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Karen Samuelson

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Professor Mac, at age 37, find himself jettisoned into an identity crisis. Frankie, a NYC professional dancer, grapples with the spotlight versus settling down and having children. Enrique, a DJ and mechanic, struggles with coming out as a gay man with a hostile father. Immersed in their unique personal dramas, this trio crosses paths in the cobblestone streets and zócalo, or main plaza, of Oaxaca, Mexico. Together they weave a colorful, complex tapestry of adventure, deceit, discovery, love and pain. Frankie volunteers at an orphanage run by Enrique’s uncle. She hopes spending time with children will help her make a decision about family versus performing, but her endeavor is interrupted by an earth-shattering event. Simultaneously, her relationship with a feisty, little girl tugs at her heart as she’s forced to reconcile the personal and the professional. Enrique’s father throws him out of his house, and Enrique flees on his motorcycle to Juchitan. There, he meets Marcos and his muxe friends who crack his world wide open. Back in Oaxaca, Enrique’s life continues to be woven into Mac and Frankie’s in unexpected ways. Mac is on a mission to the pueblo of Lachatao with Frankie as his interpreter, and what he learns there affirms mysterious experiences he’s been having and sends him on a quest to Mexico City. As Frankie and Mac get closer, Mac’s wife, back in the States, struggles with his newly developing identity and relationships. When it’s time for Mac and Frankie to make their respective trips home, like Enrique, they have changed in fundamental ways. But back in the States, their Oaxacan odyssey continues to reverberate and change the course of their lives.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 8.00 out of 10


Plot/Idea: The interweaving plotlines of this engaging story come together smoothly, with minimal unnecessary overlap. The struggles of the story's main characters are poignantly rendered, and Samuelson shines when sketching relatable, convincing conflict. 

Prose: Samuelson switches perspectives between Mac, Enrique, and Frankie, giving the narrative a rawness that skillfully showcases the complexities of everyday life. Every scene is bursting with energy and incisive prose.

Originality: Complicated family ties is a familiar topic, but Samuelson heightens the narrative by exploring three distinct—and riveting—perspectives. Each protagonist possesses their own charm and voice to enhance the storyline, and even the supporting cast add individuality to the book.

Character/Execution: Characters form the backbone of this novel, and, despite their singularity, their plights are moving. Samuelson depicts their pain, search for meaning, and moments of beauty exceptionally well. 

Blurb: A polished sketch of family complexities alongside the beauty—and pain—of life's unexpected paths.

Date Submitted: July 25, 2023