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Each of Us a Desert

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A fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life.

Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village's stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo's wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town's murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match... if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published September 15, 2020

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About the author

Mark Oshiro

51 books1,187 followers
MARK OSHIRO is the queer Latinx, Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and TV series. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015, and is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. When not writing/recording reviews or editing, Oshiro engages in social activism online and offline. Anger is a Gift is his debut YA contemporary fiction novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 423 reviews
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
547 reviews3,524 followers
August 2, 2020
DNF @ 25%

I just....am sad, you know? This was one of my most anticipated releases but it just didn't work for me. I loved the writing but I couldn't get a sense of who the main character is and the story was taking a long while to pick up so i just got bored 😭 i was feeling like it was putting me into a slump and I really don't want to start my month like that.

Don't let this deter you though...might work for you better than it did for me!
Profile Image for Sofii♡ (A Book. A Thought.).
401 reviews432 followers
May 19, 2020

First of all, I want to thank Tor Teen for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest thoughts, celebrating "Latino Book Month"

WOW, I'm really impressed by the quality, intensity, reality, and depth of this story, I think it will be one of those difficult reviews to write due to the emotional charge that this book gives me with its pages. There's so much that I could share with you about the book, but I'll try to give what I can without spoilers, throwing all my thoughts and feelings here, so I hope it's understood. In summary, this book is a poem about the strengths and weaknesses of human beings. It's about overcoming fear & going in search of your own truth and your own destiny, I loved it, obviously!


4.5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

You can find more of my reviews & other content on my blog A Book. A Thought.

This story follows Xochitl, "la cuentista" of her village who one day, after a tragic and unexpected event, decides to go out to pursue the truth about her destiny and for this, she must undertake a dangerous journey across the desert. But their path ends up bumping into Emilia's, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town's murderous mayor, and together they'll go through hundreds of creepy and challenging obstacles to discover their destinies, and meanwhile, something magical begins to emerge between them.

I loved it! Something really magical happened to me with this book, I knew that I would love it from the moment I started reading it, there's something in which it feels very captivating and unique, so it was inevitable for me to commit myself to the story and the characters. It's also super special for me due to the amount of Spanish I found in the story. If you're not Spanish-speaking, don't worry, the author makes everything understood perfectly anyway, but being Latina myself, it felts super nice to find a story that's so familiar and fluid in such a special way for you, you know?

The plot is the most unique thing I've read in a while, and also something strange and difficult to explain, but I will try. In this book, as I mentioned before, we follow Xo, and she's a cuentista, which means that she has a special ability which allows her to retain people's stories and then deliver them to Solís (who's their god) and so allow these people to feel relieved and not be persecuted for their nightmares or past guilt, and after having delivered those stories Xo immediately forgets about them, but it does drain a lot of her energy which leaves her super tired until even make her sleepy for many hours. So this story focuses on this concept in a world where "Solís" has given this "privilege" to certain people, and they become the most important people in their villages, being a job or duty for life. On the other hand, even when everyone believes that being the cuentista is a great privilege, Xo feels drained by it, and after terrible situations, she begins to see it as a curse. Also, this "power" has been passed to her by her aunt before she died, which is why she has never had a real chance to be or do anything else, you know? And with all that comes this journey in which hundreds of magical, shocking, and supernatural things happen.

In this book, we have a lot of magic happening all the time, even when they're atrocious situations because it's not a fairy tale, in fact, it's a very graphic, hard-hitting, and bloody book, so if you're an easily impressed person, I recommend discretion. I was so shocked when so many gory and brutal things begin to happen, I certainly didn't expect it, but I think it's the tone of the book and that scene remains throughout the course of it. So I could say that it's a survival story too, because the characters will have to face extreme climates under super scarce resources. In addition to the cuentistas, we also have other beings such as "Los Guardianes", "Los Sabuesos" and "Los Palidos" among others, who are represented in the form of animals (wolves, cats, bears) as well as in other humanoid forms.

On the other hand, I can't fail to mention another kind of magic that occurs in the book and they are the relationships between each character, it felt so real to me, especially because there's a sub-plot in this story where Xo finds poems on the way and feels absolutely attracted to them for things that she still doesn't know and there's such a powerful message there of love and of super innocent and sweet energy. I think magic is also in everything the author shows us through small gestures.


The writing style is wonderful, one of my favorite things about the book, it's easy to read but at the same time it's complex and poetic, and it fulfills with transmits all the feelings that the characters are going through, it's a story that although it focuses in fantasy you can feel its great power and strength in the realistic side. I can't wait to read more from the author to continue experiencing his unique style. In addition, the plot is told from Xo's perspective, but as telling everything that happened to Solís, which seemed like a great detail to me, as well as we also have small poems, which are beautiful.

There's a female/female romance happening in the book and I adore it, especially since it's not 100% focused on it and it's not very heavy, in fact, it develops very naturally and is a slow-burn kind of romance, which I personally LOVE. I really enjoyed it, each scene of these girls interacting is wonderful, it's all super organic and perfectly imperfect. In addition to the romance, we have a lot of diversity, obviously, all the characters are Latinos, but we also have gay and lesbian representations, played in a very casual and natural way in these communities, which is great.

The main character is Xochitl, and she's great! She's a super-strong young woman, she doesn't know it, though, because she has lived all her life in the same place and doesn't know much about life outside her village, but once she decides going out to discover, you can really see the inner strength that she has and a great conviction to find her truth. She has a super noticeable growth, she begins having many doubts about her life and what's true and what's not, and after facing so many obstacles that make her grow, we can see a different girl more determined and ready to decide for the first time for herself. I'm proud of the journey that Xo undertakes and above all, of her great growth and personal development. Emilia is amazing too, a super interesting character, she's the daughter of a ruthless man who goes village by village destroying everything, and at first, you don't know what her role really is, but when the character develops and we know her whole story, we can know the reason for her attitudes and decisions. I adore Emilia, she's a really kind soul, and she has gone through so many injustices that really breaks my heart, but also as Xo, she becomes strong and ready to show her true self. Then we have hundreds of characters that we know on our trip and others who live at each stop that the characters make, and although there's not much development of them, you do can appreciate their personalities and even feel connected to them and their lives. I want to mention Julio specifically because he's one of the most awful, evil and terrible villains that I've read in a long time, I really came to hate him, a ruthless man that dragged everything in his path for his desire for power . Then we have several wonderful and interesting souls that I will mention quickly like Rosalinda, Felipe, Manolito, Luz & Eliazar, all them AMAZING.


The story takes place in the desert, so it's a fairly vast and desolate image that gives the story a lot of meaning in itself. We also toured villages and towns, desolate and ravaged by what was is called "La Quema". We also explore places underground, so the whole landscape is quite sad, but also very atmospheric and scary.

This book, in addition to being wonderful because you go throughout a discovery journey and search for freedom, also discusses and questions many belief systems that these people have, and the characters are super confused because they've grown up thinking in a certain way and suddenly everything is uncertain and it seems that everything was a lie or that things aren't as they seem. I liked that this is discussed, as well as "realities are created by our beliefs" and that "we're shaped by the experiences that we live". The book forces the characters at times to challenge their biggest fears and is heartbreaking, but also eye-opening for them and makes the plot even more incredible. I think the blurb doesn't do the story justice, I don't think this is a simple romance, you know? This book is much more than that, it's self-discovery, it's facing the truth, it's fighting for your freedom, it's learning to put yourself first and be responsible for your decisions, and it's to grow and heal. It's wonderful and I'm very happy to have had the chance to read it.

I know that maybe it's a disorganized review, but honestly, I couldn't explain all these feelings with words and do justice to the book, as well as it's a rather difficult and complex promise to explain in its entirety, even more without spoilers. But, I hope I've done my best and that you feel that desire to give it a chance because it's very worth it. It's a whimsical story and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy complex and weird storylines, but the best kind of weird, you know? I compare this story a lot with Seanan McGuire's stories, for some reason they resonate for me, and I remembered Middlegame a lot while reading this book for its original plot and its unexpected twists, but also for the whimsical and crazy of the stories and that power to make you addictive to them. I highly recommend it, and I hope you decide to give it a try as soon as it comes out on September 15th, 2020, I know you have to wait a little while but it's worth it, I promise.

First Thoughts 05/17/20

LOVED IT! This is such an original, unique and shocking story, I really die for more people to read it in September when it's released and so everyone can enjoy it. It's heartbreaking but in the most beautiful way, It'is poetic and perfectly mixes an atmosphere of survival and horror, with deeper energy of love and personal growth.
Profile Image for Adri.
986 reviews799 followers
July 21, 2020
CWs: Descriptions of graphic violence, injury, and death; allusions to animal deaths; instances of emotional abuse and domestic abuse.
"We stretch ourselves: to fit within the roles we are given. To make ourselves look better to those around us. To convince one another that we are good people in a world so vacant. Each of us a desert."
This is an ambitious fantasy novel that explores the power of stories—how we pass stories onto each other, how we hold stories in our hearts, and how our lives are the stories we tell ourselves and each other.

Thematically, I found myself incredibly moved by this book. It calls to mind stories like The Deep by Rivers Solomon, in the sense that it's also about one person taking on a community's stories in the most literal sense. Like in Solomon's novella, Each of Us a Desert calls us to recognize that forgetting is not the same as healing, and that our obligation to ourselves matters every bit as much as our obligation to those around us.

The magic and mythology surrounding cuentistas in this world is really well thought-out, because it emulates how a singular idea can exist across times and across cultures, but the manifestation of that idea or belief is rarely ever exactly the same from place to place. As Xochital travels further away from her home and the only way of life she's ever known, she's encountering people whose relationships to cuentistas are very different from her own, and that challenges this belief system she has always thought to be self-evident—a system dependent on her pain and her sacrifice. It's interesting to see how her faith is challenged and how these different beliefs can coexist without there being one "right way."

Xochital's struggle is a universal one, I think, because she's trying to understand her place in the world and she's realizing for the first time that she doesn't have be defined by her role or her relationship to other people—that she is not only worth what she can provide to others. In her experience as a cuentista, her role is about being a fail-safe and maintaining everyone else's purity by cleansing them of their secrets and their stories. She has always seen contrition as a performance, and playing the part of cuentista doesn't leave room for her to just be a person with fears, and desires, and dreams. The stories she takes on literally take up space in her body, and she wants to reclaim that space and make room for her own stories for once.

But there's also this community element of storytelling that I really appreciate, because we get to see that telling each other our stories makes them real, and gives people something to remember us by. So whether Xochital is taking on stories or giving them back to the desert, there is a feeling of connection and mutual transference there.

I will say that this is not necessarily a plot-driven fantasy. The main conflict is interior conflict as Xochital is struggling to determine who she wants to be and where she sees her place in the world. So if you're not into gradually evolving, character-driven fantasies, this may not be for you. The bulk of the legwork is thematic and emotional, so that's something to keep in mind. I was also a little thrown off because the story did start off with a Big Bad, who was definitely a bit of a mustache-twirling type, but then they didn't end up playing a huge role in the story overall. It's one of those cases where I think maybe they're weren't truly needed in the story, because there's already a lot at stake, but that could just be me.

All in all, I really enjoyed this story. It's a true journey in every sense of the word, and it really makes you want to see Xochital to the end of that journey. I'm excited to see where Mark Oshiro goes from here!
Profile Image for Serge.
120 reviews23 followers
June 7, 2022
Actual Rating: 3.5/5

Xochital is the storyteller of her village, more specifically known as the Cuentista. She has received this role, which is quite the heavy burden to bare, at the age of 8, and she had to be the shoulder of every single person in her community leans on, giving her their deepest and darkest stories, that can oftentimes be traumatizing to hear. Fortunately, Xochital is able to release these secrets to the sun god her community worships, pleasing him and securing his favour towards her people while forgetting everything she was told in the process. However, all this changes one day when Xochital decides to keep these stories and not release them to the sun god, after being told a story that had dangerous consequences and decides to try and prevent them from happening, but ultimately fails to do so. After this incident, Xochital becomes hellbent on finding a way to get rid of her powers, thus releasing the heavy burden that is too much for her to bare, and embarks on a journey into the depths of the desert, looking to find a way to give her powers to someone else.

This is a very quiet and reflective tale. The conflict present in this novel is quite internal, dealing with Xochital's struggles regarding her abilities, and the importance of the stories she is keeping inside her in shaping her identity and defining who she is as a person. A central theme present here is the question of who she truly is without these stories. It's a journey of self-discovery while navigating through an unforgivable scorching desert environment. The overarching theme of this work seems to be the importance of interconnection in our communities. Each story Xochital takes from others and makes a part of her own is a figurative comparison to the very same aspect of reality we live through, since every interaction we have with others marks us in one way or another. If we separate ourselves from the social fabric we find ourselves to be a part of, and try to look deep inside ourselves to see who we are in isolation from that fabric, it would be quite the struggle. Humans mold each other through their interactions, and society is an interdependent ecosystem that is more than the sum of its parts. Xochital's introspective journey in this novel takes her on the path of making this discovery, since at some point, she realizes that when losing the stories she has kept inside of her, she would ultimately be losing a part of herself, and go back to the perpetual state of confusion she was constantly in after each story-releasing ritual. Xochital's relationship with Emilia, her travel partner, is another layer of connection we explore in this story, though their romantic relationship is not as straightforward and as plot-consuming for this to be seen as a romance novel.

The setting and atmosphere are beautifully crafted here, and I was able to visualize the hot orange atmosphere of the desert, and the heat of the searing sun blistering my skin. Despite not much happening plot-wise, this character-driven journey was a gripping read and Mark Oshiro is a talented author. I recommend taking your time reading this book, trying to immerse yourself into the world without rushing through it. I read it relatively fast and couldn't completely appreciate the slow narrative tempo, though I do hope to reread it someday and fully soak in the story.

Thank you to Maria and Sulla for buddy reading this with me!

“We stretch ourselves: to fit within the roles we are given. To make ourselves look better to those around us. To convince one another that we are good people in a world so vacant. Each of us a desert.”
Profile Image for Val.
291 reviews54 followers
October 13, 2020
I can't believe that one of my most anticipated read of 2020 turned out to be a painful 10-days long reading experience akin to slow torture. I just can't believe it.

Let me start by saying this. This is, objectively speaking, a good book. It has an interesting and original storyline, that of a young girl forced to listen to her people's painful stories, no matter how sick it makes her feel. In general, the writing is pretty good: the worldbuilding is clear and nice, there's just the right amount of details in the descriptions, and you can really feel the passion and the love the author had for their book through their words. I was particularly touched by the general message of the book, that is of finding one's own path and not let people pour all their pain into you.
I also think it's important to add that this book, having both queer and Latinx representation, is an extremely enjoyable breath of fresh air into the YA genre, and I absolutely adore that we get more and more diverse books nowadays, especially own-voices ones.

That being said, this book just wasn't for me.

I first struggled with a particular detail in the writing style. As I said, it's pretty good but the fact it mixed English with a lot of Spanish truly bugged me. I would have understood if some words had been in Spanish in the dialogues - it would have made perfect sense considering the settings - or if some expressions had been left in their original language, because they couldn't really be translated to English. What I didn't get was why even the descriptions had so many Spanish words - and more importantly, randomones. I would have understood names, places, customs, food... but using agua instead of water? Montanas instead of mountains? Pajaros instead of birds? I do speak a fair amount of Spanish, so I understood almost all the words, yet it made my reading extremely painful and jerky, as my mind couldn't help but stumble upon every Spanish word in the English descriptions. I just can't imagine how it must be for someone who doesn't know a single Spanish word: it's not as if you could stop every two lines to look up their meaning - but if you do, then you have all my respect.
I hope I don't come as pretentious or anything, because I truly understand what the author wanted to do in merging the two languages - I'm just not sure it was the best idea to put it in a YA book for all to read, especially without any mention of it from the publisher.

I do admit this problem with the writing style was what mostly made my read difficult, but after a while I wasn't really bothered by it anymore. Instead, I was truly dragging myself through the book - and it felt excruciatingly slow. The plot takes ages to start, and even then, it's too mild to really make you feel excited. I do think the publisher's synopsis is misleading: it personally led me to think the main character was exiled into the desert and then would meet a girl at some point, which isn't what happens at all. But even overlooking this, I just couldn't seem to care for the story. It felt slow and dragged, I just didn't get where it was going, and how the different characters were important to the plot. It just felt like a huge journey for not much at the end.

Speaking of the end, it truly was the only thing that worked for me. While I was extremely bored and half brain-dead during the entire book, the ending truly woke me up and almost made me tear up. I wish the whole story had been like this: a frantic, quick-paced fantasy tale of pain and love and magic. Basically, the last few chapters embodied everything I had wished the book to be, and for once in my reading experience, it was a bitterweet but satisfying ending.

So yes, I feel like a complete clown writing such negative review, because I do understand why so many people loved this book. It's magical and original, with beautiful diversity - everything I usually love. I just didn't really care for the plot or the characters, and the writing and the pace just left me puzzled and sleepy. It's only my personal experience, and I still admire the author for their work - I particularly recommend to read the acknowledgements at the end, they are truly poignant.
Profile Image for CW ✨.
669 reviews1,713 followers
October 12, 2021
This is a quiet fantasy, rich with meaning, themes and emotion. It's a fascinating piece of storytelling and I was so engaged by this book - I wrote four pages of notes while reading this! And yet, if I had to be honest with myself, the story lands in some places but it didn't land for me in some parts unfortunately.

- Follows Xochital, a cuentista, or a person who receives stories from others and then releases them into the desert, thereby freeing people of their guilt and pain. When Xochital gets an opportunity to change her destiny, her paths cross with the beautiful yet cold Emilia. As the two journey together, the two will grapple the challenges and trials of the desert and what may lie at the end of their journey.
- Thematically, this book is a magnificent, and if you love thematic reads, then Each of Us a Desert will be a treat. The story explores an abundance of things: the burden of stories, how our lives and our worlds are defined by stories, collective forgetfulness, and how being a cuentista inherently constrains relationships to be transactional.
- This is very much character-driven and not very much plot-driven - this is not a bad thing. Xo's role as a cuentista provides a great opportunity to explore the nature of relationships, responsibility, piety, and burden, and I thought this was so interesting.
- The story takes place in the desert, which in itself is such a fascinating setting. It explores the vastness of a desert, the loneliness, its endlessness. Is it desolate in its expanse, or is it free or liberating?
- In some ways, I felt like this story was an analogy for religion - being challenged, your worldview challenged, being disillusioned, and how being challenged makes you question everything. The anger that comes with discovering that the world that you knew it wasn't the whole truth, the pain of believing that something was not as eternal and powerful as you believed.
- This book is deeply meditative, introspective, and slow in a good way. Readers who need something plot-driven won't enjoy this, but readers who enjoy deliberate character-driven stories will.

Clearly, so much of this book engaged me and interested me. However:
- I think the beauty of the ending is its mystery and its open-ended-ness, but I also found the ending a little disappointing.
- Though I was really engaged by the story's themes, the journey that the characters embark on didn't engage me in the same level that the themes in between the story did - which is a shame because this is one of those 'it's not the destination but the journey' books.
- The pacing was a challenge at times. When it was engaging, it was engaging, but when it wasn't, it was challenging to get through.

I think I'd like to re-read this in the future, but I'll listen to the audiobook. I love Frankie Corzo as a narrator, so I think she'll give the story more life than my brain could.

Content warning: death, gore, murder
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,204 reviews3,686 followers
October 4, 2020
Okay, so this is a little challenging for me to review. I LOVED the first half of it. Everything about it was pretty much perfect for me. It was well paced, beautifully written, thought-provoking, and fresh. Then the second half had much slower pacing, was less engaging, and philosophically went in a direction that I don't love. I fully admit the philosophical piece of it is a me thing and how it's going to land will very much depend on the reader.

That said, what can I tell you about this book that won't spoil it? Each of Us a Desert is an ambitious coming of age story set in a Latinx-inspired fantasy world. Quite a lot of Spanish is used on the page and the world feels unique. This is also a fantasy that wants to make you think and is more driven by characters and ideas than by plot, particularly in the second half of the book where the plot elements slow down significantly.

The main character is Xochital, a queer girl who sort of functions like a magical confessor for her community (though it's more complicated than that) and it's a story about familial expectations, community obligation, and the challenge of discovering who you are and who you want to be, not to mention growing into your own ideas about faith and religion. The book is written in first person as a prayer to a deity, which is interesting and generally worked as a device in my opinion.

Philosophically, this grapples with the problem of pain in the world and ultimately leans into the idea that it definitely impacted my reading experience in a less than positive way. But like I said, this is going to be idiosyncratic.

Overall, I found this to be a beautiful and thoughtfully crafted story that does get quite violent and dark at times. Content warnings include violence, murder, gore, mind control, emotional abuse, loss of a loved one etc. I would also recommend checking out this lovely own voices review from Adri: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Wendy.
748 reviews7 followers
August 9, 2020
4.75* This is a book unlike any I've read before. It's also quite difficult to properly describe and review this book. I don't think I have words to do it justice. Mark Oshiro's writing conveys an atmospheric, beautiful, lyrical, magical post-apocalyptic desert world that had been burned by Solis (the sun god) in an event called "La Quema". Xochitl is a 16 year old cuentista of her village., who was given her powers when she was 8 years old. A cuentista is a storyteller, but instead of telling tales, they take people's stories of wrongdoings or sins, to basically absolve them. Xochitl takes the tale into herself, then goes out into the desert, and gives the stories back to the earth to go back to Solis.
Certainly, I did not find this a very easy book to get through. There were times when I felt like I'm also stuck in the desert, with the heat oppressive and heavy. That's definitely a compliment to the author's skill. This is also a book that explores faith and fate. The power of words is shown, as the stories la cuentista take in are alive and can cause pain. There's also the power of the poemas that draws Xochitl. They're spread out in the desert written by an unknown poet. They gave shape and form to what she's feeling and thinking.
Written as a long prayer from Xochitl to the silent Solis, we see the world open up to Xo as she ventures out of her village on a personal quest to escape the bound confines of her role as cuentista. From Xo's small village to a sprawling city to burned-out ruins, where arid deserts and steep mountains cross, this harsh but beautiful world is deftly painted by Oshiro's very talented pen.

**Huge thank you to Tor Teen for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.**
Profile Image for Leanne.
278 reviews56 followers
September 16, 2020
Thank you NetGalley for the ARC. I loved this book. It was so beautiful. It’s difficult to describe the plot, so I’ll talk about everything else that I loved.

This is the first book I’ve read by Mark Oshiro, and I adore his writing. It’s lyrical, atmospheric and utterly captivating, painting a vivid picture of this strange desert world with magical creatures, where danger lurks at every corner. I also liked how it here were numerous chapters about the lives of various side characters; this is an aspect of storytelling that doesn’t work in every book, but I thought it worked well here.

The protagonist, Xochitl, travels far away from home, embarking on a journey to a faraway place. I loved her character; she was brave and kind, and I really enjoyed watching her struggling to break free from the person she was told she had to be. Her growth throughout the story was fantastic to witness, as she slowly realised her own worth and what she wanted from the world. The side characters she meets along the way were also excellent — all of them had their own backstories and distinct personalities. Furthermore, the slow burn romance between the protagonist and another female character was tender and adorable.

This is probably one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. It’s not really an action-packed book — I would say that much of what happens focuses on Xochitl’s internal turmoil, as well as Emilia’s. But I hope that that doesn’t deter you, because I still thoroughly enjoyed the story.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
480 reviews22 followers
February 14, 2021
Ahh I really enjoy this! Each of Us a Desert is a diverse and lush character-driven fantasy novel. It's also a story of self-discovery and realisation. I must say that I'm quite a fan of fantasy books which explores topics with regard to self-knowledge and Each of Us a Desert is a prime example where this journey of self-discovery is executed well through the characterisation.

Each of Us a Desert is Xo's journey of self-knowledge. Through her narrative, Oshiro woven emotionally touching stories and demonstrated strong character development & psychological exploration. From Xo's headspace, Oshiro crafted a highly complex and yet likeable main character. Similarly, the support characters are fleshed out from Xo's lens. Xo's deeply intimate narrative allowed me to emotionally engage in her relationship with Emilia. I also enjoyed the diversity of the characters - and how this reflects Mark Oshiro's personal background. So I found the characterisation excellent and sincere.

Through the poetic and emotionally intimate writing, Each of Us a Desert goes beyond slow burn romance regime. Through the carefully crafted stories, this is also a story of coming of age, increasing self-awareness, as well as stories we trapped inside ourselves. By going through the layers of the stories, I loved how Oshiro illustrated the depth in which one could reach to gain self-knowledge. In the age where introspection is often overlooked, reading this journey of discovering one's sense of self is a welcoming experience - especially one which is fleshed out well.

While the characterisation and messaging were the stand-outs, I initially had to push through the first 1/3 of Each of Us a Desert. Personally, I found that the worldbuilding and the magic system weren't immediately apparent. I think this is partially due to the strong character focus (Oshiro mentioned that they focused on the characters first before crafting a world around these characters) and the dense writing to describe Xo's complex sentiments. So while I emotionally connected to the characters, it took me a longer time to feel immersed in the world. So while Oshiro budgeted with the words used to describe the worldbuilding, I do find that the symbolism of the desert pretty fitting with the character development. So I don't think the worldbuilding is a major issue as this didn't distract the central messages.

Quotes I love (these quotes demonstrated both the internal and external aspects of self-awareness from Xo's emotional narrative):

"I watched them for a while until they were nothing more than a speck on the horizon, and I wondered if others experience this perspective. Were we all specks to one another in this isolated, empty world?"

"I breathed in that freedom, and I was overflowing with purpose. It was not the one that had been assigned to me, that had dictated my life. It was my own."

"Who I was but a collection of their emotions and experiences?"

"My hope is a bird that flies over the land and in the distance you shine brighter than the stars, brighter than the sun. I will follow you only if you follow me."

"We are the stories we tell one another."

To summarise, this character-driven fantasy novel demonstrated excellent messaging on self-awareness and personal narratives. It's an incredibly emotional and intimate read. It's also has an excellent LGBT+ relationship. I highly recommend this to anyone who's into solid characterisation.

N.B. this book contains the following content triggers: gore, blood, animal cruelty, and death

Profile Image for akacya ❦.
1,040 reviews171 followers
December 31, 2021

Xochitl, la cuentista of her village, is supposed to take the tales of her people and deliver them to Solís. As this is a lonely job, she craves company, and finally, her wish is granted in the form of Emilia, the mayor’s daughter.

The way the storytelling was demonstrated was so beautiful. Xochitl’s job isn’t just to carry these stories from one place to another—she takes the stories on as her own, so instead of carrying others’ stories it becomes almost as though she’s carrying her own.

There was a lot of exploration in this book, such as why cuentistas do what they do and what could happen if they don’t. Because of this, I feel like it would’ve maybe been better as a duology, as that’s a lot of worldbuilding. It wasn’t necessarily info dumping, but I would love to see this world explored even more, even with different characters if the author didn’t want to come back to the ones in this book.

I did like how Xo and Emilia’s relationship didn’t take over the story. Not that their relationship being a bigger part of the story would have been a really bad thing, but it allowed for a better focus on Xo’s journey.

This book does include a lot of Spanish words, and though my Spanish is limited, I was still able to understand it, so don’t let that scare you!
Profile Image for Toya (the reading chemist).
1,184 reviews115 followers
September 28, 2020
Each of Us a Desert gives us The Deep by Rivers Solomon, which I was here for since The Deep is one of my favorite books.

Xochital is burdened with literally consuming the stories of her community to provide them with spiritual cleansing and healing. But by taking in these stories, there’s no space for Xochital’s own stories and feelings, and she sets out on an adventure to reclaim that space for herself.

This is a beautiful coming of age story that reminds us that forgetting is not the same as healing. There’s incredible world building, lots of magic, and a sapphic love story that I couldn’t get enough of.

As a bonus, the audiobook is narrated by the incredible Frankie Corzo (who also narrated my fave, Mexican Gothic), and she truly brings these characters and this story to life.

Thank you to Macmillan Audio for providing an advanced listening copy. This did not influence my review. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,051 reviews232 followers
January 6, 2021
"A new sensation filled my belly, one that did not belong to any of the stories, but was mine and mine alone. Desire."

Each of Us a Desert is the sophomore novel from Mark Oshiro. If this is any indication, Oshiro is a damn fine writer that will be around for a long time to come!

Following sixteen year old Xochitl, a cuentista in the village of Empalme, Each of Us a Desert is a story about stories. Given these special powers at just eight years old, Xo listens to stories of the villagers, then leaves them to Solís, the sun god, scattering them back to the earth. These stories are confessions that they will no longer need to bear the weight of, purging secrets from their lives, their bodies during the prayer ritual. The cuentista takes on the sin, yet once they return the story to Solís, it is forgotten.

Except one day, Xo decides she doesn't want to give up a particular story. Rather, she ventures out of her village on a quest to save her people, her only companions are her thoughts & the magical lines of poetry she finds hidden amongst the dunes.

For the first time in her young life, Xochitl is following her heart, her desires. But will the story consume her?

"Each of us a desert, alone and vast."

Each of Us a Desert is a post-apocalyptic fantasy coming-of-age story that is exquisitely queer, subverting the genre & the western gaze. The worldbuilding is vivid & atmospheric, taking place in a queernorm desert society with a diverse cast of characters, including nonbinary & Latinx rep, as well as a sapphic main relationship. I swear my little queer heart grew ten sizes while reading this! Oof.

Mark Oshiro's writing is beautifully intense & tangible. Exploring themes of immigration, history & trauma, Each of Us a Desert is a brutal, achingly emotional novel. It's about overwhelming loneliness, grief, pain, sacrifice, love & support. It's that sense of isolation, when you feel like you never quite belong. It's about that little flicker of hope that one grasps onto, while searching for your place in this unpredictable world.

Each of Us a Desert is the kind of book where I had finished & then immediately wanted to start reading again, so that I could find things that I had missed.

CW: Violence, abuse, gore, visceral horrors.

(Big thanks to Tor Teen/Tor Books for sending me a copy!)
Profile Image for Brigi.
709 reviews63 followers
August 28, 2022
Oh boy, where do I start...

So the blurb on the back of the book is pretty much a lie. This is a weird allegory (don't ask me about what) disguised as a dystopian ya with queer characters.

It started out really well. I thought to myself, this is unlike any other book I've read. We have this post-apocalyptic desert world, and Xochitl is the cuentista of her village. Her role entails listening to people telling her their stories, their fears, her absorbing them, and then returning them to Solis, the Sun god they worship. It's a very exhausting process for her and she doesn't remember the stories after returning them. So she's like a priest absolving people of their sins and guilt.

Things go sideways, and she decides to go to a nearby city to find herself/the truth. She meets Emilia along the way, who's supposed to be her enemy. Their desert travel scenes are honestly dragged on and repetitive - if you want to do a fun drinking game, take a shot every time Xochitl mentions peeing, or bonus points, the colour/smell. I don't understand the weird fascination.

Along their travels they meet numerous characters and yet none of them actually matter for the plot. They are barely described and they disappear after 5 minutes. In fact, even Emilia is just a prop. I have no idea who she is, or why their relationship turns romantic later on.

Not just that, but later on there are zombies? And talking animals which killed a lot of people? I honestly don't understand what happened, everything was so confusing. I really hoped Solis would just burn everyone to death in the end, but sadly the ending was incredibly anticlimactic.

Rep: queernorm worls, sapphic main character and love interest
Profile Image for Enne.
718 reviews112 followers
October 26, 2020
2 stars

I was incredibly excited for Oshiro’s sophomore novel, after having read and loved their debut, Anger Is a Gift a couple of years ago. Maybe it was the hype that got to me. Or maybe this book just genuinely wasn’t that good. I simply… did not care about what happened to any of the characters. None of them felt like they had a personality, I couldn’t care less about the romance and the plot started out very slow and then proceeded to be incredibly repetitive. It has been two weeks since I read this book and I couldn’t tell you one thing about it. It wasn’t memorable at all for me. The only reason this isn’t a one star is because I thought the concept of the world was really interesting, albeit not really explored to the extent that I wanted it to be.
Profile Image for Andy.
2,527 reviews210 followers
September 1, 2020
Thank you to Netgalley and TorTeen for an ARC of this in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.


Mini review for now: This book slayed me in the best way possible. Xochitl and her story was so immersive. The lore around the cuentistas was fabulous. There was a good amount of Spanish terminology/language, which will sound beautiful on an audiobook! I stopped several times to look things up since my Spanish knowledge is limited to like 5 words, but I actually had a lot of fun doing this, it really expanded my knowledge.

With an amazingly diverse cast and a sapphic love story, I fell in love with Each of us a Desert.
Profile Image for Angela.
419 reviews923 followers
December 14, 2021
Spoiler Free Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoiBx...

This traveling journey story stole my heart even though that's not a trope I typically enjoy in my stories but the journey Xo goes on to find her own story is so touching and completely captured my heart. I loved seeing what new things we could get to see next as we explored this post apocalyptic fantasy world.

Recommendation: If you like coming of age stories set in very interesting settings and beautiful writing I would pick this story up.
Profile Image for Tara.
777 reviews325 followers
November 30, 2020
Each of Us a Desert is told in the first person from Xochitl’s perspective, as she shares her own story back to Solís. Because she’s telling it to her god, reading it can feel like eavesdropping on a prayer, listening to secrets and musings that are too personal to even put into a journal. She talks about how her aunt passed on the role of cuentista when Xochitl was only eight years old and how unfair it is to have had her childhood ripped away. We also see Xochitl’s crisis of faith as she continues to keep stories, learning that everything she’s been told about Solís and her role in town might not be true, and seeing how people treat her like a resource instead of a person.

Full review: https://www.lambdaliterary.org/2020/1...
Profile Image for Jackie.
85 reviews13 followers
August 12, 2020
This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve come across. From the dedication page to the acknowledgements sections I was in tears because of Mark Oshiro’s masterfully written piece of fiction. This novel is magic and extremely tragic and I literally can wait to have a finished copy in my hands just so I can read it again! I love this so much.

A more thorough review to come ✨
Profile Image for Laura.
873 reviews72 followers
September 15, 2020
Storytelling is a powerful gift passed down from generation to generation, in the oral or written tradition.
When Xochitl inherits the cuentista gift she must cleanse her village when they need it but she starts to feel abused by their privilege.

When a group of men come to take over her village and threaten their lives she decides to take action and starts a journey. With each new person we meet we hear their story. Oh the journey she befriends her enemies daughter Emelia and their relationship grows.

In this life, there are those people that are great listeners. And when you have a huge burden or anxiety or fear over something and you need to unburden yourself you unload onto them. You give them everything and feel so much better and you've given them all of those second hand feelings. But is this fair if you do it over and over with out letting them reciprocate. There are people that are empathic that will feel those stories like physical weights being placed on themselves while others might not even absorb your words. Each of us are alone in this world and each of us have our people. Each of us want to feel that our lives have meaning in this life and that we have purpose.

This story is an poetic blend of Spanish and English, (luckily my kindle is equipped with a translator for the words I don't know). I found the narrative unique like it was a story directed solely to Solís. Which I then read the author's note and it was written that way. I definitely felt like I was in a desert the world felt so hot and dusty. I felt so tired from the journey like I had been on it. I will tell you the familial relationships of two men and two women and pronouns used of they was beautiful. I'm so used to divisive language, that having it just be common was refreshing.

TW: Graphic violence, abuse, nightmares
Profile Image for Sofia S..
166 reviews118 followers
September 15, 2020
3.5 stars!!!


Thank you to the publisher and Colored Pages Book Tours for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Read this review on my blog!

Maybe the most important thing to know before going into this book is that is it slow paced. Very slow paced. It is not the kind of book that has lots of ups and downs, lots of adventures where the "not knowing" is what keeps you turning the pages – not that there's anything wrong with books like that!!

The beginning is slow. I am glad I kept reading it, but there was very little at the beginning that kept me turning the pages.
Also, the writing style is very... different. This book is written as a story told to someone – in this case, Solís. I personally loved the writing style, although it did take me a hot second to get used to it and found it a little tiring at times. However it's a style I am not sure everyone will enjoy!

As for the characters, I have very mixed feelings. I really liked Xochitl and Emilia – the main characters. Their relationship (although a bit predictable) was one of the biggest thing that kept me turning the page. Their romance was definitely not the most important part of the story and was kept at a minimum but I loved the little crumbs we did get – they were so valuable!

The rest of the characters felt a little bit distant. I liked how they were important to Xochitl but not necessarily to the story in and of itself. Speaking of Xochitl, her character development was 10/10! Her development was more satisfying to me than the actual conclusion of the plot... or rather the lack of it? Yeah, I'm still confused about the end. (although I feel like we're probably meant to feel that way...?)

This story is also very much a story about faith – the unconditional kind. I loved the way it was handled – can't say more because of spoilers, but I hope you'll go find out yourself 👀

Finally, I loved the amount of Spanish in the book. It made me feel at home, and worked extremely well in the story. Those poems in Spanish? *chef's kiss*. This, however, may come as an issue to readers who don't speak Spanish. I found that sometimes, the Spanish was not translated or explained, even when it was more or less vital to be able to understand what was going on (the poems were translated though! Which is really good because they're beautiful). Be prepared to read this with Google Translate at the ready!

In the end, would I recommend this? Yes and no. I thought it was a good book and I thoroughly enjoyed the Latinx and sapphic rep. If you enjoy slow paced plots - please give this a try!! The writing will suck you in and the world will terrify you (but like in a good way). Also, Xochitl and Emilia (both together and separately) will win your heart!!!

instagram | blog | twitter | *more* links!
Profile Image for Grace Dionne.
277 reviews217 followers
February 28, 2022
I really enjoyed a lot about this book!

I love that it was a story about storytelling, but also about how it feels to be pushed into a life with choices that you either don't want or can't avoid, and how it can be a long journey to finally break free and start making choices for yourself. I also love the relationship between Xochitl and Emilia, and how intertwined their development was. Both of their personal journeys were really interesting to read!

I really liked how this story felt magical, but also felt rooted in very relatable struggles that most people would experience and feel connected to.
Profile Image for Natalie.
57 reviews66 followers
August 24, 2020
‘You tell me your story, and I give it back to Solís. We are all cleansed by Them if we see the truth, believe the truth.’

Xochitl is la cuentista of her village, she takes the stories of the villagers and gives them back to Solís. Until one day she listens to a story that changes everything. Now she wanders the desert and tries to find her true self and her own story there.

‘Because while I missed home, I knew I had left for the most important reason of all: to become myself.’

Each of Us a Desert is one of the most beautiful written books I’ve ever read. Mark Oshiro created a unique story in an authentic written world and I loved every single page of it, even the afterword. I really can’t put my love for this book in words, but I’m so thankful to Mark that they wrote it. It was incredibly easy to get lost in this magical world, in all the wonderful stories Xochitl listens to, in every character that came across her way and in all the self-evident queerness.
I can’t wait to get my hands on a physical copy of this masterpiece and hope, that many others will fall in love with this book, just like I did.

‘This world of ashes
Cannot contain me
There are no walls
To stop me
I am free.’

Thanks to Tor Teen and NetGalley for providing me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Christina.
294 reviews12 followers
January 17, 2021
4 stars. What an emotionally charged absolutely gorgeous piece of literature. A "cuentista" (she takes people's confessions and essentially absolves them by giving these stories back to the desert) learns that not everything is as it seems, and undertakes a journey across the desert to discover her destiny. Much of this journey is taken alongside her town's evil mayor's daughter, who is also looking for herself. This book is about finding your own truth and conquering your worst fears.

This book is not for everyone. The storytelling has a very Latin feel and the magical realism is strong and requires a certain suspension of disbelief. Those deterred from these elements may have difficulty enjoying the text.

But me? I LOVED this. The connection between Xo and Emilia was organic and beautiful. The language, the poems, the use of Spanish!

And yeah, the acknowledgements brought on the waterworks.
Profile Image for Margarita (margaritathedrink).
139 reviews13 followers
December 31, 2020
I have so much feels but don’t know how to express this book. As a Latinx Queer person this was everything and more. I loved the prose, it was written so beautifully and had my emotions all over the place. This book was so intense and not what i was expecting at all. I was so captivated by this book and it just felt so special , i loved the f/f romance, i loved the characters and the magic.

This is one review that i am having a hard time expressing in words or even explaining the book but one i highly recommend.

Thank you Netgalley and Tor books for allowing me to read and review this book early.
Profile Image for Alexx.
310 reviews62 followers
August 14, 2020
This is hands down one of most beautiful books I've read this year. It was thought-provoking, honest, heart-wrenching, and I am so in love with the prose and the writing style of the author. (Also, I'm not gonna lie, I definitely could not hold back the tears anymore as I read the final pages of the book.)

Highly recommended! Full review will be posted soon on my blog!

Find me elsewhere: Instagram | Twitter | Blog
Profile Image for Bárbara.
1,143 reviews70 followers
July 16, 2020
Update:July 17th 2020
Quarantine really fucked with my mood because it took me a whole damn month to finish this.


May 7th, 2020 (original comment)

For some reason... NetGalley actually approved my request for a digital ARC of this book??????? Catch me slapping myself until release day because I don't believe this is actually a thing that happened to me.
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