Title: Santa Olivia (Santa Olivia #1)
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Release Date: May 29th 2009
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, LGBT
Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault, Homophobia/Homophobic slurs
Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The “Wolf-Men” were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider.
After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.
Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.
You know those books that just leave you with an empty feeling, and not necessarily a bad or good empty. Just empty. That is how Santa Olivia left me feeling.
Going into Santa Olivia, I was expecting a superhero story. I have been on the search for YA superhero novels with main characters that fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. When I found Santa Olivia through a couple of Goodreads lists and mutual friends, I thought I was in the clear. On the cover, the character is dressed like a superhero and the synopsis sells that idea. Santa Olivia is not a superhero story. Sure, to some extent, there is a superhero aspect, but that is not the main plot of the story. The first half of the story is about the creation of the new Santa Olivia, aka our heroine Loup, who is retaliating against the military occupying her town. Then, that plot is completely dropped after the death of a certain character. The story becomes boxing training/revenge arc mashup spanning half the book. Yeah, so much for superheroes.
After that, the story was kind of doomed to perpetual indifference for me.
While I did like that there were a ton of non-straight characters, I had major problems with how it was handled. First off, there were no specific labels used. We have characters that date/have sex with characters of different genders. Labels are so important in stories with LGBTQ characters. Labels matter. You could argue that labels don’t exist in this dystopian setting because society doesn’t care about that anymore, but there are homophobic slurs & phrases used throughout the book. If homophobic slurs & phrases can exist in universe, then so can labels. The fact that there were so many homophobic slurs & phrases are used was really concerning to me. It was not necessary at all. You can do anything you want with a dystopian setting, but you choose to keep homophobic slurs and use them constantly in your book???? Yeah, that’s garbage.
The world building was also kind of a mess. Carey should’ve picked one setting/build up and sticked with it. The superhero-dystopian-werewolf-boxing-revenge-arc mashup felt all over the place, and very conflicting. Also, I wish there were was more elaboration on how the dystopian place in between Mexico and America, which we know as Santa Olivia, was formed. It will probably be explored in the next installment of the series, but I have no intention of reading it.
However, I did like some small things about Santa Olivia. I’m adore stories that involve characters taking up the mantle of a legendary figure and weaponizing it. It could’ve been so cool if it was truly expanded on. That was not the case. Also, I enjoyed Loup’s parent’s relationship and references to superheroes like superman and wolverine.