Book Review: Shine On, Luz Véliz 

Luz Véliz is having a rough year. Her life as a soccer star is over when her knee gets injured, her relationship with her dad was built entirely on a foundation of a shared love of all things soccer, and her world is about to be rocked even more when someone new comes along, changing everything in her path. Luz knows her name means light, but how can she find a bright spot in all this darkness?

Author Rebecca Balcárcel weaves a brilliant tapestry of storylines, focusing on familial connections, the constant presence of change, and finding a way to share your light even when feeling smothered by the darkness.

There is so much to love about this book. Both primary and secondary characters are intricately developed, with believable dialogue and intergenerational relationships. Luz’s friendship with her elderly neighbor, Mr. Mac, is a highlight of the book.

What really makes this book shine is the way that all the different realms of one girl’s existence come together to build a fulfilling life, all without the forced messaging that can so often accompany books with big themes.

Luz has put her entire life into soccer; it’s her whole personality. When the book opens as she’s dealing with living in a world After Soccer, she’s taking down all of her trophies, posters, and memorabilia. Without her soccer stuff, her room looks blank– just like she feels. As Luz looks for a new passion, and thus a new way to connect with her dad, she stumbles into her school’s robotics classes and club.

The combination of technology, athletics, and art is a wonderful thing to see. So often, characters get pigeon-holed as either tech-savvy, creative, or athletic; but the people in Luz’s world show her how she can be all three.

It was also refreshing to see technology portrayed in a positive light. Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives, and yet how often does media portray it negatively? Kids (and their parents) are still constantly being told to go outside, climb a tree, and pretend it’s still the pre-AOL era. But ignoring tech isn’t the answer. The key to any healthy lifestyle is balance, and Balcárcel demonstrates that without any heavy handed messaging.

Luz is discovering who she is, outside of soccer, and that journey is showing her how little else was in her life. Without soccer, she’s realizing how out of balance her life was. Finding herself lacking friends, hobbies, and connection with her dad leads her to a new project: learning to code so she can test in to the advanced robotics class. As she learns to see the value in others for who they are, outside of their accomplishments, she learns to see the same in herself.

Shine On, Luz Véliz does not shy away from complicated topics. From family relationships, managing anger, living a multifaceted life, caring for others, immigration, and compassion, this book tackles tough topics without ever feeling like it’s tackling tough topics. Each challenge comes about organically, and young readers will relate especially to how life seems to throw everything at them all at once.

There is so much more I’d love to say about this book, but can’t for the sake of avoiding spoilers. Trust me and know it is well worth the read. Luz and her family are unforgettable, and the way Balcárcel expertly weaves together multiple plot lines and brings them all together is beautiful. These characters are relatable and realistic; they’re the kinds of characters you wish were real, just so you could be friends with them.

Shine On, Luz Véliz by Rebecca Balcárcel will be available May 3, 2022 from Chronicle Books. Thank you to author Rebecca Balcárcel, NetGalley, and Chronicle Books for an advanced copy such that I could share my honest review.

You can pre-order Shine On, Luz Véliz from Bookshop.org here or from Amazon here. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and Amazon. I will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase.

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