review: Playing for the Devil’s Fire

Today’s review is part of a blog tour to promote Playing for the Devil’s Fire. Here are the other spots on the tour.

    1. August 31: Rich in Color review
    2. Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview
    3. Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves
    4. Sept 6:Rich in Color author interview
    5. September 8: Anasasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday.
    6. September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight
    7. Sept 9: The Brain Lair guest post
    8. Sept. 12: Linda Washington 
    9. Sept. 13:  Mom Read It exerpt and guest post


book review: Playing for The Devil’s Fire
author: Phillippe Diederich
date: Cinco Puntos; September 2016
main character: Liberio “Boli” Flores
young adult fiction


Phillippe Diedrich describes himself as “the son of exiles”. This description seems to permeate The Devil’s Fire, his most recent book and his first venture into young adult fiction. Diedrich was born in Haiti and has lived in Mexico and the United States. In Devil’s Fire, he examines how the exiled person is perceived.

Boli and his family live in Izayoc described by the main character as “a small pueblo in a tiny valley in the Sierra Nanchititla. Even though we were only a few hours west of Mexico City, where the State of Mexico meets the states of Michoácan and Guerrero, we were hidden from the world by a pair of huge cliffs, El Cerro de la Soledad at the south and El Cerro Santacruz in the north. Nothing ever happened here.” (p. 9)

When the young people in the story have noses like potatoes, nicknames from bakery items and earn extra income by shining shoes you know you’re reading a story about working class families. These are the families that work hard for what they get. Boli’s family owns a bakery and as an established businessman, his father is quite aware of all the changes taking place in the city where nothing happens. He sees the young men from other towns driving around his city in big American cars and blasting American music. And then, he sees the decapitated head of Enrique Quintanilla, the teacher, displayed in the town square. He and his wife decide to complain to the regional authorities and they disappear from the story.

Diederich writes about the changes in this small Mexican town that are brought about by external forces, by people who rarely show their faces and consequently build no ties to the community. There is little examination of which characters are the good guys and who are the bad guys, rather the book explores the dynamic forces that lead people to be who they are and where they are.

Devil’s Fire is rich in symbolism, leaving readers many opportunities to find meaning in the text. Grandma sitting with a Superman blanket in her lap. A luchador named Chicano. The church that was falling apart. A hummingbird. The lines that blur in the marble game.

The devil’s fire is a marble that is a “little red sphere el diablito rojo. It was bright red and iridescent with a soft swirl of ygellow at the center. It was beautiful. It didn’t even look like a real marble. It glowed like a jewel, like fire.” (p. 40) And in the game of marbles, just like in the game of life sometimes you have to know when enough is enough.

As the town is being assaulted, Diederich paints a vague picture of who is doing what and why, allowing readers to build their own narrative while he keeps Boli’s narrative front and center. Deierich trusts his readers. This story of a young Mexican boy’s coming of age is written for young people who are also growing up and coming of age in a globalized society. It’s a different take on the push and pull factors of migration. With all its notes of sadness, it manages to provide hope through the act of choosing to exile one’s self.