Book Review: Never Look Back
Author: Lilliam Rivera
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Rating: 4 stars
Read: August 2020
Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .
Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.Bloomsbury YA
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera is a modern Afro-Latinx retelling of the Greek myth Eurydice and Orpheus. Rivera is the well-known author of the young adult books The Education of Margot Sanchez and Dealing in Dreams. Her newest release wonderfully meshes our modern day with the elements of a classic, well-known story. Thank you to Bloomsbury YA and NetGalley for a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I love our main characters, Eury and Pheus. Pheus is a musically gifted young man who is living his best life wooing the ladies and hanging out with his friends in the Bronx. Eury is visiting her cousin, Penelope, for the summer in the hopes that a change of scenery can help her heal from the trauma and anxiety of surviving Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. She is also followed by a menacing spirit, Ato, whom she desperately wants to be rid of. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this book! I found myself on the edge of my seat, even though I know this tragic myth very well.
The book starts off rooted in reality, so I was a bit up in the air about whether this was a loose retelling or not. But, about halfway through the book, the tone changes and we are immersed in the mythical. I love the latter part of the book because of that. Rivera does a great job of updating this classic story. The way elements of our modern world are literally and metaphorically intertwined with the themes and elements of this Greek myth is very well done. Gentrification, white supremacy, and environmental racism are presented through a mythical lens. The way the individual experiences of the characters fit into a larger narrative of racial inequality in our society really elevated this book into more than just a fun, light YA read. (Although parts of this read are definitely fun!)
Mental health, religion, and spirituality intertwine and balance in a way that I appreciate. Eury, who is dealing with a very real evil spirit, still addresses her struggles with mental health in a realistic, and ultimately positive, way. People are haunted by demons, real or imagined, and the way that Rivera addresses this is very well done.
Rivera’s writing style is very straight-forward and doesn’t often lean towards the lyrical. I would have loved to see a bit more “show-not-tell” writing because the book is full of metaphor and mythical. However, that is just my personal preference of writing style, so I don’t really see that as a negative, just something that doesn’t align with my preferences.
Eury’s and Pheus’ voices are distinct and developed. Pheus is hilarious at times. I like how the story includes Pheus coming to understand more about his dad and coming to terms with his conflicting feelings about him. Realizing your parents are humans with flaws is a common aspect of growing up. Rivera’s inclusion of that makes Pheus all the more relatable.
Ultimately, Pheus and Eury both grow and change during the course of this book. Although I found their initial attraction to each other to be a bit insta-lovey for my taste, I found their personal growth satisfying. The ending wraps up nicely and realistically. I recommend Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera to anyone who enjoys the YA genre and mythic retellings!
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