A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Frequent discussion of the long-term cultural and internal effects of colonialism. Characters talk about the mixed nature of heritage and identity. Several conversations about what authenticity is, in both cultural and personal settings. Some exploration of how dependency on WiFi, smartphone access, and social media affects the ability to be present and authentic. Characters use Spanish phrases throughout the book. While many meanings are clear from the context, some aren't.
Authenticity is defined by the people living it, not the ones visiting. A good friend will fix things when they make a mistake. Stories and histories have many different versions.
Positive Role Models
A character shows integrity as he recognizes and shares the history and authenticity of simple, daily interactions with Mexico City and surrounding historical sites. Lola demonstrates integrity as she steps out of her family's shadow.
The book shares experiences of Latinos from the United States, including perceptions of authenticity and language proficiency. Characters are White-presenting, tan, and dark-skinned with indigenous heritage. They wonder what it means to be authentic and resist others' definitions as the story unfolds. Book portrays a non-stereotypical view of Mexico. Indigenous and Western perspectives about science, spirituality, and magic are explored and contrasted. Characters discuss the effects of colonization on culture and perspective. Gender and romance can feel stereotypical; boys pursue a passive female lead. A couple of characters are lesbians. Author Ella Cerón is a U.S.-born Latina with Mexican heritage. Elements of this book were inspired by her experiences visiting family in Mexico City.
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Violence & Scariness
Social aggression, name calling, gossip, and passive aggressive commentary.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A teen couple sleeps in the same bed without any sexual over- or undertones. Multiple kisses, lots of flirting, hand holding, and a heavy focus on attraction. A married couple shows simple affection. (Spoiler alert!) A relationship built off of instant attraction contrasts with one that evolves more slowly. A stereotypical popular guy is a player and a cheat.
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Various Mexican swear words used, including "que chingados" ("what the f--l") twice, "pendeja/o" ("a--hole") twice, "cabrona" (similar to "bitch"), "mamona" (can be mildly or very offensive), and "pinche" (a multipurpose swear word, strength and meaning varies). Name calling includes "baboso" and "monster." In addition, characters call someone "gringa" several times without malicious intent, but the target of the label feels uncomfortable with it.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Drinking, including underage drinking, shown as normal and fun. Characters point out the difference in underage drinking laws between the USA and Mexico. The main character, who's from the USA, doesn't drink. A college student passes out at home after drinking at a party. A bartender at a restaurant serves drinks that are too strong.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Viva Lola Espinoza, by Ella Cerón, is a mild summer romance that can spark conversations about authenticity and colonialism. After getting a "C" in her high school Spanish class, Lola's abuela sends her from her California home to stay with family in Mexico City, where she's expected to become a proficient Spanish speaker. The book offers an excellent exploration of racial themes, including the lasting effects of colonialism, colorism, and the diversity of Mexico. In addition, a couple of characters show or develop integrity. The book also examines the complicated relationship teens have with social media and technology. Some of the dating is quite superficial, based on attraction and featuring passive women with men pursuing. A couple of scenes include teens drinking alcohol. While underage drinking is illegal in the United States, it's normal in Mexico. Swearing isn't frequent, but the words used -- including "que chingados" ("what the f--k"), "pendeja/o" ("a--hole"), "cabrona" (similar to "bitch"), etc. -- can be harsh.
Is It Any Good?
This thoughtful book digs into authenticity and culture, but the romance sometimes feels underdeveloped. Viva Lola Espinoza's exploration of race and cultural dynamics may spark relevant conversations and counter stereotypes. Lola navigates her family's expectations, while defining what she feels and thinks. As she explores the family curse, readers can decide whether they believe in an unseen world or scientific knowledge. Teens may also appreciate Lola's observations about how people's phones and online life can influence them. The story has some Pride and Prejudice parallels, like the themes of class and family, but explores its own themes of race and authenticity.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.