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3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  723 ratings  ·  181 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...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Harper
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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...more
(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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
Diane S.
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
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...more
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...more
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.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
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
Bonnie Brody
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...more
Nov 14, 2013 Nora rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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...more
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
Mar 04, 2014 Stacia rated it 1 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2014
The best things I can say about this book is that the illustrations are nice & it is very quick to read. There is really no other substance there, though.
Full Stop

Review by Patrick Nathan

In the opening pages of The Tin Drum — Günter Grass’s post-World War II novel of a magical, forgotten Poland — our narrator, Oskar Matzerath, begs for understanding: “Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight.” Of course we don’t know why he’s in the hospital, nor how his story has come to us, but we do know that he intends to write his way out. “[My keeper] has bought...more
“’What did you do all together? What did you do with your Papi?’” But she wouldn’t get it. She wouldn’t know what it was like. We all fought. We all hit each other.”

Such is the normality of family life for Luz, the eleven-year-old narrator of Lotería. Through her eyes, Mario Alberto Zambrano tells a story of growing up in Mexico and the United States, of family struggles, and of the love and loyalty that holds families through tough times.

Zambrano, a former contemporary ballet dancer and graduat...more
Lee Razer
Good debut novel in beautiful packaging (deckle edge, smaller size, color art of all the Loteria cards starting each "chapter"). The story is told through the journal of 11 year old Luz, who is writing a memory that serves to advance the storyline associated with each Loteria card that she comes to in turn. The voice of the journal entries I can believe is that of an 11 year old girl, though the overall structure here too obviously bears the imprint of the adult author, taking me out of the illu...more
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
Julie Martz
This was a unique story about a little girl's tragic undoing told through memories associated with Lotería cards, a beautifully illustrated Mexican card game. I loved how the author introduced us to bits and pieces of Luz's tumultuous life as she pulled cards from the deck. Each picture evoked a story from Luz's past that she wrote about in her journal, which not only helped us to understand her present circumstances within her broken family, but was also a tool to help her deal with her emotion...more
Jul 01, 2014 Jada added it
LOTERÍA is a beautifully designed and beautifully illustrated book that draws you in and tells an unsettling story. Eleven-year-old Luz María Castillo is in a detention center without her family. She doesn’t want to talk to the center’s counselors but eventually finds a way to sort through the memories of how her family fell apart by writing journal entries to God that use the illustrations on Lotería cards as themes.

An aunt who wants custody but can’t take her because of immigration issues visi...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda Doyle
In its physical form, Loteria is a beautiful book. Add a tassle and it would almost resemble a missal, with its thick pages, clear, dark, print, and small hard cover. Each chapter begins with a colorful picture of a tabla from the popular Mexican game, Loteria.

I had some difficulty getting into this book and almost gave up with less than fifty pages read. At first I found the writing unfocused, but then the story picked up and pulled me in.

With relatively few words, Zambrano manages to build be...more
Megan Anderson
Beautiful vignettes that work together to form a larger story. I'd really rate this a 4.5--the Spanish sentences and phrases without a guidebook at the end detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I kept having to go to the computer and look up what they were saying, as there were no context clues or anything to help. Still, the writing was lovely, and I'd definitely read more from this author.
Adriane Duron
What an amazing book! I also recognized it's set in the Houston area :D ("TC Jester" and "Magnolia Park")The story is haunting, giving the reader a sense of unease as Luz, the eleven year old narrator tells us through the various cards of the Loteria (Mexican Bingo) what happened to her, how her family was so dysfunctional yet so destructive. Near the end where we realize just why Luz was sent to the children's center. I also love that the story gave us unanswered questions: just what happened t...more
Alice Meloy
Each chapter in this fine debut novel gets its title from a card from the Loteria deck, cards that are used in a Mexican game like Bingo, cards that 12-year old Luz uses to write about her life up till now. Sitting in her room at a juvenile detention/child protective services center, she recalls her mother -- who disappeared after repeated beatings by her husband, and her father -- a loving but violent man, and her sister Estrella -- who ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She r...more
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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
More about Mario Alberto Zambrano...
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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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