Chasing the Jaguar

Here’s a new twist on the stereotype of old lady as evil witch. Tía (Aunt) Tellin, a fragile-looking, gray-haired old lady, walks right past the gangs and the homeless people hanging out in the park near her Los Angeles home, and she’s not afraid of anyone. She is descended from a long line of Mayan curanderas (traditional shamanic medicine women) and uses her psychic powers to help the police solve crimes. She is also the mentor and trainer of her great-great-niece, Martika Gálvez, the 15-year-old protagonist, who has just realized that she inherited the same abilities and must learn to use them wisely. A generous smattering of Spanish dialogue is either clear from the context or explained in a glossary in the back.

Curanderas seek truth and guidance in dreams. Traditionally, they are believed to have magical powers, such as mind reading, seeing the future, communicating with spirits, astral projection and casting spells for healing or harm—even starting fires with their minds. Tía Tellin has to train Martika quickly to use her nascent powers to rescue a kidnapped girl and recover a priceless stolen statue.
The book juxtaposes the starkly contrasting lifestyles and mindsets of people whose lives overlap. It also offers appealing glimpses of ancient Mayan beliefs and modern Hispanic-American culture. In a climactic scene in which Martika’s life is in danger, Tía Tellin uses her own magical powers to offer a unique form of aid. By the end of the book, when Tía Tellin travels alone to the Yucatán jungle to return the ancient statue to an even older curandera, Martika and her unusual great-great-aunt have woven a supple bond of trust and respect that will ensure the continuance of a proud, powerful tradition even in the modern world.