Middle Grade Review: Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows

Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows by Ryan Calejo

Series: Charlie Hernández
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 3
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Charlie Hernández has always been proud of his Latin American heritage. He loves the culture, the art, and especially the myths. Thanks to his abuela’s stories, Charlie possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the monsters and ghouls who have spent the last five hundred years haunting the imaginations of children all across the Iberian Peninsula, as well as Central and South America. And even though his grandmother sometimes hinted that the tales might be more than mere myth, Charlie’s always been a pragmatist. Even barely out of diapers, he knew the stories were just make-believe—nothing more than intricately woven fables meant to keep little kids from misbehaving.

But when Charlie begins to experience freaky bodily manifestations—ones all too similar to those described by his grandma in his favorite legend—he is suddenly swept up in a world where the mythical beings he’s spent his entire life hearing about seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Hispanic folklore and into his life. And even stranger, they seem to know more about him than he knows about himself.

Soon, Charlie finds himself in the middle of an ancient battle between La Liga, a secret society of legendary mythological beings sworn to protect the Land of the Living, and La Mano Negra (a.k.a. the Black Hand), a cabal of evil spirits determined to rule mankind. With only the help of his lifelong crush, Violet Rey, and his grandmother’s stories to guide him, Charlie must navigate a world where monsters and brujas rule and things he couldn’t possibly imagine go bump in the night. That is, if he has any hope of discovering what’s happening to him and saving his missing parents (oh, and maybe even the world).

No pressure, muchacho.

Perfect for the fans of Percy Jackson and Aru Shah, Charlie Hernández is an action-adventure full of Hispanic and Latinx mythology and a good dose of humor.

“Somewhere between almost having my heart cut out of my chest by the evilest witch in history and waking up in the middle of this limestone crater, I’d realized that the things about yourself that make you feel awkward or different or drive you completely crazy are the same things that make you you.

The Percy Jackson comp is everywhere for this book, and with good reason. Calejo takes the same model where a modern kid is suddenly thrown into the myths and legends of the past. Those legends are making their way in the modern world, some hiding more successfully than others. Charlie, like Percy, suddenly finds the fate of the world rests in his ability to remember and fight against the myths. And like the original Percy Jackson series, this book is written with a light, fun style and quick pace.

Like Rick Riordan, Ryan Calejo has an authentic understanding of the middle-grade sense of humor. I often found myself laughing out loud both at the ridiculous situations Charlie found himself in, and the not-so-witty banter. Charlie’s a smart guy, but has all the awkwardness of middle school. He also speaks faster than he thinks, so he tends to blurt out the first thing he thinks. It was suuuuper entertaining.

Where Calejo in some ways one-upped the original Percy Jackson series, however, was in the cultural authenticity of these books. Charlie isn’t just thrown into the mythology of some random mythos, but in the stories of his ancestors. This book isn’t just about the myths, it’s about the culture. It’s about being a latinx kid. It feels real because it is real. These are the stories that some of our kids here in America grow up hearing, especially in the Miami area where Charlie lives. I loved that.

The one weakness of Charlie Hernández is the lack of exposition. While too much exposition can slow a story down, not enough gives it the feeling of a break-neck speed where you’re not ever really sure what’s going on. Latinx myths showed up and disappeared before I ever got a really good feel for their background story or their purpose in the plot. There were also possibly too many monsters, especially since this book has to balance Charlie’s school-life with his monster-slaying-life. There just wasn’t enough time to do all the myths justice and have Charlie have and resolve conflicts with his friends.

That being said, the quick pace and short chapters early on will suck kids in and keep them hooked. Even reluctant readers are going to be eager to find out what happens next. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. So much fun!


4 thoughts on “Middle Grade Review: Charlie Hernández and the League of Shadows

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