Playing For The Devil’s Fire

By: Phillippe Diederich
The bittersweet odyssey of a boy coming of age in a landscape broken by drugs, crime, and corruption.


Thirteen-year-old Boli and his friends are deep in the middle of a game of marbles. An older boy named Mosca has won the prized Devil's Fire marble. His pals are jealous and want to win it away from him. This is Izayoc, the place of tears, a small pueblo in a tiny valley west of Mexico City where nothing much happens. It's a typical hot Sunday morning except that on the way to church someone discovers the severed head of Enrique Quintanilla propped on the ledge of one of the cement planters in the plaza and everything changes. Not apocalyptic changes, like phalanxes of men riding on horses with stingers for tails, but subtle ones: poor neighbors turning up with brand-new SUVs, pimpled teens with fancy girls hanging off them. Boli's parents leave for Toluca and don't arrive at their destination. No one will talk about it. A washed out masked wrestler turns up one day, a man only interested in finding his next meal. Boli hopes to inspire the luchador to set out with him to find his parents.

Phillippe Diederich was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were forced out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. As a photojournalist, Diederich has traveled extensively through Mexico and witnessed the terrible tragedies of the Drug Wars.

8 reviews for Playing For The Devil’s Fire

  1. Kirkus Reviews
    Full of grim and shocking violence, Izayoc here represents a demoralizing reality perhaps already too familiar. … Childhood at its most hopeful and heartbreaking; readers seeking lighthearted, sanitized fare should turn away.

  2. Publishers Weekly
    As this grim murder mystery unfolds, 13-year-old Boli and his best friend Mosca become reliant on a luchador named Chicano, a masked wrestler working the amateur circuit, as a real-life hero and protector after Boli’s parents go missing, and the body count mounts. … Diederich (Sofrito) portrays Mexico with a stark intensity and raw emotional turmoil as Boli navigates a mercilessly cruel world.

  3. The Huffington Post
    It’s that rare book that addresses moral issues and current events in a story that never stops tugging at the reader’s heart. … We need these kinds of books so different minorities can see themselves in the pages, but also so that other realities can be experienced and perhaps understood by a general audience.

  4. Horn Book Magazine
    This fictionalized depiction of the real terror the drug war has brought to Mexican communities will have readers rooting for Boli as he tries, in vain, to save his town.

  5. De Colores: The Raza Experience in Books for Children
    Boli’s loss of innocence—as his initial belief that bad things happen to other people grows into the knowledge that there is no redemption, no miracle that will quickly disappear the violence, corruption and destruction all around—echoes the real situation in Mexico and much of Latin America. … Playing for the Devil’s Fire is highly recommended.

  6. Booklist Online
    Phillippe Diederich, who grew up in Mexico City, brings firsthand experience as well as tremendous compassion to this poignant coming-of-age novel.

  7. Midwest Book Review
    Impressively well written and a consistently entertaining read from beginning to end, “Playing for the Devil’s Fire” is very highly recommended for school and community library children’s fiction collections for ages 12 to 15.

  8. Mom Read It
    Philippe Diederich puts a very human face on the cost of the neverending war on drugs … I’d suggest this for upper high school, young adult, and adult readers, because it is a brilliantly written book that will make readers think, and hopefully, talk.

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