Some people ARE illegal.
Lobizonas do NOT exist.
Both of these statements are false.
Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.
Lobizona is easily one of my favorite books of the year. It is rare to find a book with such a huge scope that is crafted in a vibrant, mysterious magical world, but also has dire and necessary commentary about our contemporary society. Romina Garber has truly done it all.
Lobizona is about Manuela, or Manu, an Argentinian teenage girl who is a lobizona, a hybrid who has a werewolf father and human mother. She is living in Miami amongst humans, in fear of being found, both because she is not human, and because she is a hybrid magical species. She experiences “lunaritis”, a bodily sensation that she takes these “blue pills” for, which is correlated with her menstrual cycle. Her surrogate grandmother is attacked and her mother is detained by ICE. Manu goes in search of answers about her past and finds herself enveloped in attendance at a magical school and new realms that have only before appeared in her dreams.
A major theme is that of feeling and being othered. Manu is literally in hiding in Miami because her eyes shine golden due to her being a lobizona. She wears mirrored sunglasses so that people cannot see her eyes. She also is othered in the magical world because she is a hybrid, and hybrids are looked down upon. Throughout the entire story, Manu is in search of a family – someone and somewhere to call a safe base, after her safe base is completely uprooted in the beginning. There is also a great sense of hypervigilance and impending danger that can develop after experiencing trauma from loved ones being detained in a forceful manner by ICE. The scene where her mother is detained is so heartbreaking because at the same time, there is a baby also taken into custody, being separated from her own mother. These scenes thoroughly parallel real life, from the actions that Manu takes later on with regards to her immigration papers, to how people are treated in hospitals based on their immigration status, and abuse of undocumented immigrants taken into custody.
Lobizona not only provides haunting mirrors to current society, but it also has some classic elements of a phenomenal fantasy novel, including a huge plot twist around 80% through the book that I audibly gasped that. There is also slow-burn romance that Romina Garber does a great job at not allowing this relationship to overtake the entire plot, but was a nice accompaniment.
It also has my favorite element that is found in fantasy novels: A MAGICAL SCHOOL. There are classes, tasks, interactions between students, and all the magical school goodness you could want and hope for. In the magical world, only girls and women are brujas, and only boys and men are lobizones. Manu is a hybrid, a lobizona, which means that she does not fit the traditional gender binary and hierarchy. She experiences discrimination and some harassment because of this intersection of identities, both in the vein of toxic masculinity because she is a girl, but also because of her being a hybrid. One prolonged example of this is that there is one particular boy who insults her ability in Septibol, which is like soccer, because she is a girl, and debate over which team she should play for due to her different identities. Again, sounds a lot like our current society.
Another place where her identity as a hybrid comes up is near the end of the book, there is a debate between characters about whether Manu should display her individual skills and special abilities as a kind of plea or justification as to whether her life is valuable and should be saved. This reminded me so much of the discussion around how lives in marginalized communities should not be conditional based on whether privileged groups find them of value or have some kind of personal relation to them. You do not need to have friends in these communities to want violence and discrimination against the them to stop. They do not need to be your father, mother or sister. They do not need to have seven college degrees. Romina Garber talks about how unfair it is for marginalized groups to feel like they have to justify the value of their life and existence, and this is an overarching theme throughout the book.
Finally, there is a F/F relationship and there are microaggressions against couples who are not M/F couples, in that there is a huge push towards reproduction in the magical world, in order to not lose magical genes between generations. Again, parallel to our society, the governing laws covertly oppose relationships that are not M/F. The girls in the relationship go to great lengths to cover up their relationship, some which could potentially alter their friendships, but I was happy to see that their friends were understanding and got why they took the actions they did. Again, this is 100% a way that Romina Garber’s magical world mirrors the real world.
MY CONCLUSION: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
This is one of my favorite books of the year. Lobizona is fantasy at its finest, with Romina Garber weaving the story of Manu, an immigrant who feels othered in multiple ways, through finding the truth about her family and her experience at a magical school. It is everything and more.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Manu is a lobizona, and an Argentinian undocumented immigrant living in Miami, whose family is attacked and detained by ICE, and so she goes in search of her father’s truths.
Genre: YA fantasy
Trigger/content warning: Racism, sexism (all challenged), deportation of immigrants and refugees, mild physical injury
About the Author
ROMINA GARBER (pen name Romina Russell) is a New York Times and international bestselling author. Originally from Argentina, she landed her first writing gig as a teen—a weekly column for the Miami Herald that was later nationally syndicated—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. Her books include Lobizona. When she’s not working on a novel, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.