Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes
Genres: Middle Grade, Mytery
Maturity Level: 2
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Paloma Marquez is traveling to Mexico City, birthplace of her deceased father, for the very first time. She’s hoping that spending time in Mexico will help her unlock memories of the too-brief time they spent together.
While in Mexico, Paloma meets Lizzie and Gael, who present her with an irresistible challenge: The siblings want her to help them find a valuable ring that once belonged to beloved Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. Finding the ring means a big reward — and the thanks of all Mexico. What better way to honor her father than returning a priceless piece of jewelry that once belonged to his favorite artist!
But the brother and sister have a secret. Do they really want to return the ring, or are they after something else entirely?
Oh. My. Gosh. This book is so fun, and brilliant, and such a wonderful addition to the middle grade mystery genre!
The problem with MG mysteries is that they’re all about peppy upper-middle-class blonde girls who can do things no regular kid could do. Or dogs. I loved that this book is 100% genuine. It’s about a Latina girl going to Mexico for summer vacation, and while she’s there she just happens to get involved in a big mystery. And this mystery requires no special tricks from her, everything she does is something an average 12-year-old could do if they had the guts. Nor does she make observations like “that footprint looks exactly 2.3 hours old”. It’s done in a way that lets the reader play along without making anything too obvious.
And it’s not diverse for diversity’s sake. As you can probably tell from the title, Mexican culture (especially Mexican art) plays a pivotal role in the story. I loved that Cervantes took the time to explain Frida’s art to the reader. She doesn’t assume the kids already know the purpose of Frida’s art, but she doesn’t talk down to them or over simplify it either. I love the idea that kids can understand even the deeper meanings behind of work of art. Plus, I learned something! My only complaint would be that I could have used images of the Frida paintings described. I had to google them, which is fine, but not all kids have access to the internet 24/7.
Paloma is a fantastic main character. She’s just a normal kid. She gets embarrassed by her mom, loves taking selfies, thinks that boy over there is super cute. But she also misses her dad (who died when she was a toddler), which forms a major part of her character. And she doesn’t know how to feel about her Mexican heritage. Because her mom isn’t Mexican she hasn’t been raised with it, but it makes her feel closer to her dad. So she wants to learn more, but at the same time she misses her friends and just wants to be normal. I love how much inner conflict is in this character, but it’s all done while keeping the book light.
I also want to say thank you to Cervantes for having the character not be in touch with her heritage. We don’t get that a lot in books, but I think a lot of kids can relate to that and often feel left out. I think it’s important to validate those feelings and experiences, and let them know that they can still claim their Latinx identity even if they weren’t raised speaking Spanish.
I didn’t really talk much about the plot or the mystery. I’ll just say that it is good. EXPERTLY crafted, so much fun to read, page turny, very gender non-specific. (meaning that I think boys and girls will both like it)
If you’re a librarian or teacher, I can’t recommend this book enough. It would make a great alternative to The Westing Game for a mystery genre-study with more diversity, or just have it in your library for a pleasure read. Your kids are going to LOVE it.