Title: Each of Us a Desert
Author: Mark Oshiro
Publishing Date: September 15, 2020
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism
From the award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life.
Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.
Fresh off of Anger Is a Gift’s smashing success, Oshiro branches out into a fantastical direction with their new YA novel, The Stars Around Us.
What’s the Brew?
Well, here I am again and I’m going to bring Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro on my blog because, 1.) the mini review I did on Instagram doesn’t give it justice, and 2.) I need to expand more on what kind of impact this book had on me. And as I said on my Instagram post, this book is so painfully beautiful it is so difficult for me to find the words to tell you how much it means to me. So, I will try my very best to convey what I loved about Each of Us a Desert.
Said Instagram Post:
Xochitl is a 16-year old cuentista in her village of Empalme, she has the responsibility of taking her people’s stories and returning them to Solis without any recollection or remnants of the story she was given. This duty has been passed to her from the age of 8 by her aunt Ines. Xochitl has not know of a world outside Empalme, as she was taught that she can never leave because of her important role in the village. She carries this heavy burden even if she has always been yearning for more, she wants to be herself, to be free, accepted. Her resolve strengthens as she discovers las poemas buried in the sand that seems to understand her, and speaks to her soul.
After an altercation between Xo’s closest friend and the town’s bandit, she finds herself packing a bag and leaving the only life she has ever known to face the excruciating journey through the desert to find out more about cuentistas. In the midst of her journey, she comes across the person she was never expecting, the town bandit’s daughter, Emilia. Emilia begs Xo to take her on her journey and she will help Xo on her quest. Their fates intertwine and they take on the journey to understand themselves and their future.
Each of Us a Desert has so many layers to it, as Mark Oshiro mentioned on a recent instagram live, the book is a story with stories. The book is told in a first person perspective where she talks to Solis, in turn telling us about her journey and the stories she received from key characters she encounters. And Oshiro does such a magnificent job with the prose, their writing style is lyrical and alluring, I couldn’t tear my eyes away at a certain point. The writing alone has a life of its own that took flight and made its way to my head and heart. It almost felt like Mark Oshiro was talking to me, affirming my thoughts and feelings. It was truly wonderful.
We follow Xochitl and Emilia, then we meet other lovely side characters as well and they all played such a vital role in the book. There was no character or moment spent that didn’t contribute to where the story was heading to. I found myself in Xochitl, the daughter who is considerate of the people around her. Not knowing where she truly belonged. Questioning if the people around her appreciated her for her, or was it simply out of convenience? I also understood her yearning for more out of her life. I love that she was resourceful, smart and determined. Emilia is also a very lovely character, she is strong-willed and tough. She has experienced scars in her life but she didn’t let that rule her life. She was loyal to Xochitl, and she kept her alive.
I don’t think I can fully call this book a fantasy, but maybe a mix of that and magical realism. The story is set out in the desert where the small town of Empalme is. No other town is nearby, nor anything else for that matter. Mark Oshiro’s world building is very vivid, I can almost imagine myself walking in between the houses. My favorite parts are usually when Xochitl talks about being under the stars, I can imagine the days I would be by the ocean, lying down on the sand and looking up at the stars. That’s usually the best parts for me. The author also depicted other towns that Xo and Emilia passed through, one is like the city, bustling with people and a busy market place. Then there are other rundown towns, the treacherous mountains, and a town in ruins. Oshiro has painted such a distinct and striking world that I found myself sucked into completely.
The perfect tasting notes
One of the main points of Each of Us a Desert that I really loved was the discussion about faith and beliefs. In the book, the people believed that once their confessions or faults are returned to Solis, then they are forgiven. But the story calls out to us that forgetting does not equate to being forgiven nor will it mean that we are healing. Despite being a cuentista, a role that has a “direct connection” to Solis, Xochitl still questions her purpose and Solis’ actions. I found that extremely refreshing, as an agnostic person I also had those moments when I would question about things happening to a higher being. Another aspect about beliefs is when Xo reaches a bigger town and sees for herself how cuentistas are different from what she knew and grew up with. It challenges her belief system-that cuentistas are meant to stay and sacrifice. I interpret this in real life with how, a person who learned something firsthand might have a different perspective from someone who didn’t. Or the preconceived notions we have towards other people around us. This is one of the important bits in the book that I really appreciated.
The biggest chunk of the book is Xochitl pondering about her true purpose, where does she fit in the bigger picture, where is her place in this wide wide world? And by golly, that is the question isn’t it? As a middle aged person, I still face this big question. Am I destined to live my life like this? Will I ever have a bigger purpose? When will I take the courage to do things I want? This is where I see myself in Xochitl so much, but the difference is she had the guts to face it. And I am slowly finding that voice to claim things for myself. Reading books like this just add fuel to the fire in me and I am so thankful for them. I’ve started to take the wheel and steer my life in a direction I am proud and happy with. Just like Xo when she stepped out of her village and found her true purpose.
Finally, what resonated the most with me is how I am the most important person in my life. Xochitl had so many people depending on her. Her family, her community, and she slowly lost her voice and her own story. I remember a moment when another cuentista asked her what her story was but she didn’t know because she claims so much stories from other people, when will she ever have her own? Being the eldest daughter to a Southeast Asian family, there is so many responsibilities and expectations of me ever since I was young. Over the past few years, I found that I was losing myself again and again. There were also many moments when I was so unsure about the things in my life and within myself. After I read this book, it served as a reminder to me that I need to think of myself, that what I want and need matter the most. Because in the end, I should love and accept me. And so, claiming such an important aspect of my life happened yesterday. I finally said it to the world and I feel so much lighter and happier. And from now on, I will always choose me, and Each of Us a Desert will be a constant reminder that I am the most important person in my life.
The aftertaste: sweet
Each of Us a Desert is my 2020 wildcard. This was the book that I knew I was gonna love but didn’t realize I would love this much. It gave me affirmations about my life, my choices, myself. It gave me perspective about what I did in my life, and my goals moving forward. This book felt like a moment when a friend catches your arm and you both spend the night talking about anything and everything, and as the sun rises, you feel so much lighter, everything seems clearer and it is marvelous. Mark Oshiro wrote this so wonderfully and beautifully and I will forever cherish this book.
Special thanks to TorTeen for an advance copy of the book. And to Mark Oshiro who has shined a light on my 2020. All thoughts are my own, quotes from this book are from an advance readers copy and might change upon publication. Each of Us a Desert comes out on September 15, 2020.
MARK OSHIRO is the queer Latinx, Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and TV series. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015, and is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. When not writing/recording reviews or editing, Oshiro engages in social activism online and offline. Anger is a Gift is his debut YA contemporary fiction novel.