Pablo Cartaya

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

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  • Features 26 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 53-page guide for “The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora” by Pablo Cartaya includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 26 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Family Is Community; Community Is Family and Every Voice Is Valuable.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora is a novel for middle graders by Cuban American writer Pablo Cartaya. This study guide refers to the original 2017 Viking edition.

Plot Summary 

It is the beginning of summer in Canal Grove, a Cuban enclave in modern-day Miami. For 13-year-old Arturo Zamora, the novel’s narrator, this is usually a season of lazy pastimes, but surprises are in store. When he becomes lovesick over a Spanish girl named Carmen Sánchez, and when a ruthless developer named Wilfrido Pipo plots to raze Arturo’s family’s restaurant, Arturo must find the courage to speak up or lose everything he values.

Arturo’s maternal grandparents—Abuela and Abuelo—left Cuba in 1979 to settle in Miami. They opened a restaurant, La Cocina de la Isla, which, 19 years later, has become an institution in their Canal Grove neighborhood. Abuelo died when Arturo was very young. Abuela, the Zamora family matriarch, is an excellent chef, but due to failing health, has yielded cooking duties to Caridad (Cari) Zamora, her oldest daughter and Arturo’s mother. Arturo lives with his large family—aunts, uncles, and cousins—in one apartment complex, and they all participate in making the restaurant a success.

Every Sunday, the Zamoras close their popular restaurant to share a family meal, which also includes Arturo’s friends, Bren and Benjamin “Mop” Darzy. On the Sunday before summer officially begins, another pair of honorary Zamoras arrive: “Uncle” Frank Sánchez and his daughter, Carmen. They live in Madrid but will spend the summer with the Zamoras following the death of Carmen’s mother, a close friend of Cari. Arturo hasn’t seen Carmen since they were small. When she greets him with kisses, his stomach flip-flops, and he worries it’s wrong to have such feelings for his mother’s goddaughter. Arturo becomes tongue-tied around Carmen, who sports colored braces and admires the 19th-century Cuban revolutionary poet, José Martí.

When the neighborhood council calls for proposals to develop the vacant lot beside La Cocina, the Zamoras submit a bid to expand their restaurant. They soon learn that a community outsider, real estate tycoon Wilfrido, has presented a proposal to build a high-rise on the lot. The council will hold a public forum in three weeks, then vote on the two proposals.

Carmen and Arturo decide to visit Wilfrido’s new store, incognito, to glean information about him. When they arrive, they discover Wilfrido is hosting a party in what is actually an office. Addressing his guests, which include most of Canal Grove’s residents, Wilfrido extols the merits and luxurious amenities of his proposed high-rise, Pipo Place. Arturo studies a 3-D model of Canal Grove, which shows Pipo Place towering above familiar neighborhood businesses. La Cocina is missing, and Arturo realizes Wilfrido’s proposal annexes the entire corner.

Following his reconnaissance mission with Carmen, Arturo visits Abuela. She gives him a box of letters that his grandfather, Abuelo, wrote to him about life in Cuba, his love for Abuela, and his passion for poetry. Arturo is astonished to discover that, like Carmen, Abuelo admired José Martí. Abuelo writes that his most courageous feat was professing his love to Abuela. He found the courage by following Martí’s example and writing Abuela a love poem. He urges Arturo to likewise find his voice and live adventurously.

Meanwhile, Wilfrido holds a festival replete with free sushi to promote Pipo Place. Arturo’s cousin Vanessa, a budding political activist, organizes the Zamoras to stage a protest. They carry signs and distribute pamphlets that emphasize how La Cocina has nourished the growth of their tight-knit community. After a day of protesting together, Arturo musters the courage to tell Carmen he likes her. He’s mortified when she stammers and flees. Hearing Wilfrido’s closing remarks to festival-goers, Arturo is overcome with anger and stomps over to the stage. He proclaims that his community is focused on family, provoking the developer to hurl insults at him before ordering security guards to detain him.

After Aunt Tuti springs Arturo from the holding cell, he learns Abuela has died. He helps his mother prepare a memorial dinner, and the whole neighborhood arrives to honor Abuela. At the public forum the following morning, Arturo expresses his worries about the vote to Carmen. She suddenly kisses him and urges him to speak before the council. Electrified by the kiss, Arturo bravely stands and reads a poem he wrote in memory of Abuela. The next day, the council passes an ordinance limiting the height of city buildings, and then approves the Zamoras’s proposal to expand La Cocina.

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