Thirteen-year-old Arturo Zamora has got his summer in his close-knit Miami neighborhood mapped out. On the agenda: chilling with his pals, chowing down on Cuban comfort food at Sunday family dinners, and learning the ropes of his abuela’s restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla. But in walks poetry-loving friend of the family, Carmen, who is grieving the loss of her mother. Then shady land developer Wilfrido Pipo arrives and sets his sights on pushing the Zamoras off their land to build high-rise luxury condos. Now, Arturo must tackle an unexpected loss, figure out his feelings for Carmen, and save La Cocina.
Pablo Cartaya delivers his coming-of-age tale with a lot of warmth and humor. An author reading their own work can be tricky business. So often they don’t have the acting chops to bring their words to life in a new way; sometimes secondary characters aren’t well fleshed and their emotional delivery is lacking. But, Cartaya brings it! His acting can span the range of heart-warming, like José Martí poems and the loss of a loved one, to oddball middle school goofiness like that of his Pitbull-wannabee best buddy. In Cartaya’s authentic accent and rhythm of speech listeners can hear the strong connection to his hometown Miami, its’ Cuban cuisine (churros! croquetas! cafecitos!) and his familiarity to his character’s perspective. I choked up a handful of times at the more tender moments, which isn’t surprising since Cartaya admits that he did as well during recording.
When listening to The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, I was reminded that at ALA Annual this year we, your lovely Ears On The Odyssey bloggers, attended “Sound Learning and Diversity: Audiobooks As Advocates for Cultural Authenticity.” This excellent panel discussed the many specific ways that audiobooks serve as windows and mirrors for listeners. The panelists talked about how when author/narrator/protagonist sync up, it can bring out that critical element of authenticity. I can’t imagine anyone but Cartaya narrating his story. For example, take the use of sprinkle Spanish. To Spanish speakers or those in the Latinx community, especially those of Cuban descent, hearing Cartaya’s words can be a way to hear themselves, their family, their neighborhood in an audiobook. For others, it is an entry point into understanding. Cartaya’s comfort level and care for Arturo’s world and story makes for a really pleasurable and important listen.
The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, by Pablo Cartaya, read by Pablo Cartaya. 5 hours and 6 minutes. 5 CDS. Listening Library.