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The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

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Save the restaurant. Save the town. Get the girl. Make Abuela proud. Can thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora do it all or is he in for a BIG, EPIC FAIL?

For Arturo, summetime in Miami means playing basketball until dark, sipping mango smoothies, and keeping cool under banyan trees. And maybe a few shifts as junior lunchtime dishwasher at Abuela's restaurant. Maybe. But this summer also includes Carmen, a cute poetry enthusiast who moves into Arturo's apartment complex and turns his stomach into a deep fryer. He almost doesn't notice the smarmy land developer who rolls into town and threatens to change it. Arturo refuses to let his family and community go down without a fight, and as he schemes with Carmen, Arturo discovers the power of poetry and protest through untold family stories and the work of Jose Marti.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published May 17, 2017

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About the author

Pablo Cartaya

9 books185 followers
Pablo Cartaya is a professional code switcher and lover of all things Latinx. He talks a lot and writes a lot which are paradoxical conundrums to overcome on a daily basis. He is the author of the acclaimed middle-grade novel, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora (Viking Children’s Books/Penguin Random House) which earned him a Publisher's Weekly "Flying Start" and starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher's Weekly. For his performance recording the audiobook of his novel, Pablo received an Earphone Award from Audiofile Magazine and a Publisher's Weekly Audiobooks starred review. His novel Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, also with Viking, is set for publication in summer 2018, with two forthcoming titles to follow in 2019 and 2020. Follow him on Twitter @phcartaya

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 729 reviews
Profile Image for Paula.
Author 2 books220 followers
May 29, 2017
So here's an unintended consequence of our Tangerine Hitler in Chief -- you can now make the villain in a children's book just as grotesque and childish as you like.

Where previously I might have read the soulless real estate developer bent on destroying Arturo's family's restaurant as cartoonish and unrealistic, now I get that someone just like "Wilfrido Pipo" has surely been taking down honest businesses for decades, and with the same lack of subtlety.

Also, this is a fantastic book.
Profile Image for Karina.
851 reviews
April 12, 2020
I loved this YA read. The narrative was a Cuban teenager that lives in Miami, Florida with his large family. Summer became a great time for him to grow up unwillingly. He falls in love for the first time while the family restaurant is in danger in the hands of a redeveloping slimy Capitalist sleezeball that has no idea what a family or community is. Arturo Zamora is desperate to save the memory of his Abuelo y Abuela in this restaurant. I loved his family and cheered for them.

Sweet memorable read. It's always nice finding a story on an ethnicity you don't know much about. The poetry is also very nice to read.(Memo to self: Find Jose Marti poetry.)

Profile Image for Deborah.
759 reviews51 followers
March 6, 2022
Abuela’s restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, has been in the Cuban-American family forever and it is their second home. A developer threatens their request to expand the restaurant when he puts in a bid for a fancy multiplex called Pipo’s Place. 13-year-old Arturo Zamora is startled that Carmen, his mother’s goddaughter and a childhood playmate, has developed into an attractive teenager. She and her father are visiting from Spain for the summer. Carmen, Arturo, and his family try to rally the community to protest the development that will forever change their community. Abuela, who is not feeling well, reminds him that what is important is love and faith and shares letters from his grandfather and the poetry of Jose Marti. This is a story of family, food, community, and believing in yourself and others.

While the author tried hard and had great ideas in a fantastic location (Miami!), the writing, to use an expression frequently verbalized by my nephew, was meh. The recipes were better written and more exciting and mouthwatering than the book. I cannot wait to try the Tortilla Española and Fricasé de Pollo.
Profile Image for Brenda Kahn.
3,697 reviews53 followers
September 4, 2017
Reading this debut was like being enfolded into Arturo's Abuela's warm hugs. It was like meeting a family for the first time and feeling as comfortable as if you've known them forever. Arturo's voice is earnest and awkward and at times, hilarious but always genuine.

Reread this with my ears when I heard the author was the narrator. Well done performance. Still love the book.
Profile Image for Shenwei.
462 reviews221 followers
June 18, 2017
A touching middle grade story about family, food, poetry, community, first crushes, and the fight against gentrification. Loved the incorporation of poetry into the story, notably poems by Cuban revolutionary José Martí.
Profile Image for Melissa.
2,386 reviews26 followers
May 30, 2017
I'm afraid I found this a bit of a snooze fest. I loved the Spanish-American culture. I loved the extended family and the relationship with the abuela. The evil real-estate developer was embarrassingly two dimensional.. the love interest was wooden and I had a hard time believing in any of the verbal exchanges. For me the story never came to life. Even the ending left a weird taste as the family violated the Federal Clean Water Act.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews319 followers
May 19, 2018
Why did I wait so long to pick up this book?! I really enjoyed it. Teresa tried to tell me. This is a funny and heartfelt story about a Cuban American family trying to save their restaurant when developers want to move in and gentrify their neighborhood. Hand to middle schoolers who like character-driven books that are both funny and serious and any kids who are driven to make a difference in their world. The audiobook is read by the author who is also an actor and he reads it really well with subtle but effective voices for the characters. Would listen again.
Profile Image for Jillian Heise.
2,320 reviews482 followers
August 20, 2017
I adored this book & Arturo's journey! I was surrounded by warm feelings about family and community and culture and the power of speaking out and sticking up for who and what you love, and how much more difficult that is as an adolescent.
Profile Image for Brandy Painter.
1,633 reviews251 followers
November 30, 2017
Originally posted here at Random Musings of a Bibliophile.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya is a book I found via the new arrival shelf at the library. (Yay libraries!) I am so happy I found it too. It is an excellent book about family and community centered around the Cuban restaurant Arturo's family owns.

Arturo has high hopes for the summer. He will be working in his family's restaurant earning money. His mom's goddaughter, Carmen, is visiting and suddenly he is feeling all kinds of things in his gut he is unused to. When a greasy developer tries to convince the city council that what Arturo's Miami neighborhood needs is a high rise, the restaurant his family owns and runs (but is in a building they lease) is threatened. Arturo is determined to save the day, win the girl, and make his Abuela, who pours her heart into the restaurant, community and its people, proud.

The kids in this book, with Arturo in the lead, are wonderful. I loved the entire cast of characters. Arturo is definitely going to be a favorite of mine for a while. His inner voice is perfect. Confused, frustrated, impatient, cocky, snarky, insecure-it runs the gamut of middle school emotions perfectly. His two best friends are foils for him in different ways and help the reader get to know Arturo quickly and well. The interactions between the three are amusing and realistic. Carmen is also wonderful. She and her father are staying in Miami for the summer following the death of Carmen's mother. She is still grieving, but is also a vibrant girl full of plans. She is reading poetry by Cuban revolutionary José Marti, which sparks an interest in the same in Arturo. Through this Arturo finds a connection to his Abuelo, who he discovers was a fan of Marti and even tried his hand at poetry himself.

Unlike a lot of MG novels, the adults are incredibly important in this book. The kids aren't fighting on their own. They aren't left to figure everything out and grieve and move on by themselves. There are times when Arturo takes matters into his own hands, but it isn't because the adults aren't present. And when those matters blow up in his face, he faces consequences and is loved by those adults. His entire family is wonderful and incredibly close. Several scenes take place during the family's Sunday dinners.

The plot of the book follows Arturo as he discovers what the land developer is up to and then tries to stop him. There is laughter, tears, anger, fights, and reconciliation. It is a story about friendship, first crushes, and community. At its core, it is a story about a boy who finds a connection between his present and his past. The main part of that centers on the relationship between Arturo and his Abuela, which is a beautiful story. I'm impressed by how well Cartaya was able to juggle all of this so well. He did an amazing job of balancing all these, while writing a book that is both fun and layered.

The setting of the book is crucial. The restaurant Arturo's family owns is the heart of their community. People come there to talk to Abuela as much as they come for the excellent food. Cartaya's descriptions of the restaurant bring it to vibrant life. I have to give him extra credit for describing how a restaurant kitchen works so well in a MG book. No idealization here. Another plus of this book is the untranslated Spanish it contains. The conversations between Arturo and his Abuela occur with her speaking Spanish and him responding in English. Through context, non-Spanish speakers (like me) can figure out what is being said. The inclusion of the Spanish is essential to making the book realistic and given the population of America's schools, we need more books that do this.

This book covers so many areas that MG age readers are looking for regularly in books, it is a must have for those who deal regularly with those kids.
Profile Image for Joan.
2,030 reviews
April 16, 2019
I like the way we are beginning to get good nice families back in kids' lit. such as the family in The Hate You Give. This "Epic Fail" one has an extended family that is just plain close and accepting of each other. Sure, they get on each other's nerves but push comes to shove, the family is there for each other. However, that is about all I can praise the book for. I rounded this up from 1.5 stars. The success does not make logical sense. One minute they are talking to the council members who decide not to decide. The next minute they are dealing with an illegally placed sign which apparently is what got the battle won. Huh? I'm skipping a few things but my point is that it is unclear what won the battle. After it being the focus of the whole book, it was rather disconcerting to just have it understood that of course they won. I do get the author's point, that the family is the most important part of their lives. Nonetheless, the denouement really was lacking in this book. I also found the Spanish translations into English rather erratic. I understand that it is hard to make the translations not stop the action of the story, but I've seen it done more smoothly than in this story. There are many characters where I feel by the end of the story that I could meet them and have a pretty good idea what makes them tick. I never got that feeling with Arturo. Other than his intense love of family, I don't really know what makes him unique. I can remember the plot at the moment, since I just finished reading about 15 minutes ago. I'm not too sure I'll remember the plot by tomorrow. This book is just pretty unremarkable.
That last line I wrote cues the coming rant: I do wish that the award committees would simply not award a prize at all if there isn't high quality titles! This one simply shouldn't have won. The villain is completely one dimensional. Even abuela is not all that distinctive a character, although I do get a better feel for her than anyone else. I have this problem with other ALA awards as well. There was one year when the committee did announce they were not handing out any awards that year but would next year. That is definitely a way to improve the general writing quality! I wish they would have the courage to disappoint the community again if nothing special is written!

Not recommended.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Elif.
60 reviews4 followers
October 19, 2018
It's a beautiful novel about family and community. You can feel the panic building and building up to Arturo's fail, and the tension increasing even after that.
Profile Image for Jennifer Wolf.
415 reviews5 followers
December 27, 2021
I listened to this book in order to support a student who was reading it for a book group in ELA. The story was sweet, and the characters were likable. I enjoyed the deep bonds among the family, which existed whether they were biological ties or not. I also liked that there was a lot of Spanish woven throughout the story. However, this might not be the best book selection for a student who has struggled to finish a novel.
Profile Image for Laurie.
865 reviews
November 21, 2018
Interest Level: 5-8; Reading Level: 5.7

If you knew that your family home and your family business was in jeopardy of being destroyed, would you have the guts to stand up and fight for it, or would you sit back and watch it happen? Arturo's vastly large family all lives in one apartment complex community within steps from the family restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla. Arturo has his family, his two best friends, and it is summertime which means basketball, working at the restaurant, and his Abuela's mango smoothies. This is supposed to be an amazing summer until nasty, prize-bribing, land developer comes into their small community wanting to build a high-rise, luxurious, amenity-filled apartment building. When Arturo and his family realize the location for this building is in the lot next door to the family restaurant, which they were planning on expanding to, but also was eventually going to take over and tear down La Cocina de la Isla, the fight is on. Not only does Arturo have all of this to deal with, he also is trying to figure out the feelings he has for a family friend's daughter, Carmen. Can Arturo save his family, save the community, and get the girl? Read this amazing story of a kid who finds his voice and fights for what means the most to him!

I absolutely loved this story! From the very beginning Arturo and his family brings you into their inner-circle of warmth and love. I so wanted to go to La Cocina de la Isla and sit down with them to eat their amazing food. I also wanted to sit in that restaurant and have Arturo's Abuela come and talk to me. I also wanted to stand next to each and every one of them as they fought against injustice. Do not miss this incredible story of family, friends, and love of a community!

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Profile Image for Rummanah (Books in the Spotlight).
1,422 reviews17 followers
September 16, 2018
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is a warm and at times heartbreaking story filled with family, tradition, and community. Every summer Arturo is looking forward to a Miami summer filled with friends, ice cream, and working at his family’s popular restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, but his plans get derailed from the start. Carmen, his mother’s goddaughter, comes to visit, and Arturo may have a crush on her. He is confused whether or not he and Carmen are related. His "promotion" at the restaurant is harder than he thought, and worst of all, his family’s plan to expand into an adjacent empty lot seems hopeless when flashy real-estate developer Wilfrido Pipo comes to town with plans of his own.
Arturo hopes the community his abuela and abuelo loved for so long will support them, and with the help of his family, friends, and the work of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, Arturo finds the strength to fight for what he believes in. I absolutely loved this book is organically filled with family and culture without feeling like it is checking a list of requirements. The characters are lively and Arturo's family comes to life and leave you feeling like they are part of your family. The story is also interspersed with letters, poems, and Twitter messages, offers a timely tale of a community steeped in tradition and multiculturalism, working together against encroaching gentrification. Arturo’s is a great narrator and one the reader can easily root for. This is a quick and uplifting read. A great choice for those looking for books to help celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.
Profile Image for Celeste_pewter.
593 reviews147 followers
June 13, 2017
I adore coming-of-age stories, so I was delighted when I was invited to join the blog tour for The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora.

Thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora is ready to take on summer vacation by storm. But a land developer brings new challenges to him and his family, as he tries to pursue a new high rise building, where Arturo's family restaurant stands. It's now up to Arturo, and his eclectic group of friends, to try and fight back, and save La Cocina.

What I love about Pablo Cartaya's novel, is that he writes with an absolute zest for his story. Cataya has mentioned before that he has breathed life into these characters inside and out for years, and his obvious affection for his crew is evident in every page. He paints a wonderful picture of what it's like to grow up in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances, and what it means to be an awkward, likable teen, who is going through those circumstances, step-by-step.

Outside of the broad scope of the story, Cartaya's writing is a treat in it of itself. I don't often remark on the stylistic elements of a writer's work, but there's a certain melodic quality to his work, which helps invoke both Arturo's background, but also a genuine richness to the book.

All in all, Cartaya is one to watch. Highly recommend, full stop.
Profile Image for Shaye Miller.
1,236 reviews80 followers
September 25, 2018
After reading and enjoying Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish two weeks ago, this earlier work of Cartaya’s was recommended reading. So I didn’t skip a beat to get my hands on a copy. Arturo Zamora was born into a close-knit family that runs a well-loved restaurant. During this summer, his mother’s goddaughter, Carmen, visits and introduces him to new poetry. But he’s suddenly feeling all sorts of awkward and confusing feelings about her (someone he’s usually seen like family). At the same time, Wilfrido Pipo is a newcomer to the community and Arturo’s family soon realizes that he has big plans for their town — plans that do not include their family restaurant!! I loved the Spanish-American culture in this story. The scene is so well written that it’s easy to imagine walking right in to the room. You can just hear the clinking of the dishes in their restaurant, smell the delicious foods, and feel Abuela’s warm hugs. What a precious story of family and traditions and crushes and community and loss. For this and more #kidlit, #mglit, and #yalit book reviews, please visit my blog: The Miller Memo.
Profile Image for Westminster Library.
739 reviews51 followers
June 4, 2018
Arturo Zamora is looking forward to another chill summer working at his family restaurant La Cocina but then a few things occur. First he gets “promoted” to assistant prep kitchen dishwasher and then a strange guy called Wilfrido Pipo starts hanging around the neighborhood and letting people know he has big plans for the area- plans that may or may not include La Cocina. If this wasn’t enough, Arturo’s mom’s goddaughter is visiting from Spain and Arturo finds himself acting weird around her for some reason. This was a funny, charming read that managed to bring together themes such as family, gentrification, and the importance of community while also mentioning the main character’s burgeoning first crush.

Find The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora at the Westminster Public Library!
Profile Image for Jean-Marie.
969 reviews43 followers
October 18, 2018
Arturo Zamora’s family’s restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, has been a keystone of Canal Grove’s Cuban-American community for the past 19 years. Now, a fancy new developer wants to gentrify the neighborhood by building a towering multi-use residential building featuring every luxury amenity imaginable. This new building will change the face of the neighborhood and, mostly likely, put La Cocina de la Isla out of business. Arturo and his family come together to fight the plans the developer has in store for the neighborhood. This coming of age story is about relationships - relationships with our family, friends, community, and heritage. Readers will find Arturo and his extended family a very likable bunch. My 11-year-old really enjoyed this one and begged me to keep reading past a few unexpected cliffhangers. I would recommend this one for tweens and early teens. Two thumbs up.
Profile Image for Bookwormkatie.
24 reviews1 follower
August 4, 2019
Can you imagine what it would be like if your family owned a restaurant? Or if you lived in the same apartment complex as ALL of your relatives, including family friends? Arturo Zamora does both. His family’s restaurant works hard to feed the community, bringing smiles to everyone who walks in the door. It stays that way until one day, when a developer comes to town. He wants to replace the restaurant with a fancy new building, which will have a pool, a gym, and other things.
Overall, I give this book 5 stars. I thought it was nice to read about a family that always gets along. This is a sweet middle grade novel about the importance of family and community.
Profile Image for Vernon Area Public Library KIDS.
927 reviews38 followers
December 19, 2017
Arturo's summer is usually relaxing. This summer, his family's restaurant business is threatened and he and his family need to make the community see that new and flashy is not always better. Arturo finds strength as he fights for what is important to him while dealing with his feelings about the first girl he really likes. Arturo's wonderful, close family is at the heart of this book and makes it a joy to read. Recommended for children in grades 4-8.
Reviewed by Carol Kaner, Youth and School Services Librarian, Vernon Area Public Library
27 reviews2 followers
January 15, 2019
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya, is about a boy named Arturo who has a huge family. There family owns the restaurant La Cocina in Miami. This summer was going to be the best summer ever before Carmen, a beautiful girl who loves poetry, and Pipo, a salesman with a mysterious business, shows up and flips Arturo's feelings and life upside down. Will he be able to do it all or will it be an epic fail. This book is amazing Pablo Cartaya is an amazing writer and I suggest this book for anyone and everyone because this book is awesome.
Profile Image for Cathy.
487 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2018
I loved the cultural aspect of this book -- it makes me want to find out more about Cuba and its people. I loved the families in the book and I loved the way the conflict/s were presented and resolved. The main character -- all the characters -- in the book are wonderful. They are characters that, now that I'm done with the book, I miss them! That's the best indicator of a good book in my view! Great read!
440 reviews17 followers
July 1, 2017
Somewhat comparable to Amina's Voice and I think as good, even though my impression is that Khan's book is getting more buzz. Oddly it's in the cookbook at the end that the voice seems most comfortable in its own skin. In the main text, the several ingredients don't come together as well for me. Maybe there are too many characters?
Profile Image for Katie.
67 reviews1 follower
May 9, 2019
A pretty slow start but it gets a lot better.
Profile Image for Danielle.
882 reviews
March 21, 2021
"We fight, we Zamoras! We fight for what we believe in. We fight for family. We fight to preserve our sense of home. We fight to be just and fair and above all, we fight for love. No form of exile or malady can defeat us. It is invincible."

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora was a delightful story of Arturo, a kid just trying to survive the summer between 7th and 8th grade. Arturo is part of a large family: they all live in the same apartment complex and most of the family works at La Cocina de la Isla, the restaurant Arturo's grandparents started many years ago. La Cocina de la Isla is a neighborhood staple, serving delicious food and has a caring environment with Arturo's abuela taking the time to get to know each and every patron. Arturo loves Sunday night dinners at the restaurant, where he can enjoy the food and company sitting right next to his abuela. This summer poses some new challenges for Arturo: his mom's goddaughter comes to visit from Spain and Arturo develops a crush on her, his two best friends will be spending several weeks out of town, and there's a slick new land developer who just rolled into town. This guy wants to develop the empty lot next to La Cocina de la Isla into a new highrise that will be exclusive for some members of the community.

I really enjoyed this story. Not only is Arturo incredibly relatable, the cast of characters in this story are very fun. I loved seeing Arturo's relationship with his abuela and seeing him get to know his deceased abuelo through letters he wrote before his death. (I did have to wonder why Arturo seemed to be the favorite grandchild though. That was a storyline I would have liked to see developed). I really enjoyed Arturo's descriptions of what it felt like any time he was around Carmen, the cute girl he's developing feelings for. I liked that Arturo had a summer job at the family restaurant that caused him to learn the importance of showing up for work on time and putting in your best effort yet still having time to enjoy the long summer days just being a kid. But what I really enjoyed was this first look into gentrification. Gentrification is such a complex topic, even for adults, but Cartaya covered the ramifications of gentrification on the existing community so well. This is a fantastic look at how easy it is to sway the community to the new and shiny but also to really think about the community members left behind.

This was a fun middle grade book that I read in one sitting. I'm looking forward to hearing what my middle school students thought of this one. A few of them mentioned the Spanish was a little overwhelming, but I thought Cartaya did a nice job of having Arturo translate the Spanish into English for the untrained Spanish reader.

TW: death of a family member
Displaying 1 - 30 of 729 reviews

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