Book Review: Understanding the Alacran by Jonathan LaPoma

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Synopsis:

-Silver Medal Winner of the 2017 FAPA President’s Awards (Contemporary/Literary category)

Trying to escape the oppression leading him to drinking, drugs, and despair, 22-year-old William James rejects a teaching position offer at a prestigious Buffalo high school and moves to Mexico to find freedom in its beaches, mountains, and culture.

But soon, this freedom becomes oppressive as well as William finds himself unable to avoid the pull of the wild party scene in the small town of Lila where he lives. He continues a downward spiral until he meets a complex and compassionate Mexican woman whose love inspires him to face the question he’s been avoiding: Is this trip a desperate search for life or a slow death?

A dark but humorous coming-of-age novel, UNDERSTANDING THE ALACRÁN explores many of the questions that haunt young people searching for love and their place in this world, and offers a poetic look at the raw beauty and healing power of Mexico.

My Review:

Will moves from Buffalo to Mexico to try to find some freedom while living with his friend Sal in a place called Lila. In Lila, besides the locals, he meets some people that like him are just looking for an escape and to explore Mexico.

Things are not easy for Will, yes there’s a lot of partying, drinking and meeting women but the cultural differences and the language barrier proves to be a struggle, especially at the beginning.

This book and Will’s experience while in Mexico shows how living on a budget in a different country can be a hardship, how prejudices can go both ways and the real weight of dealing with insecurities and society expectations.

The descriptions of the places Will visited during his stay in Mexico are good and it was a nice surprise to find out that I’d been to some of the cities mentioned in the book and, reading, made me go back to the times I visited some of them (like San Cristobal de las Casas, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Vallarta, Guanajuato and Puebla).

The writing is engaging, with the right flow and a dose of dark humor to make it an enjoyable read that I would recommend.

I found myself highlighting many parts of this book and next are some of my favorite quotes:

“And it was that very face that drew me – a beauty that could cut through any chaos without losing a hint of resolution”.

“It’s ok, Will. Keep writing. Maybe someday you’ll realize your ‘nothing’ is really something beautiful”

“The darkness had made its way back in full force. It was crippling and consumed me whole. I’d gotten away for a short time, but when it caught up again, it hit me with an extra viciousness – perhaps to punish me for running. Nobody truly gets away”.

“It was soft, and organic, and visceral. I felt alive in the darkness – alive and not alone. This was the Mexico I’d fled to see. The Mexico I’d invited to  sweep me away”.

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

* I received a free copy from the author through a Goodreads Group.

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