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If you’re looking for something different to read this summer, I highly recommend you grab a copy of Hutchison’s controversial, adventure-filled novel, Latitude 38.

The novel takes place some time in the future. Because of political unrest and heated debates over issues like immigration, gay rights, euthanasia, gun control, capital punishment, school prayer, and same-sex marriage, the United States has been split into two republics along the 38th latitude. The southern republic is violent, dogmatic and corrupted, while the northern republic is more peaceful, flexible and compassionate.

Our protagonists, Diego and Adriana Sanchez, are a couple deeply in love. They live in the southern republic. However, this isn’t their main problem: Adriana is dying of terminal cancer and the pain is getting unbearable, but one of the south’s ‘secret’ policies is not to waste pain medication on terminally-ill patients. Euthanasia is also out of the question, as it is not permitted in the south. In order for Adriana to have a serene, pain-free death, they must find a way to get to the north.

Through Adriana’s oncologist, they learn about Arnold Cutbirth, a roguish brute whose ‘job’ is to guide people across the border for exorbitant sums of money. Thus, Diego and Adriana use their life savings to pay for the trip. The story starts at the heart of the conflict, with Diego and Adriana meeting Cutbirth and getting ready for their journey. They soon find out that they’re not the only ones in the group. Travelling with our protagonists is an interesting array of characters: a gay couple, a young mother and her ten-year old girl, and a religious zealot, among a few others. Together, propelled by their own individual goals and guided by cruel and merciless Cutbirth, they must endure all kinds of hardships and dangers in their quest for freedom and a better life.

Latitude 38 is skilfully plotted. From the beginning, Hutchison pulled me into the story with lots of action and dialogue. Exposition and description are kept at a minimum, so the pace is quick. The love between Diego and Adriana, as well as her sad situation are compelling without being melodramatic. Needless to say, they’re very sympathetic characters and, because of this, it was gripping watching their behaviour and reactions as they were pushed to the limit due to their circumstances. Cutbirth is a fascinating character—in fact, for me he is the most fascinating character in the novel. He’s a bad seed, but there’s something about him that makes you wonder that, had he been born in the right setting under different circumstances, he would be a very different person. There’s a subtle transformation in him as the story develops, and this was engrossing to watch. Also interesting is the dynamic interaction between all the different characters as they try to get along in spite of their own instinct to survive.

Though there’s lots of adventure in Latitude 38, this isn’t your typical adventure novel. It is a realistic story with elements of adventure and dystopia. It is a tale of survival filled with crisp dialogue, mounting tension and a heart-breaking climax. While some people might hate the ending and others might love it, one thing is for sure: few will be able to stay impartial or indifferent toward it. This is one of those stories that will stay with you long after having read it.

Latitude 38
By Ron Hutchison
Stay Thirsty Publishing
Ebook, $9.99
General Fiction

Purchase this book HERE.

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America Libre
By Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-0446507752
Copyright August 2009
General Fiction

Dramatic and thought-provoking, America Libre is an ambitious novel.

The story is set in Los Angeles in the near future and begins with our protagonist, ex-army soldier Manolo Suarez, as he is desperately trying to find a job to support his wife and children. Early each morning he goes out in search of work, only to come back exhausted and depressed each evening. At the same time, tension between Hispanic and Anglos is rapidly escalating in the Hispanic communities. When an innocent child bystander gets caught up in a shooting and is killed in El Paso, Texas, the situation begins to turn from ugly to extreme.

Then a mysterious, beautiful blond Hispanic named Jo offers Manolo a job. After a short time, it becomes clear to Manolo that there’s something not quite right about his attractive new boss and the place he’s working in. His suspicions prove clear when he finds out that Jo is a rich woman working for La Defensa del Pueblo, a movement that seeks to re-do the borders between the United States and Mexico, and she offers him a ‘real’ job in the organization as a bodyguard. From that moment on, Manolo is morally torn between two belief systems. Though she doesn’t know the full extend of her husband’s job, from the very start Rosa is suspicious of Jo and doesn’t want Manolo to work for her. Rosa is also jealous, and believes Jo has blinded Manolo.

As Manolo’s involvement in the organization gets deeper and deeper, and the situation in the country between Hispanics and Anglos turns to extreme, the US government decides to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including classifying all Hispanics as ‘Class H’ and putting them in special camps. As all this is happening, the romantic tension between Manolo and Jo increases each day, sending him into an even deeper moral struggle than he ever imagined. Then something horrible happens to Manolo’s wife and kids which serves as a catalyst for making Manolo decide where his loyalties lie.

I have many good things to say about this novel. Sanchez’s gives us a scary and fascinating scenario of what could happen in the future. The book has a powerful premise and the author has set the stage well for the story and the characters. The novel appears to be well researched and all the action scenes and description of weapons sound genuine. The protagonist’s inner struggle and his high morality and sense of justice push the story along and draw the reader deeper into the non-stop action scenario. Manolo is a sympathetic character that made me feel for his predicament. My favorite character, though, is beautiful and enigmatic Jo. She’s strong, passionate, and like Manolo, also possesses a high sense of justice. But for me, she kept the story alive by being more ‘human’, more complex and full of contradictions than Manolo. I guess sometimes, for me, Manolo is too ‘perfect’. But Jo, with all her strengths and weaknesses, comes across as very real.

The relationship between Jo and Manolo, although sentimental at times, is interesting to follow. I kept wondering until the end what was going to happen between them.

The pace is good and the writing flows smoothly; the story drew me right away at the beginning and kept me turning pages until the end. This is a very cinematographic novel and the scenes unfolded before my eyes like a movie. The dialogue is crisp and natural. I found most secondary characters well developed except for Manolo’s wife, Rosa. I’m not sure why, but Rosa never came alive for me. She was completely overshadowed by Jo—I’d say practically invisible next to Jo, and her high morals and role of perfect wife and mother never quite convinced me. If the author did this on purpose to show Jo’s unique character, he succeeded.

In sum, I loved the book and found it intriguing and mentally stimulating. America Libre is one of the books to read this 2009, so make sure you have it on your list.

Read my interview with the author!

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