On Strength, Self Care, and Labyrinth Lost

In August, I made a spontaneous decision to enroll in one online grad class despite having originally decided to wait until the Spring 2018 semester. Long story short: even one class was still too stressful and time consuming while working full time and trying to maintain my health. I pushed through midterm and slaved away as long as I could. I was overscheduled, overwhelmed, and not at all taking care of myself. I was trying, but I honestly just did not have the energy. Recently, I quit. I dropped out of grad school (for the second time this year) and I was so relieved. I felt guilty for about five minutes, only because I had paid for this semester out of pocket and that was a chunk of money I won’t get back.

What it came down to is that I would rather have my sanity, and more sleep. I’ve been trying to be better about self care, and for me that means creating a life that is full of peace and slow, intentional days. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m getting there.

One of the main ways I recharge is through reading – this is not a new revelation for anyone reading this blog, I know. The last few months have left me very, very little time to read for pleasure and I discovered just how much I need that to function. I know it might sound dramatic, but it’s true. I’m not happy when I’m not reading. I’m frustrated, cranky, and stuck in my head. I’m honestly just a better person when I’m reading, and a much more pleasant one to be around.

I’d check out Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova at the beginning of October for something spooky and magical to read during this time of year. I was still in class at this point and managed to only get 1/3 of the way through for most of the month. I finally got to pick it up again sometime last week and got about halfway through it. Last night, I decided that I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything after work, especially since I didn’t get off til 8 and had started early that morning. So, when I got home I sat on my couch, got comfortable, and didn’t move until I finished the book.

It was great. Brilliant. Both the book itself and the time I spent reading it. There were several times while reading the last half of the story that I responded to it out loud, like most totally normal book worms do. I loved this book, y’all. It is full of wonder, adventure, and diversity. It is so enchanting.

  

Labyrinth Lost is the story of Alejandra, Alex for short, who just wants to live as a normal teenage girl. Alex is out of luck though, she is one of the most powerful brujas (Spanish for witch) in a generation. She has magic running through her veins, magic that she hates. Magic that she thinks tore apart her family and caused every bad thing that’s ever happened to her.  As Alex’s Deathday celebration, the day in which her family will bestow Alex with her family’s blessing, she forms a plan to reject her power. Instead, she banishes her family to the realm of Los Lagos, the dark and Wonderland like land of between. Alex is left alone with only Nova, an unfamiliar brujo boy she neither knows nor trusts.

Alex’s adventure to find her family is the majority of the story. Along the way she finds the true meaning of family, and the importance of their bond. She discovers that she is capable and fierce, even without her magic. Cordova weaves strands of magic into everyday teenage struggles and lessons, especially the knowledge that evil is not always in the form of monsters and that everyone makes mistakes. The cast of characters, in addition to Alex and Nova, include Alex’s mother, sisters, extended family, and her best friend Rishi. Honestly, one of my very favorite aspects of this story was Rishi and her undying devotion and love for Alex. She has not the slightest inkling of Alex’s magic or family history, but she jumps in the portal after Alex to make sure everything is okay. When Rishi finally does learn of the magic running through Alex’s bruja veins, it only strengthens the love she has for Alex. Their friendship is strong, devoted, and sincere. It grows throughout their adventure into a fierce and loyal love for one another, despite Nova’s own attempts to woo Alex.

This book is full of rich characters, genuine relationships, and glorious diversity. The foundation of Alex and Nova’s culture is built on the Latin American cultures and religion, especially the concept of Deathday celebrations, which Cordova pulled from the Day of the Dead and Santeria traditions. In addition, we also get a peak into Rishi’s culture and her family practice of Buddhism. In addition to a cast full of teens of color, there is also the bi-sexual love triangle which is written so well that it doesn’t make you want to stab your eyes out like most YA love triangles. Alex is simply in the position of experiencing feelings for both Rishi and Alex, whose feelings are mutual. While there is romance in this story, it is not even close to the main story line and I appreciated that so much.

The story of Alejandra’s adventures are inspiring, creative, and full of magic (of both the literal and figurative sort). Towards the end of the story, Alex says “Right now, I’m just a girl and there is also magic in that.” I loved this line so much, it’s possible I teared up over it. Alex is strong, fierce, and determined – regardless of her magic. The most obvious take away from Labyrinth Lost, at least for me, was the unrelenting knowledge that girls are magic, all of us, regardless of talent, skill, or circumstance. We all have the power to be our true self and to fulfill our destiny.

When I considered dropping out of grad school a few weeks ago, it was with the weighted knowledge that I didn’t know when or if I will return. I have lived my entire life thinking my destiny was to go as far into academia as I could get, to never stop learning. Until this year, I confined learning to the structure of academia. I know now that it is so much more to life and to learning. I learned so reading this novel – about new cultures and about myself. Another quote in the story I love is “We all get scared and want to turn away, but it isn’t always strength that makes you stay. Strength is also making the decision to change your destiny.”  It is so true. There have been so many times I wanted to let go of this graduate school idea, but I thought that I was just turning away, just quitting and that seemed weak and stupid in my head – in reality, I was simply changing my destiny. At least for the next year or so!

Anyways, I implore you to go to your nearest library or bookstore and pick up Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. If you liked Shadowhunters, you’ll love this. If you haven’t read Shadowhunters, pick that one up too. It already has a sequel out and they’ll keep you occupied until the second installment of the Brooklyn Brujas comes out next summer!

P.S. Follow Cordova on Twitter @zlikeinzorro, she’s a gem.