Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Each week, Gabriel Romero’s drive to Sunday mass takes him past “El Ángel,” the golden statue at the heart of Mexico City that haunts his memories and inspires his future. Spurred by the memory of his parents, Gabriel is drawn to the secretive world of lucha libre, where wrestling, performance art and big business collide.
Under the conflicting mentorships of one of lucha libre’s famed gay exótico wrestlers and an ambitious young luchador whose star is on the rise, Gabriel must choose between traditions which ground him but may limit his future, and the lure of sex and success that may compromise his independence. Surrounded by a makeshift family of wrestlers, Gabriel charts a course to balance ambition, sexuality and loyalty to find the future that may have been destined for him since childhood.
As they neared the stage, the entourage peeled away to reveal its leader. Ensconced in the center of the circle danced a luchador unlike any other on the afternoon fight card. With shimmering dark hair moussed high, and pink glittery eyelids lined in dark kohl stood La Rosa, the self-described Queen of the Luchadores.
La Rosa didn’t wear traditional tights, or a wrestler’s singlet, or even the trunks that the Blue Devil preferred. The wrestler wore a flesh-toned bodysuit hand-painted with roses like those worn by the dancers, leaving the impression that La Rosa was covered in nothing but flowery body paint.
The colorful luchador wore knee-high wrestling boots, though they were not black, or red, or even silver like the other luchadores—but instead a deep shade of metallic magenta with flowered inlays.
“Who is that?” Eduardo asked.READ MORE
Gabriel stared at the wrestler, shaking his head. Though not tall, La Rosa had the frame of a male athlete, with muscular thighs that looked as if they could strangle a man. They betrayed years of training, but the character and the costuming were a dramatic departure from the machismo typically on display in the ring.
“He’s an exótico,” Gabriel said, hushed.
He took it all in, his eyes wide. He’d heard of exótico wrestlers before, but he had never seen one in person. He knew that in the early days of lucha libre, they performed as dandies, well-dressed wrestlers who lavished female fans with flowers and kisses. Modern exóticos were the only luchadores who performed as openly gay—and they were largely perceived as a drag act, comic relief for the fight card.
La Rosa climbed the ropes and stood on the turnbuckle. He faced out toward the crowd, arms outstretched, hips swaying with the music. As cheers echoed across the arena, La Rosa leapt heels-over-head into the ring, landing solidly on the mat, only to resume his bump-and-grind dance.
The crowd roared its approval.
“Rosa’s the técnico!” Gabriel exclaimed, shouting to be heard over the crowd noise. “I thought exóticos usually played the rudo.”
If that were true, the heel in the match would have had more fans than the hero, because La Rosa’s fans were numerous and vocal. Along the rails of the highest balcony, a boisterous cheering section had waved rainbow flags the moment La Rosa’s name was announced. Though some booed the luchador, their jeers were easily drowned out by La Rosa’s rowdy fans, who joined in an organized chant: ¡Chiquitibum a la bim bom ba!¡Chiquitibum a la bim bom ba! ¡A la bio, a la bao, a la bim bom ba! ¡Rosa, Rosa, Ra Ra Ra!COLLAPSE
Kirkus Reviews on Kius Reviews wrote:
STARRED REVIEW: Finnegan’s glorious coming-of-age story is as much a sweet and touchingly rendered love letter to lucha libre as a romance. Gabriel Romero’s love of the Mexican wrestling circuit began when he was a child in Tucson, Ariz., and it becomes a personal passion when he attends a match in Mexico City and sees an exótico wrestler for the first time, the famous and flamboyant La Rosa. Gabriel, sensing a queer kindred spirit, persuades La Rosa to train him to become a luchador. Gabriel’s struggles to balance wrestling training with college classes and familial obligations provide a poignant tension as he studies the deep roots of lucha libre storytelling, particularly the social movements tied to it. But as Gabriel pursues his career passions, his romantic passions center on El Cadejo, a closeted wrestler who shares Gabriel’s dreams of becoming a superstar. Torn between lucha libre’s traditions and the practicalities of modern spectacle, as well as his desire to be open about his sexuality without trapping himself in the role of a cross-dressing exótico, Gabriel deftly carves a path for himself straight to readers’ hearts. The central relationship is the love between Gabriel and his vocation, and readers will cheer them all the way to their happy ending.
From PW's Best Books of 2016 Edition:
A young gay man in Mexico City is enthralled by a cross-dressing exótico wrestler on the lucha libre circuit and begins to pursue his own wrestling career in this very modern story of love and passionate vocation. Finnegan works in rich threads of Mexican history, queer culture and community, and questions of being out or closeted in a time and place poised on the brink of acceptance.
An unconventional romance wrestles, at times literally, with issues of identity and belonging.
Gabriel is a good student and grateful nephew to the aunt and uncle raising him in Mexico City since his parents died. He’s out and accepted as gay but has another secret to contend with: the dream of becoming a luchador. In the world of lucha libre, to be gay means wrestling as an exótico, a flamboyant character even by the theatrical standards of the sport. He’s willing to put in the work but wants a character who doesn’t play to stereotype. Author Finnegan (Sotto Voce, 2014) juggles several themes here but they resolve into a story, familiar to the gay community, of choosing your own tribe or family. Gabriel’s problematic first love and subsequent relationship mirror his transformation as a wrestler taking control of his career and happiness; his first mentor is an exótico whose story is a valuable lesson in appearances versus reality. Descriptions of the grimy gyms and the touring company of luchadors and burlesque performers working in Los Angeles as a kind of nightclub act bring the action to life. The planning and execution of wrestling matches is surprisingly exciting; despite the action being scripted, the injuries and potential for accidents are still very real. Spanish terminology is almost all easy to understand in context, but there’s a helpful glossary at the end to help readers distinguish between rudos and técnicos.
The sweat and blood in the ring don’t detract from the sweetness on display here; the setting may be outside the mainstream, but it’s an old-fashioned love story at heart.