Sanctuary. A one-word text message: That's all Michal "Mike" Garcia needs to gather a crowd. Mike is a seventeen-year-old bookie, and Sanctuary is where she takes bets for anyone at Carson City High with enough cash. Her only rule: Never participate, never place a bet for herself. Then Josh Ellison moves to town. He pushes Mike to live her life, to feel a rush of something—play the game, he urges, stop being a spectator. So Mike breaks her one rule. She places a bet, feels the rush. And loses.
And trust me, Wanted doesn't disappoint.
We see Michal, who attends Carson City High and is a town bookie. Yes, she places bets right in the back of her high school. She's also tough on the outside but inside we see a girl who struggles with fitting in and trying to make sense of the racism around her. I loved how we see her feeling like she's not sure which world she belongs to. She's half Mexican-American and is drawn to the family of her childhood friend Moch but shuns the life he chose with the gang. She uses her percentage of earings to buy expensive clothing, hoping that will erase where she really came from. She also plans to earn enough from being a bookie to leave Carson City to go to college where she thinks life will be much better.
Though she helps people place bets she doesn't do this herself until she meets Josh.
The chemistry between these two is slow building while we see both of their worlds and how far apart they are. All it takes is one decision that snowballs into something Michal finds hard to stop.
The writing is right on with scenes like the six word memoirs Michal, Moah, Josh, and her other classmates have to share. The passion and intense feelings of the differences between their worlds collide.
I love how Ayarbe isn't afraid to dig deep into your characters that can be raw and very unflinching. What happens next is kind of like a Robin Hood twist where Michal and Josh use their own version of vengeance for what they think at the time is good.
Engaging and gripping, I couldn't put this book down. The ending reminds me of one of my all time favorite YA authors, Ellen Hopkins, in that it leaves you wondering without holding nothing back. Love stories that are honest without being afraid.
A must read for those who love contemporary YAs that are real with honest portrayals of teens.
2. Realistic portrayal of racism/anti-immigration sentiment
3. Gritty, raw
Anyway. Michal is a bookie, she meets Josh, things are cool. Then there’s a whole string of gang-violence and general racism that rocks her world, resulting in the death of a family friend, who happens to be an illegal aliens. She and Josh steal money to pay for the friend’s funeral, and then they keep doing it, stealing from elitist white families to anonymously donate to organizations like Planned Parenthood, free clinics, soup kitchens, etc. Except they get caught and, in a very cinematic ending, Michal finds meaning to her life.
As a character, I thought Michal was realistic and well-rounded, but I didn’t necessarily find that I was invested in her story. She made a lot of really bad choices, and even though she had the best of intentions, I often wanted to shake her or do something to make her see that she wasn’t doing what was best for herself. And, maybe, she lacked a little bit of depth. Certainly, I think all of the secondary characters were fairly shallow.
An interesting thing about Wanted is the way the story unfolded. The first half deals mainly with Michal being a bookie and the racial tensions that are present everywhere she goes. Then, in the second half, Ayarbe focuses more on Michal’s Bonnie/Clyde relationship with Josh and their Robin Hood vigilantism. Once again, outwardly, I really liked this book’s plot, but I failed to make an emotional investment with it.
I feel like this had potential to be more. Maybe Heidi Ayarbe attempted to push too many hot-button topics. Abortion, racial identity, gang warfare, racism, elitism, feminism—lots of -isms. The nice thing, though, was that all those issues were spread out over the course of the text. This is a fairly long book for a YA contemporary, so there was room for me to breathe throughout it all. And I never felt that the author was preaching at me.
I liked Wanted a lot—it has all sorts of elements that I enjoy. (I know it doesn’t seem that I liked this book! I did, I promise.) Yet at the same time, it was lacking that indefinable something that separates a good book from a great one. Whether it was Ayarbe’s prose, her characters, or her plotting, I’m not sure. But something was missing.
I'll admit that I personally connected with Michal instantly. For me, it was based on the fact that both she and I are stuck in the middle of two very different worlds. For Michal, her Mexican heritage is something that was stripped away from her long ago. I won't spoil anything, but this makes things very interesting for her during her high school life. Ayarbe tackles some ideas in this book that will be sure to make some readers squirm a bit. Illegal immigrants, unfair health care, gang violence and so much more are all addressed in black and white.
However there is so much more in Wanted than just messages about equality and humanity. At its core, this is a story about looking for the purpose in your life. Michal, Josh, all the students at the high school, are just trapped in the roles that society has set out for them. Stereotypes and labels hold them in one spot, unable to find their true potential. There are characters in this story that you just can't help cheering for. Despite how messed up they might seem, or the choices they make, you know there is some good under that tough exterior.
Wanted has a last chapter that tore my heart out. I'll warn you now. However the ending was so perfect that it is still hard for me to wrap my mind around. I guarantee you'll be thinking about this book well past finishing it. If you are a fan of Heidi Ayarbe's books, this is one you won't want to miss. If you're just entering her world of fantastic writing, welcome. Wanted is great place to start.