I wouldn’t have read it. I don’t like reading about drugs, and card games are on my list of things I profoundly don’t care about. The main character really likes playing cards. Since I’m not interested in the subjects of the story, the book had a hard time holding my attention.
I wasn’t hooked by the omniscient point-of-view. Like all of Sedgwick’s books, this one is a bit odd. Saint Death is part thriller and part meditation on how the US is constantly screwing over Mexico. Between the chapters, there are facts about NAFTA, philosophical musings on immigration, and other things like that. It’s accurate and important information, but it pulled me out of the story because it got too heavy-handed at times. The characters are used by the author to prove his arguments. That annoyed me. It also made it very hard to connect with the characters. I’m not happy when the themes become the main focus of a book. I want to read a story, not an essay.
The Bottom Line: Not my favorite Sedgwick book, but it’s probably worth reading if you’re interested in the problems along the border.
The Long Shadow Of Small Ghosts: Murder And Memory In An American City by Laura Tillman
Genre: Adult Nonfiction/Long-Form Journalism
Publication Date: April 2016
The Good: This isn’t your typical true-crime book. Instead of focusing on the crime itself, it focuses on the events that led up to the crime and the community’s reaction to it. The book is mainly an examination of how poverty impacts the lives of people in a city along the US/Mexico border. John Allen Rubio and his wife decapitated their three children after Rubio became convinced that the kids were possessed by demons. Rubio and his wife were both severely mentally ill, but they didn’t have access to doctors who could help them. This book doesn’t offer any answers, but it does show how America is failing its most vulnerable citizens.
The Bad: I got frustrated. Actually, I skimmed the last 50ish pages because the book is directionless. I just wanted the author to pick a subject (or a few subjects) and stick with them. The author spends a lot of pages on herself and how she did her research. She describes old buildings (and peanut butter sandwiches) in great detail. She also talks about the history of Brownsville, architecture, drug addiction, hunger, homelessness, immigration, mental health care, the death penalty, religion, crime, Mexican culture, and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and occasionally she mentions the murdered children. I realize that this is a book about social issues and not a book about murder, but it seems like the author is just constantly circling the murders without really saying anything important. I didn’t have the patience to wait for her to get to the point.
The Bottom Line: I probably shouldn’t have bothered finishing this one.