Release Date: October 23 2018
Genre: Middle Grade | Fantasy
Goodreads Rating: 4.01 (of 559 ratings)
When Charlie begins to experience freaky bodily manifestations—ones all too similar to those described by his grandma in his favorite legend—he is suddenly swept up in a world where the mythical beings he’s spent his entire life hearing about seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Hispanic folklore and into his life. And even stranger, they seem to know more about him than he knows about himself.
SHA: Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows is Ryan Calejo’s debut, own-voices novel. This fast-paced story follows preteen Charlie as he investigates the feathers and horns growing on his body in the wake of his parents’ disappearance. Infused with Hispanic folklore and legends, Charlie Hernandez and the League of Shadows is a great first adventure into Latin American culture, though it is not without a few bumps in the road.
📌 on pace, action, and plot
SHA: When I started the book, all I could think was, “These chapters are too short!!” Particularly the first few, since in two or three page chapters we learn about Charlie’s abuela (who has passed, so this was our only chance to “meet” her) and Charlie’s house burning down and his parents going missing. Two big components that inform the way he views the world, just squeezed in quickly!
MANDY: Sha, for sure, said it perfectly—those beginning chapters really were the shortest and did get to be a little choppy in the beginning. However, the flow does find its way, becoming easier to read and the chapters do become longer. Soon enough, I was so into the flow that I couldn’t stop reading it, and I fully melded into a Sha, being able to read it all in one sitting.
SHA: The action sequences in this book did truly benefit from the shorter chapters. Mandy kept saying it to me as we read, and I cannot agree more: This book is so easy to consume! I was ensnared in Charlie’s world, riding the mine cart and whipping down Miami streets alongside him and Violet.
MANDY: The plot is as fast paced as you would expect and desire from a MG book. We are always onto the next action and plot twist. I liked this aspect, as I was fully able to immerse myself into the story, eager to find out what was going to happen next. Sure, there were definitely a few times that I wanted a little more explanation on a few things (okay, there are definitely some things that I need a lot more of an explanation on because now after reading the story, I still don’t understand why they were there) or wanted a little more time to process what Charlie was feeling, but the plot always moved along in interesting and captivating turns. Definitely when I was in middle grade, this is what I wanted.
SHA: Can I just add though, the exploding toilet scene? I still don’t understand how that happened. The imagination does need to stretch a little to accept certain scenarios in this book, but this one was a bit too much.
MANDY: It was so descriptive. I’m still shuddering in horror. Also, I felt like sometimes the plot twists and turns would kind of just wrap up rather conveniently? Like, we moved so swiftly sometimes that everything seemed tied up in a pretty bow rather quickly, when I wanted just a bit more tension of will they/won’t they.
📌 on characters and middle school and myth
“Then call my bluff, poker star.” — Violet
SHA: Charlie still has a bit to prove to me. He has a sharp mind, proven quite a few times in this book. (like the scene with La Sihuanaba!) But I need more emotions from him. And Violet… Well, sometimes she doesn’t exactly sound like a middle-schooler. Which is a note I hope is kept in mind for the sequel. They’re a strong combo though, and I can see them doing great things.
MANDY: I thought Charlie was a good hero! I think he had the makings of a fine star of the novel. He was definitely easy to root for, he was brave, and he felt his age. I think with all the marvelous action scenes and stories of mythology, though, we lost a bit of time to dive deeper into the surface of his characterization—especially dealing with his thoughts of his missing parents.
I totally agree with Sha about the fact that Violet didn’t sound like a middle-schooler—she always had a quip and phrase to say whereas this girl right here was always fumbling for her words. I did appreciate her passion for finding the truth and her desire for being a report, although I did question sometimes if the lengths she was willing to go and her topics might have been a touch more mature-minded. However, she was definitely a decent co-star for this novel.
SHA: The characters from Hispanic mythology though. Oof. Those were so, so, so fun to read. Hands down my favourite scenes in the book. My faves rotate from moment to moment, but one of them is clearly Senora L. I was fascinated by the myth, how Calejo created her character, and how Charlie and Violet were going to get out!
MANDY: Omigosh, the tales! I loved it so much. I loved every little detail that Calejo would bring into the story. This is where this book shone for me. Calejo interwove so many different stories and characters in so easily—every time there was a new character introduced, it felt authentic and organic to the story instead of like he was just shoving things in. I knew a few already from all the folklore I used to read or what my dad would teach me about, but there were many that I loved learning about. Calejo also taught it in a super accessible way. This was so much brilliance.
📌 on some statements made in the book
SHA: Calejo did a fantastic job championing Latin American heritage with Charlie Hernandez. But when celebrating one culture, we cannot disrespect the cultures or identities of others at the same time. Which is why a few comments made in the book didn’t quite sit right with Mandy and I—and we hope Calejo is more mindful in his future publications.
Where Alvin was tall and portly, with a milky complexion and curly orange hair … I’d say that Alvin most closely resembled a manatee in shape and overall athleticism…
There is no need to compare a person to “creatures of the animal kingdom.” This is a sideways way of calling someone fat and lazy.
… the groundskeeper started down the hole, his enormous shovel dragging behind him like a limp leg.
Another completely unnecessary and insulting metaphor. It just doesn’t need to be said?
… saving me from the Violet Inquisition. (Which was beginning to feel even more intense than the Spanish one where they burned people at the stake.)
Charlie is being asked questions he does not want to answer. There isn’t a need to liken this to the Spanish Inquisition, which he himself states was a time when people were burned at the stake.
Lastly, there is the Russian stereotype used with Mrs. Kirilenko, a teacher at Charlie’s school. She is strict and disliked by most. She speaks with a heavy Russian accent and often says, “Da.” Then, of course, she used to work for KGB.
As an author who himself was raised in a family of immigrants, I would hope Calejo is more aware of things like this in future. Stereotypes are harmful to all cultures. (Don’t even know what writing this here DOES, since I doubt he will ever see it, but ya know. ✌️)
MANDY: There were definitely some great things to this story—I absolutely loved the way that Calejo weaved in the Latin American myths, legends, and tales and this book was such a breeze to get into with its fast pacing and action packed sequences. However, I think I wanted a bit more from the story—with a bit more depth in characterization, world building (since I’m still a little confused on a few things), and a little more oomph overall.
rating: From Sha, this book gets an Ariel rating. Charlie Hernandez didn’t have the voice to commit me to true love, but it was still super enjoyable. From Mandy, this book gets a Belle rating. It was a book that was good, but it just wasn’t great for me.
representation: child of immigrants MC, Latinx MC, Latinx & child of immigrants ownvoices
content warnings: child abduction, attempted murder of a child