Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.
At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.
They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.
– While I loved the Raven Cycle by Stiefvater, I’ve had mixed experiences with her other books. Therefore, I didn’t know if this would be one of the good reads or not-so-good reads. I didn’t buy the book, but waited to get it from the library. Only then the library was taking too long, so I decided to change the audiobook from Audible. If it didn’t work out, I could always return it. Long story short: It worked out. I loved it. I will definitely need to get a physical copy for my shelves at some point.
– Back in 2009, I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel. It was my first experience with very experimental magical realism, and I absolutely loved the book. I spent years reading other books billed as magical realism but they never had the same absurdist, hyperbolic feel to them. This book? It was like Like Water for Chocolate in its feel and texture. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that I would compare to Laura Esquivel.
– There’s a section of this book that takes place in San Antonio. Some authors make up things about a city when they set part of a book there. Some do research and find specifics from that city. Stiefvater fell into the latter category. Not only did I see touchstones that anyone who has ever heard of San Antonio could toss into a book, but I felt nuances about the city that would only come with some true deep research. Thumbs up.
– The actual plot/story of this book could have fit into a handful of pages. This might sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. The plot isn’t the point. The point is the meandering expression of many, many stories and all the ways they relate, even if only tangentially. Imagine sitting down with an oral storyteller and having them relate a story. While they tell it, they go off on tangents about the backgrounds of all the characters. They tell anecdotes about side characters’ adventures both present and past. They personify animals and inanimate objects. They’re in no hurry to get to the end of the actual story but they always come back to it from time to time. It’s a glorious experience.
– Family. I don’t have a physical copy in front of me, so I can’t find the exact quote, but near the beginning of the book, it says something about “cousin” meaning something more for this family than in most families. That’s exactly how my family is – all tightly wound and close to each other, cousins growing up together. I know that’s not how every family is, but as I was growing up, I thought that it was. I related to the Soria family in this way from the very first scene, and I was amused every time someone’s father’s cousin’s ex-wife’s sister’s hairdresser’s uncle popped up to give advice in the past that had somehow rippled into legend.
– This book is all about hyperbole. There’s magic in the book – saints performing miracles – but the magic is almost metaphorical. If that were all the fantastical elements in the book, it wouldn’t be nearly as charming. It’s the narration and retelling of stories in such an exaggerated, unrealistic, magic way that really makes the book. Again, I don’t have a physical copy, but I remember a story about a character’s father. This father, at birth, was the weakest of his eight siblings, but he began lifting weights when he was five, and by the time he was fifteen, he could lift all eight of his siblings at the same time. Or there was the statement that was dropped right at the beginning about how a particular character’s parents had been dead for longer than he had been alive. Think about that a second. These sorts of stories and statements were dropped with complete casual unconcern, like statements of fact. It was utterly delightful.
– And this leads me to discuss the audio performance, read by Thom Rivera. He was perfect. He read all those casual hyperboles in a complete straight manner. He read the narration like an old fairytale or folk tale. In his reading, the narrator was a character just as distinct and real as any of the actual characters. I don’t know what my experience would have been like had a read the book in print first. I just know that the audio turned what I would say is a really great book into a phenomenal one.