Sometimes when tragedy strikes, a family draws closer, weaving itself into a tightly intertwined bulwark against heartache. Other times, however, tragedy can drive family members apart as they try to avoid feeling—let alone expressing—their grief.
The titular 11-year-old protagonist of Zoraida Córdova’s heartfelt and imaginative Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter would never have predicted the latter outcome for her family. As far back as Valentina can remember, the Salazars have been dedicated monster rescuers, scooping up magical beings that stumble into this dimension and sending them back to the realm of Finisterra before monster hunters can find and perhaps kill them.
However, in the eight months since their father died on a mission gone horribly awry, the Salazars have been trying to live a more ordinary life. Their mother moved the family to upstate New York, took a job in the city and retired their tricked-out camper van, the Scourge, to the garage. Everyone has adjusted pretty well to the changes, but Valentina can’t stop wishing she could repair her family’s close bonds and get them all back to doing what they were born to do.
A viral video provides the opportunity Valentina needs: A boy discovers an unusual-looking egg and believes it to be a dragon egg. Millions of viewers are watching online as the egg seems ready to hatch at any moment, but Valentina knows it’s a recipe for disaster. After all, her father often liked to say that “people liked the idea of magical beasts, but if they knew the truth? They wouldn’t be able to handle it.” Valentina convinces her siblings to climb back into the Scourge and race to the egg before any TV reporters or monster hunters get there—and before something terrible happens.
Córdova sends her characters on a delightfully detailed wild ride of a road trip. As they visit foreboding and fantastical locales, Valentina and her siblings encounter monsters of all stripes, from sinuous, threatening beasts to creatures so cute and fluffy you’ll wish they were real. Monsters appear in the most unexpected places, as do humans scarier than any mythical creature.
Valentina Salazar Is Not a Monster Hunter swirls fantasy, adventure, comedy, action, coming-of-age and even a few hints of romance into a magical, memorable elixir of a story. Córdova makes a powerful case for friendship, imagination and hope as she reminds readers that “not everything that looks like a monster is monstrous.”