Karla Arenas Valenti, illus. by Dana Sanmar. Knopf, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-17696-2

“And so it was that the fate of a child... hung on a pile of beans and a deck of cards.” In Oaxaca City each year, Life and Lady Death come together for 36 hours to play Lotería, a game of chance that will decide the future of one human being without their knowledge or consent. After arriving on a hot summer day, Life and Death let loose their magic, which chooses as its next target Clara, a steadfast 11-year-old who draws fantastical creatures. But when the consequences of the game and grief drive Clara’s eight-year-old cousin Esteban to enter the perilous Asrean through a nopal cactus, Clara must go after him—and face dangerous obstacles awakened by the Lotería cards—to keep a promise. From the first line of this philosophical debut, Arenas Valenti demonstrates a gift for interweaving immersive, sensory-rich storytelling (“Life sauntered into town on a wave of heat”) with a thoughtful discussion of fate vs. determinism. Fans of Coco will savor this tale and Sanmar’s occasional illustrations, which visualize Clara and Esteban’s journeys and the Lotería cards as the game progresses. Ages 8–12. Agent: Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary. (Sept.)

This review has been updated to reflect a change in the book's final text.