Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juárez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant.
Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.
Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santissima Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.
In Saint Death, Marcus Sedgwick shines a light into the decaying underbelly of our consumer society, laying bare the suffering engendered by growing western demand for drugs and ever cheaper products.
The backdrop to the novel is Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city just slightly south of the border with America; where the citizens live in fear of the rival cartels that engage in battles on the streets and a police force that is often as corrupt and cruel as the gangs.
We view this dystopic cityscape through the eyes of Arturo an 18 year old boy who is drawn in to a tragic spiral by his best friend Faustino, who, much like his namesake has been caught up in a deal with the devil; in this case the leader of his gang: Los Libertadores.
The focal point of the novel is a card game – Calavera, a game that Arturo is nearly unbeatable at and the one thing that can allow him to raise the money needed to save Faustino and give them all the chance of a better life in el Norte. Arturo’s journey to the game is broken up by flashbacks to Faustino’s life as a migrant and Arturo and his life growing up together in Anapra, one of the poorest suburbs of Ciudad Juarez.
In an era of fetishizing gang culture and treating drug dealers as heroes with television shows such as Breaking Bad and Narcos, Saint Death is a step away from the glamour and high-living and instead focuses on the cost in human lives, dignity and common humanity that is so often overlooked.
I took several things away from Saint Death: a greater understanding of why so many people risk the lives of their families and themselves to cross borders in search of a better life, the beginnings of knowledge about folk religion and a growing sense of disquiet of how we are all complicit in the suffering and inequality of developing nations due to our reckless spending and the desire for better deals.
Saint Death is perhaps the first great anti-capitalist YA novel of the 21st Century.
Published by Orion Children’s Books, Saint Death will be available from all good bookshops from the 6th October.