A Head Full of Ghosts meets Hereditary in Piñata, a terrifying possession tale by author and artist Leopoldo Gout.
Carmen Sanchez is back in her home country of Mexico, overseeing the renovation of an ancient cathedral into a boutique hotel. Her teen daughters, Izel and Luna, are with her for the summer, and left to fill their afternoons unsupervised in a foreign city.
The locals treat the Sanchez women like outsiders, while Carmen’s contractors openly defy and sabotage her work. After a disastrous accident at the construction site nearly injures Luna, Carmen’s had enough. They’re leaving.
Back in New York, Luna begins acting strange, and only Izel notices the chilling changes happening to her younger sister. But it might be too late for the Sanchez family to escape what’s been awakened…
Piñata is a bone-chilling story about how the sinister repercussions of our past can return to haunt us.Goodreads Synopsis
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Piñata by Leopoldo Gout was one of my most anticipated reads of 2023, but within the first few chapters it quickly became one of the worst novels I have ever read – a title I do not hand out lightly. Unfortunately, as I continued reading, it only got worse. In short, skip this one.
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I am not as familiar with Mexican culture, history, or folklore, so I have been actively seeking out novels that feature these themes to try and broaden my horizons. When Piñata by Leopoldo Gout was first announced, I could hardly contain my excitement. Likening the novel to A Head Full of Ghosts and Hereditary set the bar high, and after learning about the cultural aspects of Mexico that are a large factor in the novel, as well as its history and folklore, I thought I was in for a treat.
Unfortunately, I was sadly mistaken. This novel is unworthy of the cover art that graces it.
Now, I have to start off by saying that the only reason I gave this novel two stars instead of one was because Gout’s knowledge of Mexican folklore, history, and cultural concerns is vast, and he did his best to portray these concepts to provide the reader with a plethora of information they might not otherwise know. This felt new and refreshing, but that is where my positive points end. Let’s continue.
Gout’s cast of characters are two dimensional and unflattering. It was clear that he doesn’t know how to write female characters that are multi-layered, and I was immediately turned off. He portrayed Carmen as a single mother who drinks a lot and is constantly worried about how “weird” her daughter Luna is. Izel is portrayed as a stereotypical teenager whose eyes are constantly rolling into the back of her head, and Luna as a child with little to no character at all – stereotypical or otherwise. The other characters in the novel left no impression on me as they were undeveloped and essentially cardboard stand ins.
Here is an example of a scene and dialogue that were particularly painful:
She checked on Luna once more, knocking on the door and receiving a response.
‘I’m still okay in here! I didn’t know privacy meant having someone stand right outside the door. I’m learning a lot today, I guess!’
Carmen was too tired to get into it and just said, ‘Okay.’
Then she descended the stairs and collapsed on her bed.
The dialogue was excruciating, and it almost felt like Gout had never had an actual conversation with a human being. The prose was also flat and the details longwinded. For example, Gout puts his readers through nearly a page long mental process that Carmen has as to whether or not she should leave her coffee on the counter to cool before drinking it – I’m not kidding, dear readers. This actually happened.
Needless to say, with all of these factors in play, the “horror” scenes were over described, heavily anticipated, and few and far between. Gout tries to make black butterflies scary to no avail and throws them at the reader in nearly every scene. He also uses overplayed horror tropes without making them new or exciting – such as having a character sit down for a meal at a restaurant that, *gasp*, actually closed a long time ago and, *surprise, surprise*, the food he is served smells of decay and has, you guessed it, more black butterflies in it.
What is supposed to be the “pivotal” horror scene ends up becoming laughable at best. The priest, Verón, travels to New York to do an exorcism on Luna despite having no experience in exorcism and gets the majority of his information on how to perform one online. He ends up getting killed by tzitzimitl in his hotel room shortly after sitting down for his meal at the restaurant that actually doesn’t exist. Enjoy the following passage:
He started reciting the Lord’s prayer, but interrupted it with insults and threats as he saw the terrible demon appear now in the full length mirror across his room.
‘Our Father, who are in…step back, you bitch. You can’t hurt me…heaven, hallowed be Thy name…damned monstrosity, go back to your tomb, you pile of bones…Thy kingdom come…’
If I had not been reading this novel with a friend, I would have abandoned it early on. It is without a doubt the longest book under three hundred pages that I have ever read, and I am saddened that I cannot recommend it. For such a unique premise, the writing was unskilled and childish, and the story clearly does not do its beautiful cover justice. Unless you are just planning on buying this book to display in your library because of its fantastic cover, skip it. It’s such a shame.
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