Review: Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera

Never Look Back
Lilliam Rivera
Bloomsbury YA
Published September 15, 2020

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About Never Look Back

Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .

Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.

This Own Voices retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice is perfect for fans of Ibi Zoboi’s PRIDE and Daniel José Older’s SHADOWSHAPER.

Never Look Back on Goodreads

My Review

The thing that drew me to NEVER LOOK BACK was the spirituality of it and the fact that it’s a retelling. I feel like I have so much to say.

First– I really enjoyed the story. The characters feel so real and Eury and Pheus are so different that I could always tell whose point-of-view I was reading, even if I just flipped to a random page.

I liked that Eury’s curse was a complex problem with multiple pieces. (I’m being vague because there’s some of this that doesn’t get revealed until later in the story.) She keeps Catholic faith, praying every day, and finds comfort both in her belief that she is “beloved of God” and in the rituals of prayer and mass. It’s sincere and sweet, and I loved that.

But that’s not the only spirituality in the story. She also sees a spirit, whom she calls Ato, who is a spirit of the dead. He wants to take her to the land of the dead, El Inframundo, to be with him forever. Pheus, in trying to help Eury break the power Ato holds over her, encounters other gods and goddesses like Guabancex, the goddess of chaos.. I thought this was really cool, because though it’s a retelling of a Greek myth, NEVER LOOK BACK pulls in and celebrates some Afro-Latinx mythology.

In both Pheus and Eury’s points-of-view, the setting is rich and vibrant. Eury has a deep connection with Puerto Rico as her home– with the forests and the birds and flowers that brings those things to life. Pheus feels at home in the Bronx, with his friends, going to the beach, hanging out in the stairwell of his apartment building.

I also loved seeing the growth in both characters. Pheus begins to see himself as others have seen him and to see where he misjudged or to recognize his selfishness or the parts of his life where he’s living in fear.

Eury has spent so much energy running from Ato, trying to hide what’s happening to her, and trying to distance herself from others so that Ato can’t use them to hurt her. Watching her come out of her shell, to begin to trust and to find her own strength was so amazing. I loved that she plays and active role in the outcome of the story.

Bottom line: I really recommend this book. I loved so many things about it. It’s a rich story that celebrates faith and heritage and love. Definitely a win, and a perfect story if you’re looking for an escape from reality right now.

If you enjoyed DEAR HAITI, LOVE ALAINE, be sure to check out NEVER LOOK BACK.

Never Look Back on Amazon

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Pheus is Afro-Dominican. Eury is Puerto Rican.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to hooking up.

Spiritual Content
See my review above. Eury practices Catholicism and is haunted by a spirit of the dead. Pheus meets other gods and goddesses.

Violent Content – Trigger warning for hurricane, depression, mentions of suicide, and sexual assault.
Some description of Hurricane Maria and Eury’s house collapsing and the trauma this has caused her. Pheus hunts for Ato, intending to beat him up. A man touches a woman’s arm suggestively even though she’s asked him to leave her alone. He follows her and corners her, seeming to intend to assault her. A woman hits a man over the head with a bottle. A woman slips and falls, hitting her head.

Pheus’ uncle, a veteran, had PTSD and died by suicide. (Happens off-scene.) More than one character has depression. Pheus visits the gateway to the underworld and sees creepy attendants who are rotting/dead or being tortured.

Drug Content
Teens drink alcohol in a basement at a party. A man offers a alcohol to teens at a club. One drinks with him.

Note: I received a free copy of NEVER LOOK BACK in exchange for my honest review. This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support the costs of running this blog.

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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

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