by Vincent Tirado
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: May 3, 2022
Genres: Horror, Young Adult
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Stranger Things meets Get Out in this Sapphic Horror debut from nonbinary, Afro-Latine author Vincent Tirado.
Mysterious disappearances. An urban legend rumored to be responsible. And one group of teens determined to save their city at any cost.
For over a year, the Bronx has been plagued by sudden disappearances that no one can explain. Sixteen-year-old Raquel does her best to ignore it. After all, the police only look for the white kids. But when her crush Charlize's cousin goes missing, Raquel starts to pay attention—especially when her own mom comes down with a mysterious illness that seems linked to the disappearances.
Raquel and Charlize team up to investigate, but they soon discover that everything is tied to a terrifying urban legend called the Echo Game. The game is rumored to trap people in a sinister world underneath the city, and the rules are based on a particularly dark chapter in New York's past. And if the friends want to save their home and everyone they love, they will have to play the game and destroy the evil at its heart—or die trying.
I have a thing for strong heroines, so of course this cover caught my eye. And when I saw that it was sapphic horror, well, of course I had to read it! It’s a love letter to the Bronx and reminded me a bit of a YA version of Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching.
“It’s fine,” she said in a way that told me it was not. She sighed audibly. “So, I guess we’re sort of in the same boat?”
“The ‘sudden absentee relative who is infected with strange black mold’ boat?” I smiled, weakly. “Sure.”
Several people have gone missing in the Bronx over the past year, but it takes two seemingly unrelated occurrences for sixteen-year-old Raquel to start paying attention. Her mother is inexplicably in a coma after being attacked by a patient. Plus, her childhood friend Charlize’s cousin Cisco is missing – and it may be related to her mother’s illness. It all seems to tie back to an urban legend about a game called The Echo, and the friends must work together if they have any hope of saving their family members. But in this game, breaking a rule means you lose everything.
“You’re like my best friend, and I wanna help you figure this out.” He said it so matter-of-factly, my ears ran hot. “And if there’s a chance we can turn this into a money-making business,” Aaron went on, “I’d like to start sooner rather than later.”
The heart of the book is the characters, their relationships, and their love of their community in the Bronx. The friendship between Raquel and Aaron was particularly good, full of lots of humor and the inevitable bumps, especially as Raquel grows and changes through the book. It’s also about families: Charlize’s close relationship with her cousin Cisco, and Raquel’s relationships with both her divorced parents. With her Mami in a coma, Raquel’s forced to live with her Papi (who doesn’t even have internet access, horrors!). Reconnecting with her Papi lets her learn more about her Afro-Latina heritage, through things like his resguardos, and also their family’s history in the Bronx. There is also a sapphic romance, but it’s more of a slow development.
For the most part, the pacing is quick and tight with short, punchy chapters (with great titles!). It made it easier to read “just one more chapter”… and then suddenly, oops, you’ve read another fifty pages. The areas where the book stumbles are around some of the characters’ inexplicable decisions, suddenly realizing something or deciding to do something without really explaining how they came to that decision. I’ll admit to knowing about the history of the Bronx in terms of redlining, but not about the fires in the seventies and some of the other things that still cause issues today. It’s a bit in-your-face with the theme, perhaps more than I think the age group honestly needs, but I loved the theme itself all the same. In terms of cons, I would’ve liked a bit more romance as well as more explanation on the whys behind the Echos.
“What else does a phoenix do when it’s done burning?”
Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 stars for its tense and creepy vibe, fast pacing, and awesome characters. This is the author’s debut work, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on their work in the future!
Content notes: View Spoiler »racism, violence (including blood and gore), police brutality (including MCs being drawn on and mentions of police shootings), fire (including burn victims), mother in hospital « Hide Spoiler