by Marcus Sedgwick
Pages: 260 paperback
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Publication Date: Paperback - 7th April 2017
Received From: Orion Children's Books
A potent, powerful and timely thriller about migrants, drug lords and gang warfare set on the US/Mexican border by PRINTZ MEDAL winning and CARNEGIE MEDAL, COSTA BOOK AWARD and GUARDIAN CHILDREN'S FICTION PRIZE shortlisted novelist, Marcus Sedgwick.
Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez - twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America - the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he's been working for. He's dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he's on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they're as good as dead.
Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) - she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.
Saint Death is one of those books that sticks with you well after you've read the final page. I've only read one of Marcus Sedgwick's books before - Blood Red Snow White - which is a completely different kind of story and yet he has this rhythm and soul to his writing that makes his books captivating from the very first page.
Saint Death is the story of Arturo, a boy living in the shadow of one of Mexico's poorest neighbourhoods as he finds himself on a dangerous mission to help save his childhood friends life. The story takes place over the course of a day and a half and follows Arturo as his faith is tested, his morals bent and his life becomes all too expendable.
This is one of those books that opens your eyes to a culture you might not be all that aware of. It brings to the forefront the injustice and struggle of poverty on the Mexican boarder. It speaks of friendship and faith as if they are interlinked and you see just how far one individual will go to do what he believes is right.
This isn't one of those stories that promises a happy ending. It is raw and all too real, yet the way in which Marcus Sedgwick writes makes you hope for the best. He writes characters that make you route for them, which with Saint Death is paramount. Arturo's story is heartbreaking from start to finish and the last page had my jaw on the floor. It was gripping, tragic and above all else beautifully written.
I received this book as an ARC from Orion Children's Books to read & review. This is a 100% honest review.
Where did the inspiration for Saint Death come from?
Two things. First, seeing the migrant camp in Calais growing each time I passed by. Something stopped me from writing about it directly (too close to home, maybe?) and so I waited for something else to come along. Which was the second thing; a chance meeting with a Mexican academic and writer who told me about Sante Muerte – Saint Death – the burgeoning-but-banned-by-the-pope new(ish) folk saint of Mexico. Along the Mexican-US border, I could see the clarity of the imbalance of the rich with the poor. This is where Arturo’s story is set, right on that border.
Who was your favourite character to write and why?
To choose just one: Siggy, the co-owner of the bar, El Divan, where Arturo hangs out and plays Calavera. He’s miserably loveable, wisely sad, and deep-down, a good guy. He’s also Sigmund Freud. Or at least, a lot of what he says is, and his sadly cynical yet somehow still positive nature came about through my reading of Freud’s own writings.
What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?
A few things – perhaps the hardest was actually getting there to see Anapra and Juárez for myself. After a year or more of remote research, I finally made it, and I’m very glad I did. It was a surreal kind of experience, I had studied Anapra for so long on google earth and streetview that I could find my way around the town without needing directions – like walking into a recurring dream. It was also hard not to be too angry when writing it – some of that anger has come across on the page, which is good, but it could have got out of control. It’s very hard to read about constant injustice, corruption, brutality and violence without feeling frustrated and powerless, and thus angry.
Every author has a different way of writing. What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I love it all. I like staring into space and calling it work. I like going places. I like reading things. I like interviewing people. I like planning the books. Most of all I guess I love the moments (of which there are not enough) when you disappear into your writing space and disappear into the book, as you finally start to put words onto paper, one by one. The hours drop by without notice – a book appears. It’s magical.
Lastly, describe Saint Death in one sentence!