★★★★ Ananda Esteva’s The Wanderings of Chela Coatlicue: Touring Califaztlán follows the titular character on a road trip unlike any other, as the reader is quite literally in the driver’s seat. This choose-your-own-adventure style story is loosely based on the Aztec myth of Coatlicue, but instead of babies and hummingbirds the reader must weather border control and the LA concert scene. As Chela and her friends navigate the road from Mexico City to Los Angeles, they (and the reader) must choose carefully between forking paths that lead to love, death, wisdom, revolution, or—if they’re lucky—Chela’s long lost family heirloom. Esteva’s clever manipulation of form elevates the large number of potential stories contained in this short novel so that they gain greater meaning with each mistake and dead end, without ever becoming trite.
Writing a narrative where the reader decides the direction of the story is a risky move, but this book never feels over-orchestrated or confused. The plot lends itself well to the format and feels timely and urgent, even though it’s based on a myth. The characters were all believable and well-developed, with Charlie being a stand-out. Chela’s background, especially her time at the conservatory, were hinted at but never fully explored, a small misstep in a story where the reader is in her head at all times. That being said, Chela’s rat-a-tat mental patter and consistent voice keep the reader engaged and engrossed at all times without becoming exhausted, a triumph for any story but especially one told in second person.