When Army brat Nestor Lopez moves to the small town of New Haven, Tex., to live with his abuela while his father is deployed to Afghanistan, he doesn’t expect to be there for long. After all, he’s only in sixth grade and is already on his 10th first day of school. His plan is to avoid making friends and attachments, and certainly not to let anyone know that he can speak with animals. Despite this, he soon winds up joining the school trivia club with new friends Maria and Talib. And his gift rapidly sucks him into a mystery involving missing animals and the threat of a terrifying shape-shifting tule vieja—a witch. With this heartwarming debut, Cuevas draws upon Central American legends and her Cuban heritage to flesh out Nestor’s experiences (his feelings of frustration and impermanence are particularly well-rendered), crafting a tense, satisfying tale of magic, family, and finding one’s true home. Ages 8–12. Agent: Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel, Full Circle Literary. (July)
2021 Pura Belpré Honor Book
NYPL Best Book of 2020
2020 Evanston Public Library Great Books for Kids
A Sunshine State Young Readers Award Book
"A charming and vibrant debut fantasy." Kirkus Reviews
"Readers will devour this fast-paced adventure as they root for Nestor and his ragtag bunch of friends and animal allies . . . In a unique take on South and Central American folklore, Cuevas brings to life an earthly type of twisted magic that transcends spells and transfiguration, extending into the feelings of belonging and finding a true home." Booklist
"With this heartwarming debut, Cuevas draws upon Central American legends and her Cuban heritage to flesh out Nestor’s experiences . . . crafting a tense, satisfying tale of magic, family, and finding one’s true home." Publisher's Weekly
"Cuevas crafts a riveting story based on folktales from Panama and Costa Rica." School Library Journal
"A marvelous, magical mystery that deftly blends family, friends and folklore." David Bowles, author of Pura Belpré Honor Book and Walter Dean Myers Honor Book They Call Me Güero and Pura Belpré Honor Book The Smoking Mirror
"Mystery, adventure, humor, friendship, and...talking animalsThe Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez has it all! Readers will love this funny, fast-paced, heartwarming story." Celia C. Pérez, author of the Pura Belpre Honor book The First Rule of Punk and Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers
Gr 4–7—With a dad in the military, Nestor has moving down to a science: pack his bedroom in under five minutes, keep his head down at the new school, and make sure people don't learn he can talk to animals. For Nestor, each stop is nothing more than a countdown until he moves again. But this move is different. Nestor and his mother have come to New Haven, TX, to live with his Cuban abuela while his father is deployed to Afghanistan. Nestor has another new experience when he inadvertently makes two friends, Maria Carmen and Talib, who soon come to Nestor's aid. Animals have been disappearing throughout New Haven. Forest creatures tell Nestor that it is the work of a tule vieja, a witch who can absorb characteristics of an animal by biting it during a solar eclipse. But the people of New Haven begin whispering that Nestor's abuela is responsible. With an eclipse approaching in days, Nestor, his friends, and an unlikely ally head into the woods to confront the tule vieja and rescue the town. Cuevas crafts a riveting story based on folktales from Panama and Costa Rica. Spanish words and Latin American customs are integrated throughout. Despite rising tensions in the town which result in overt hostility against his family, Nestor overcomes years of self-imposed isolation to learn that being a friend means allowing people to help you. Additionally, he and his friends are forced to probe beneath the surface of the class bully, who is pulled into their quest. Magical folklore provides the foundation for the plot, but themes of home, family, and friendship are the core of the book, with a heaping dose of creepiness to make it morefun. VERDICT Hand this unique story to fans of "Rick Riordan Presents" and students looking for scary books.—Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA
A Cuban American boy who can speak to animals moves to a new town where he faces off against a dangerous witch with a nefarious plan.
Twelve-year-old Nestor Lopez has moved five times in the past few years while his military dad is deployed (now in Afghanistan). When Nestor and his mother move in with his abuela in New Haven, Texas, his plan is the same as always when getting to a new place: unpack just the essentials, avoid making friendships he can’t sustain, and keep his ability to talk to animals a secret. But the plan takes a turn when Nestor becomes friends with schoolmates Maria Carmen and Talib just as his abuela falls under suspicion for the mysterious animal disappearances in the woods. Nestor needs to use his powers—with a little help from his animal and human friends—so he can prove his grandmother’s innocence and defeat the real culprit, a mythical tule vieja who steals powers from animals. Debut author Cuevas reinterprets the tule vieja legend from Panama and Costa Rica to tell a story about a boy who deeply feels the burden of being “man of the house.” The importance of community and working together are deftly explored alongside Nestor’s longing for a more stable life, preferably with his dad by his side. Maria Carmen is Latinx; Talib’s name suggests Middle Eastern heritage.
A charming and vibrant debut fantasy. (author’s note) (Fantasy. 8-12)