The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora Book Poster Image
Vibrant, touching story of lovelorn teen finding his voice.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Incorporates Spanish phrases and dialogue with enough context to be understood by readers unfamiliar with the language. Discusses Cuban independence leader and writer José Martí and his Versos Sencillos, Cuban migration to Miami, and the use of poetry for self-expression and understanding. Includes recipes and author's note with more history.

Positive Messages

Very strong emphasis on family bonds and heritage, collaboration, teamwork, and balancing different perspectives. Places high value on love and faith. Shows importance of standing up and speaking out on behalf of yourself and others. Overcoming fear and finding courage feels wonderful. Ideas and thoughts are sometimes better expressed in one language than another. Learning can require time -- things that don't make sense at first may be more meaningful later. Even within a community with strong shared values, people can have very different opinions and priorities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Arturo appreciates his family, their history, and their role in the community. He's thoughtful and observant, absorbing lessons from people he respects and admires, and greets challenges with creativity and passion. Family members are close-knit and deeply invested in nurturing each other and the family business. Disagreement and squabbling is embraced as part of the process of group decision-making. Abuela's warmth and affection for others leads to strong relationships.

Violence

Security guards take child to holding cell after he disrupts a public event.

Sex

Some romantic interest, brief kiss.

Language
Consumerism

Mentions of a few brands including Skittles, Hummer, Jet Ski, KitchenAid, and media (FaceTime, Twitter, Instagram).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink champagne at business lunch.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pablo Cartaya'sThe Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is a textured portrayal of a Cuban American family and community grappling with change. Named 2018  Pura Belpré Honor Book by the American Library Association, it includes plentiful Spanish phrases and dialogue but makes them easily accessible to non-Spanish speakers -- and helps illustrate how language and meaning are entwined. Family, tradition, identity, and navigating change are key themes. The decline and death of a central character is a strong emotional thread throughout the story. 

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What's the story?

THE EPIC FAIL OF ARTURO ZAMORA recounts his tumultuous summer at age 13. The heart of Arturo's sprawling Cuban American family is his beloved Abuela (grandmother) and La Cocina de la Isla, the Miami restaurant she opened nearly 20 years ago. His high hopes for summer soon turn to dismay and anxiety: His new job at the restaurant turns out to be as a lowly dishwasher, his stomach flips whenever he's near newly arrived family friend Carmen, Abuela is falling ill, and a flashy, underhanded developer wants to replace La Cocina with a high-rise. Sifting through letters, poems, photos, and music from his late grandfather, Arturo takes to heart his words on family, faith, and courage, and starts to write a new chapter for himself and his family.

Is it any good?

Pablo Cartaya digs deep beneath the surface of debates over gentrification with this rich, warm debut novel about a 13-year-old helping his family find their way forward in an ever-changing world. The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is about identity: where we come from and the choices we make about who we want to become. As Arturo learns more about his Cuban American family's past, he grows more confident of his own voice and becomes a key voice in his family and community's discussion of how the neighborhood may change and grow.

Cartaya creates a well-rounded cast of authentic characters, from Arturo's lively family to his entertaining friends. A mix of narrative styles and blend of languages make communication styles a central focus of attention. Cartaya does so much so well that his only false note -- the pushy real estate developer, a barely developed cartoon villain -- is a disappointing distraction from an otherwise engaging story.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the use of language in The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. Why do you think the author uses two languages instead of just one and incorporates Twitter messages, letters, and dialogue in scripted format? How do these style choices affect the way you relate to the story?

  • Do you enjoy courage, as Arturo's grandfather encouraged?

  • How does your family tackle and resolve important group decisions?

Book details

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