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3.44  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,236 Ratings  ·  257 Reviews
A young girl tells the story of her family's tragic demise using a deck of cards of the eponymous Mexican game in this spellbinding debut novel that marks the arrival of a powerhouse new talent.

With her older sister Estrella in the ICU and her father in jail, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo has been taken into the custody of the state. Alone in her room, the young girl retrea
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Harper
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Oct 29, 2013 Connie rated it really liked it
Even before I started reading it, I was impressed with the beauty of this book with its thick pages, and full page images of Mexican Loteria cards before each vignette. Loteria is similiar to bingo, except that images are used instead of numbers. The dealer sings a riddle for each image, and the players cover the images. The Loteria card "La Rosa" is on the cover of the book.

Refusing to speak, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo is in a home run by the state after some tragic events. She is looking at
Aug 26, 2013 Wendell rated it it was ok
(Originally published at UnaVitaVagabonda.)


Mario Alberto Zambrano’s Lotería: A Novel is a gorgeous book.

What's unfortunate is that, when I say this, I'm referring exclusively to the physical object.

In publishing Lotería, HarperCollins has produced the kind of elegant, expensive-looking (and expensive, at $22 for 272 pages, many of them blank) book that is an endangered species in American libraries: Pleasingly hefty in a 7”x5” format, Lotería features solid cover boards that bespeak se
Sep 18, 2013 Melissa rated it did not like it
At first, I thought, "Wow! a Spanish author who is an acclaimed ballet dancer and an Iowa Arts Fellow!! Oh! I can't wait to see what his book is about. OH... LOTERIA ILLUSTRATIONS IN THE BOOK?! I DIE!!"

Until I read the book and realized the ADULT SPANISH MALE author is writing about the CHICANO experience from an 11-YEAR-OLD GIRL'S POV. He doesn't pull it off.

Domestic abuse, loteria, and first-generation americanism are all things I can relate to, and I'm not buying it.

And waking up in a rehabi
Aug 28, 2013 Dominique rated it it was ok
I heard about this book on NPR and it sounded intriguing. The book itself is very beautiful, with colorful illustrations of the Loteria cards. But packaging isn't enough to save this book. I kept waiting for it to take some sort of direction. The prose is okay, but the vignettes following each card started to feel very contrived, like a gimmick instead of really being intrinsic to the storytelling. It holds off on what is supposed to be the powerful stuff too long and by then I was just bored an ...more
Book Concierge

Eleven-year-old Luz Castillo sits and deals the cards of her Lotería deck. She is in the custody of the state, and cannot (or will not) speak about what she has seen and done in her short childhood. But each card in the deck leads to a memory, and she writes her thoughts in the notebook her Aunt Tencha gave her.

This is a tragic story born of crushed hopes and poverty, and resulting in alcohol abuse, and violence. That there are children living in these circumstances is disturbing, and all
Diane S ☔
Jul 11, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
First let me tell you what this wonderful little book looks like. It is about 9 x 6 in. and it is hardbound, no book jacket and on the front surrounded by a background of blue, there is a lovely red rose. The pages are thicker, so they do not tear easily. Loteria itself, is a Mexican game that is played somewhat like Bingo but using colorful cards and riddles and different patterns. Each chapter had a page with the picture of the card in beautiful colors. The presentation of this book is fantast ...more
Jul 15, 2013 Luke rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Mario Alberto Zambrano's debut novel achieves the tone that is both the hardest to strike in fiction and the most effective: quiet devastation. LOTERIA is the story of 11-year-old Luz trying to sort through her complex, damaged emotions in the fallout of a family tragedy by shuffling through a deck of Loteria cards--the Mexican game of chance. Of course, being so young, Luz is not fully equipped to negotiate such difficult emotional terrain, or articulate her own sense of loss. And yet the reade ...more
Aug 06, 2013 Chrystal rated it did not like it
The premise of this sophomoric mess is "Loteria," a bingo-like Mexican card game with a different image on each card, each image also carrying a riddle with it. Each chapter of this novel shows a card whose image reveals a new riddle in the story. There is one card missing which supposedly reveals the secret of what has been hidden all along, which is not worth the reader's effort, to say the least. I think the hidden image, or missing card, should be "la pistola" so that the reader can shoot hi ...more
I was going to give this book three stars originally because I am not so sure the narrative conceit of Loteria worked (what pre-teen, having experienced tragedy, would structure the telling of her story in personal journals based on a deck of cards?). Also, the voice in this story, while beautiful, is sometimes far too mature to be accurately eleven years old. Any frustration I felt with this book was all in its stylistic choices.

That being said, I am in a generous mood and really wanted to give
Jul 04, 2013 Patty rated it really liked it
This is a powerful little book. I must admit that I think it was a bit over my head - it involves the slowly revealed tale of young Luz Castillo, currently in the custody of child protective services. Why? The reader doesn't know yet - Luz refuses to talk. The bits and pieces of her life with her father, mother, sister and aunt are slowly told through her journal entries with the use of Loteria cards - a Mexican bingo type game.

Each chapter (and I use that term very loosely as some are mere para
Jan 06, 2014 Deb rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Structured on the Mexican game of Loteria, each chapter was tied to one of the 54 cards. It was through each card/chapter that the 11-year old narrator slowly told her story through vignettes until the end when the puzzle was revealed. The novel began with Luz writing in her journal as a ward of the state, her sister was in a hospital, her father was in jail, and she had not seen her mother in a year or more. The puzzle was unraveling the tragic events that created her circumstances.

I appreciat
I have to start by raving about how beautiful this book is. The feel of the book itself and its cover, the gorgeous illustrations by Jarrod Taylor, the thickness and heaviness of the pages, even its size - you can tell that this book was designed with the utmost care. It gives testament to just how much (so, so much) went into the crafting of the story itself, which is both heartbreaking and hopeful. I especially loved how the journal entries were written using the Loteria cards - entries writte ...more
Dec 08, 2014 Neva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The structure is solid, the content feels like good cinema, the balance between what's told and what isn't adds more dignity to this book. I guess it is a faithful portrait of what domestic violence can be in its most tragic form: when people actually love each other, but aren't wise enough to make something worthy of their feelings. There aren't real grown ups in this book, eccept maybe for the youngest character, the narrator - a fruitful paradox for a clever writer.

I loved the use of Spanish
Indigo Crayon
Jul 12, 2016 Indigo Crayon rated it did not like it
Update: Just kidding, I'm changing this to a 1. The more I think about this book, the more I feel like it's a 1 instead of even a 2. I just.. did not enjoy this at all really. So why would I give it a 2?


I wish this was as good to read as the book design was to look at. Honestly I picked this up at the library thinking that if I really liked the story, I would definitely have to buy the book because it is just so nice looking.

It's like, that's it. It's 2 stars. It's exactly what Goodreads d
Feb 02, 2014 Halbert rated it really liked it
An easy and delightful read and I thought it provided welcome insight into Mexican-American culture. Loteria is a popular Mexican game that is similar to bingo except that the card is filled by iconic images rather than numbers. Instead of calling out the images by name, the caller chants a riddle that provides a clue to the image. For reasons that quickly become clear, each of the books chapters relates to a Loteria image.
The story is told from the point of view of an eleven year old Mexican-Am
Jul 05, 2013 Jovita rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It was beautifully written and so creative. This was a favorite childhood game and one I still play with my children. I enjoyed how the author weaved the story and the game together. I gave it 5 stars instead of 4.5 because of the way it spoke to me personally. Some parts of the story were all too familiar to me.
C.E. G
Mar 06, 2015 C.E. G rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I... don't know how to feel about this book. It's in the form of the diary of Luz, an 11-year-old girl in the custody of the state, as she works through some family trauma. She uses cards from loteria as inspiration for each entry, which I 100% approve of.


It felt aimless and gimmicky in the beginning, but then things got painful and twisty and I just felt really empty and kind of upset as I finished it. Not sure if the unpleasant reaction is my fault or the book's, and not sure if that reaction
Jennifer Sundt
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I couldn't sleep last night so I zipped right through this book. It is a really fast read and the typeface allows for even faster reading. At first I wasn't sure what the book was really going to be about and therefore started out pretty slow.However, once I understood the game and what was going on, things starting picking up pretty quickly. Loteria is apparently the Mexican version of Bingo. Luz, the young female protagaonist, is in a state foster care home in the US, and passes the days looki ...more
Jul 11, 2013 N. rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jul 10, 2013 Lori L (She Treads Softly) rated it really liked it
It is slowly revealed what has happened to eleven-year-old Luz María Castillo and her family through diary entries she makes based on Loteria cards she draws from a deck in Mario Alberto Zambrano's debut novel Loteria. This is a tragic story told through the memories and in the voice of a young girl. The 53 chapters all open with the picture of a different Lotaria card. Luz is talking to God in her diary entries, as she contemplates her memories of her family. She is in state custody and not tal ...more
Jul 20, 2013 Licha rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It made me so nostalgic for many of the things mentioned in the book. It felt like an old friend reminiscing with me about the past. I thrilled at things that the author mentioned within the story that made me want to say outloud "I remember that!" "I used to do that too!" Here too was another memorable protagonist that will live in my heart for a very long time. The book is beautifully presented with each chapter showing an actual picture of a card from the Loteria ...more
Bonnie Brody
May 28, 2013 Bonnie Brody rated it liked it
Luz Maria Castillo is eleven years old and she is a ward of the state. She has been placed in a facility that houses young people because of some unknown reason. We do know, however, that her father is in jail and that her mother has run away several years ago. She has a sister Estrella and an aunt Tencha. Her aunt visits her frequently but Luz has not spoken since she has been placed in custody.

She is using a deck of Loteria cards, a Mexican game similar to bingo, to write her family's story. E
Nov 14, 2013 Nora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nora by: Peggy, bookclub
Shelves: bookclub
As an assist to our "learning Spanish adventure" the book provided the following: "They used to pinch me when I'd say something wrong. Not a bad word, not a maldicion. Just a word that came before another, one that turned something into either a woman or a man. La something or El something. As if the moon weren't Romeo one night and Juliet another. They'd pinch me if I called something a boy instead of a girl, or the other way around. Why is it la mano instead of el mano? I can think of Papi's h ...more
Ramona White
Jul 26, 2013 Ramona White rated it liked it
This book shocked me. It shouldn't have because I've known lots of children who experienced unfairness and even tragedy and took it in stride. (A boy once told me of losing many of his favorite toys because he'd left them in the family car overnight and very early that next morning the car had been repossessed. He was sad but not to the extent I would have expected from the average child.) But Luz is eleven and believes things happen for a reason- either we deserve them or it's God's will- so sh ...more
Sep 08, 2013 Victoria rated it liked it
This is a very interesting, fast read. The book is constructed around the titular Mexican game of loteria. Each card starts the chapter, with a lovely, simple illustration that functions as a frame for a surprisingly dark family drama. Despite the narrator’s young age (only eleven), do not mistake this for a YA book! The amount of Spanish present will definitely slow those unfamiliar with the language down. Some phrases and words will undoubtedly be familiar to those with only rudimentary Spanis ...more
OCLS Staff Picks
Sep 25, 2013 OCLS Staff Picks rated it really liked it
Mario Alberto Zambrano’s novel debut reads as the journal of eleven year old Luz María Castillo, who is now in the custody of the state with her mother missing, her father in jail, and her older sister Estrella in the ICU. While there she refuses to speak. In an effort to bring Luz back from behind her wall of silence, her aunt Tencha suggests she write down her thoughts instead.

By using a deck of lotería cards – a Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo, but with cards brightly colored depicti
Dec 23, 2015 David rated it really liked it
You can't choose who will be your parents; can't choose your kids. It's a lottery. The Mexicans play this crazy game similar to bingo (I did it once in a Spanish class). The metaphor is not lost in this book.

A young girl writes in her diary reliving a terrible event by using the lotería cards while in child custody. The story is nothing new, a tragic family using the backdrop of the Mexican-American migrant experience. The mix of Spanish with the English narrative gives it that added realism. Br
Aug 28, 2015 Justin rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. It's a deeply sad account of an 11-year-old girl living in a family of Mexican immigrants in Houston. The obvious comparison is House on Mango Street, but this book is darker, and more inventively structured, thanks to its use of the Lotería deck. It's a rare book that can turn a monstrous character into one that's at least somewhat sympathetic, but Zambrano pulls it off by presenting the abusive, alcoholic family patriarch through the eyes of his still-loving young daughter. ...more
Mar 23, 2015 Essence rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: If you like drabbles....
I was expecting some grand reveal...I did not get it. This book is pretty, literally, as every other reviewer has said, but it falls short everywhere else.

There are hints of conflict, shadows of some tangled story-line but really all you get are a bunch of mixed-up memories told in some sort of childlike English that paints a gorgeous picture of youth but doesn't really do much for the overall conveyance of the plot, whatever that was.

This story is simple. It's not meant to be taken in in one fe
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Mario Alberto Zambrano was a contemporary ballet dancer before dedicating his time to writing fiction. He has lived in Israel, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, and Japan, and has danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballett Frankfurt, and Batsheva Dance Company. He graduated from The New School as a Riggio Honors Fellow and the Iowa Writers' Workshop as an Iowa Arts Fe ...more
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“Papi looked down at the side-view mirror, at the pine branches sticking out from behind the truck, and every time Rocio raised her voice, singing and screaming at the same time, it felt like the front seats were flooding with water.” 2 likes
“And we just sat there, like a statue of two girls trying to do the right thing.” 1 likes
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