I had all these cool plans for my blog in the month of May and they’ve all gone to shit thanks to my online courses, but it’s okay! I have one week left of this hell and then I’ll be free and will be able to read ALL the things and share some really amazing content with you all!
Hoping to bring you a couple of reviews this week, starting with today’s rant of Five Midnights by Ann Dávila Cardinal, a YA thriller set in Puerto Rico, which I read for the Con Sabor Reading Challenge’s May Out of Comfort Zone readalong! And well, it was: a RIDE, and not really of the good kind. 🥴
Five friends cursed. Five deadly fates. Five nights of retribución.
When Lupe Dávila arrives in Puerto Rico for the summer, she arrives alone. For the first time she’s traveling without her alcoholic father to stay with her uncle, the local police chief, and his wife. While her uncle is investigating a murder, Lupe scours the crime scene and tracks a lead the cops aren’t willing to follow.
Javier Utierre’s friends are dying. Two of his four best friends from childhood end up dead under peculiar circumstances. Now Javier’s best chance for survival is uncovering the reason behind the attacks and narrowing down the list of suspects.
If Lupe and Javier can survive each other’s company, together they can solve this series of grisly murders sweeping through Puerto Rico. But the clues lead them out of the real world and into the realm of myths and legends. And if they want to catch the killer before the killer catches them, they’ll have to step into the shadows to see what’s lurking there—murderer, or monster?
| Goodreads |
Five Midnights is quite a complicated book to talk about. On one hand, it had its positive moments that made me understand why it has appealed to several of my fellow Puerto Rican readers. But unfortunately, it is weighed down by flaws that are just straight-up absurd and completely ruined this book for me.
Still, the fascinating thing is that this wasn’t really a bad reading experience? As much as I did NOT have a good time, this was the first physical book I’ve ever fully annotated and it was a lot of fun, especially since I wrote in it with a green pen that matches the cover. But that’s not the point, lol. The point is that there’s no other way to put it: Five Midnights is a bad book.
Before I dive in, allow me to highlight the positives, because that’s always very important. The food descriptions in here genuinely made me salivate. The bacalaítos, the alcapurrias, even the pastelón, and I HATE pastelón with my life. The way the author managed to make the taste and texture of these foods so dear to me and my culture jump out of the page was very impressive.
Also, have to point out that María cookies were name-dropped and it caused me SO much happiness? I grew up snacking on María cookies whenever I went to visit family members and used to eat them a lot at my grandma’s as a child. So that little moment was probably one of the most special ones I’ve ever had reading a novel, I’m not even kidding.
The other thing that Five Midnights does well is the mystery aspect. Now, I personally didn’t care much about the mystery (more on that later) but I have to acknowledge there were some super creepy moments that gave me total Final Destination vibes. I’m a big fan of gore, so those descriptions of ribs being cracked and bodies being dragged across the floor made me feel like it was actually happening to ME. Huge props to the book for great heebie-jeebie vibes.
Now, t-that’s where the good ends. Because the rest of Five Midnights is kind of a monstrosity in every aspect. *cries*
First of all, the writing, which was so… I don’t even have an accurate word to describe it. It just felt… so disengaged? What am I saying? I have no idea, which is kinda how I felt reading this, because WHAT was this book saying? It was trying to be too many things at once, using all these big words and it didn’t work for me in the slightest. Add to that the blatant overuse of spanglish and inaccurate Puerto Rican dialect and this was a road trip where the car crashed and burned.
As a Puerto Rican public high school student, I am very familiar with how modern teens speak and y’all, this is not it. It’s like this book was set in the 70s/80s, which I’m kinda wishing it had been because then it would’ve been way more realistic than it actually was. But nope. I can assure you us teens do not use the word pana. Sure, we can sometimes refer to a friend as “mi pana” but what do we say? We say mano, cabrón, pendejo, and mamabicho to refer to each other. All the time. Pana is nowhere to be found in teenage dialect nowadays.
Overall, this just needed a hell of a lot more editing. Reading words with so many missing acentos made me wanna tear my eyeballs out, and again, the dialect felt so old, it shows the author is very clearly out of touch. And the dialogue many times felt forced and unnatural, because it seems as if the author wanted the book to seem more “Latinx” by throwing in more random Spanish words in the oddest of moments. It was fucking wild.
What was also wild was the unrealistic names. THE NAMES. I had laugh attacks because of how dumb they sound. I owe 20 bucks to whoever has met a modern Puerto Rican teen named Isadore or Ludovico. Hell, Ludovico’s character could’ve just been nicknamed Vico and I’d been fine with it, since it could’ve shown off as inspo from rapper Vico C. But nah, this was straight-up absurd. Not even my old family members are named anywhere near close to those. I have no other choice but to laugh or I’ll cry.
The characters were fine; I don’t really have a strong opinion on most cause I simply didn’t care about any of them, but I did HATE the main character, Lupe, which okay, when authors make me hate a character with a burning passion, I can tell they’re talented. But as the reader, we’re not supposed to hate Lupe, we’re supposed to root for her, and sympathize with her and her struggles. But this girl was the WORST. Her internalized racism was grating to read because it was never truly challenged, and it was so frustrating to see her not acknowledge her white privilege.
Besides the obvious reasons, this bothered me greatly because in Puerto Rico, we’re bullies; it’s part of our culture. But another thing that’s very prominent in our culture is the rampant anti-blackness and internalized racism. So, if Puerto Ricans are mean towards somebody, it’s not the whites. It’s black people. In fact, Puerto Ricans put Western beauty standards and culture in a pedestal, so the fact that Lupe wanted so badly to come off as a victim just because she was light-skinned didn’t do it for me, pal. Calling someone gringuita is not even an insult, for fuck’s SAKE.
Yes, there’s a lot of Puerto Ricans who mistreat biracial folks, who say that they’re not real Puerto Ricans, or that they’re fake; not Puerto Rican enough. It’s a thing. But the way it was written came at the expense of villainizing dark-skinned characters, causing this experience to not be written about with respect.
Bringing me to my next point: the treatment of Marisol. This girl, who was basically written to be a walking, talking stereotype of a feisty, loud Puerto Rican guerrillera. She had no personality besides screaming and yelling and being mad, and we were supposed to dislike her because of the way she treated Lupe. This could’ve been written way better and her character wasn’t done justice at all.
I also didn’t like the romance at all? It was like Lupe and Javier were forced together just because they were the protagonists and it’s what to be expected. But these two didn’t have a single drop of chemistry, and there was no development to their relationship.
Another thing I hated was how Lupe was basically a white feminist and snapped at Javier just for being a gentleman, which is not at all what feminism is.
A scene in particular stuck with me, and not in a good way, and I think it perfectly demonstrates the kind of feminist that Lupe is:
“Yeah, no. No ‘ladies first’ crap with me.” Besides no force on earth was going to make her go first so this guy could get the hi-def view of her ample ass.
“Ah, right. Feminist.” He smiled and took the stairs two at a time. And the view of his butt wasn’t bad at all.
LIKE? IMAGINE THE HYPOCRISY. How is it not okay for him to check out your ass, but then you turn around and check out his???? Reading this quote is making me physically angry again. 😭
Being a feminist doesn’t equal hating men, especially when you thrive on criticizing other women, as seen on this other quote, where Lupe lies to her unckle to go on crime-solving adventures:
“More shopping, sobrina?”
“Yes, I saw a cute sundress that I want to try on.” She said it with a highish bouncy voice that might have lowered her IQ several points.”
AGAIN, what is the necessity of this, seriously? So cute girls that like shopping are immediately dumber than you because you’re “superior” and enjoy watching crime TV shows? B Y E.
Lupe is one of the most selfish, condescending, and genuinely stupid characters I’ve ever read about. I would even dare saying she’s the worst main character I’ve ever ecountered in recent times. If we went to the same school, I would not hesitate to punch her on the face on sight. Getting suspended would be totally worth it.
And trust me, not only is the romance bad, it’s unrealistic, insta-lovey in the worst way, and the way Javier speaks about Lupe is not the way a modern 17-year old boy checks out a girl. Plus, this continuous assumption throughout the book that Lupe was some kind of “bad feminist” for liking a guy is just so fucked up? I can’t, I cAN’T.
And it doesn’t end there, our girl Lupe Dávila constantly talked about how she wanted to discover the “real Puerto Rico”. Now, what is Puerto Rico? What defines us as an island?
Many people think we’re just a paradise, full of tourism, beaches, bright sun, a nice breeze, palm trees, and happiness. On the other hand, Lupe thinks it’s all about the crime. The thing is, to me, she’s not completely wrong. When discussing PR, a lot of people like to brush off all the violence that goes on here, making it seem like we’re perfect, that all we do is sing salsa and reggaeton at the top of our lungs, indulging on mofongo, frituras, and a nice, cold bottle of Medalla beer. That all we do is celebrate and be happy and go to the beach, with a caldero of arroz con gandules and crispy lechón because we’re over-the-top like that.
And it’s true. We are loud, rambunctious, celebratory humans. But our joy doesn’t erase the crime, the murders, the robberies, the carjackings that happen here almost every day. It’s a constant.
There’s drugs, there’s guns. There’s piña colada, there’s rainforests. These things coexist, and for you to talk about the island, you must do a good job of exploring that balance, which the author failed to do, in my opinion. In the real Puerto Rico, there’s blood and death, but that’s not all that defines us, but also, ignoring it doesn’t make it disappear, ya know?
The last issue I want to point out is the ending, which was trying to be super epic but came off as cheesy and rushed. Too much was happening and none of it really made sense? The resolution was very unsatisfying, the last line abrupt and unnecessary, and out of nowhere, Marisol and Lupe made up? With no real development there, either?
After having them both criticize and rip each other to shreds? Wack. Absolutely wack.
There are so many ways in which I wanted this book to thrive, but it! Didn’t! Work! It’s horrible, and I feel mean saying this, but Ann Dávila Cardinal was not the right person to tell this story.