Summer is a great time to read and unwind. There’s nothing like snuggling up on the couch with a light blanket and disappearing into another world full of great twists, turns, sorrows and celebrations. Here are 11 books written by Latinos that we think you should put on your reading list, just in time to celebrate #BookLoversDay.
1. “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez
CREDIT: Algonquin Books / Amazon
“How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” follows a family from the Dominican Republic as they flee after their father’s association with a group trying to overthrow the dictator government is discovered. The family lands in New York City and the four sisters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda and Sofia, have to figure out how to adjust to living in a different culture while retaining their Dominican heritage. The adjustment proves tricky for the girls who slowly become increasingly Americanized over time. This book emotionally shows the struggle many young immigrants and first-generation children deal with: balancing your family’s culture with your new culture.
2. “The Show House” by Dan Lopez.
CREDIT: The Unnamed Press / Amazon
Dan Lopez paints a vivid picture of central Florida in his novel “The Show House.” In the book, two families are quickly heading to a disastrous ending in this psychological thriller. A Puerto Rican pharmacist, Laila, is trying to figure out her handsome, young, gay half-brother who is in the throes of some serious teenage angst and runs away from home. At the same time, a serial killer targeting gay men in Orlando is on the loose, leading to more panic than worry. As Laila tries to find her half-brother, another family is trying to fix a broken relationship between a father and son, Steven. Though Steven is married to Peter and the two have a child, something seems off. It isn’t long until all the characters in the book have a fateful meeting.
3. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.
CREDIT: HarperCollins / Amazon
“The Alchemist” is an absolute classic and no Latino reading list is complete without it. Santiago is a young Andalusian shepherd who is following his destiny, as told to him by a gypsy. During his journey, he learns many valuable lessons that all point to the same conclusion – the importance of following your heart and desires.
4. “Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire.
CREDIT: Pocket Books / Amazon
Author Carlos Eire writes an autobiographical account of being a part of Pedro Pan, a mass exodus of Cuban children to the U.S. from December 1960 to October 1962. Pedro Pan is seen as one of the largest migrations of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere, with 14,000 Cuban children landing in Miami before being united with relatives or placed in homes across the U.S. Parents sent their children to the U.S. to prevent indoctrination by the rising Cuban government. It is a part of Cuban history that is rarely talked about but one that is important to understand. “Waiting for Snow in Havana” is definitely worth a read if you are into history.
5. “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende.
CREDIT: Washington Square Press / Amazon
“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende is a story of familial discovery through journals. Clara del Valle was a young girl when her sister was suddenly died of poisoning, leading her to a nine-year period of silence with the outside world. Clara, a clairvoyant, turns to documenting her life in a journal. Fifty years after the book begins, her husband and granddaughter use her journals to try and figure out their families history. There are moments of unease as the secrets of the family are laid bear in the search for identity.
6. “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor.
CREDIT: Vintage Books / Amazon
Sonia Sotomayor made history as the first Latino ever appointed to the Supreme Court and the third woman to do so. In “My Beloved World,” Sotomayor writes about being the child of Puerto Rican immigrants and how she made her way from a girl in the Bronx that grew up in a housing project with an alcoholic father, to graduating from Yale Law School and becoming a federal district attorney in New York. Basically, this book is a great source of inspiration for anyone who is trying to better their circumstances.
7. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz.
CREDIT: Riverhead Press / Amazon
Junot Díaz draws the reader into a scary and beautiful story of a young man in New Jersey who is looking for love and acceptance in “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.” After two failed suicide attempts, the main character, Oscar, moves to the Dominican Republic to get away from New Jersey, but things don’t go right. Oscar, who was afraid of dying a virgin, falls in love with a sex worker who has a policeman boyfriend. The policeman sends some men to scare Oscar, and they end up beating him into a coma. This is when Oscar gets sent back to New York where his family helps him recover before he moves back to the Dominican Republic in pursuit of the sex worker.
8. “Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa” by Rigoberto González.
CREDIT: The University of Wisconsin / Amazon
“Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa” is a coming-out story that deals with the complexities and societal shortcomings of the Latino community when it comes to homosexuality. The book is a personal look at the authors’ life, who had to figure out how to come out of the closet as the first-generation child of Mexican farmworkers. The book examines the themes of machismo, being valued within the Latino culture and the struggle first-generation children have when they are in a country whose culture is different from their parents’.
9. “Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina” by Raquel Cepeda.
CREDIT: Atria Books / Amazon
This memoir by Raquel Cepeda is a different glimpse into the complicated world of looking for acceptance from family who doesn’t understand you. “Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina” chronicles Cepeda’s life, starting from when she lived in the Dominican Republic, and touches on how she lost her Latina identity. It was her father and European stepmother who tried to make sure she didn’t express her Dominican heritage.
If you have ever invited a non-Latino friend to a birthday party, there are a few warning you have to give. Unos consejitos, as they say. First, your gringo friend has to realize that some folk get very competitive when bashing a piñata, and some mild violence may occur (if your friend falls on the right end of the political spectrum, you might need to warn him that said piñata might be shaped like the current POTUS). You also have to give fair warning on abuelita tactics: your abue will try to overfeed your invitado, in a show of pure Latino hospitality.
But perhaps the most out-there costumbres that nuestra gente have revolve around the birthday cake. When the cake arrives, your primas might take off their rings and place them gently around the candles, a ritual that is supposed to bring good luck. But the queen of all costumbres is the classic Mordida. Your convo with your guest might go something like this: “Look, before everyone has a slice of cake, the birthday girl will be pushed onto the cake and will end up all covered in icing”. The guest will look at you con cara de WHAT. You will continue: “Yes, a hair or two might fall on the cake, in which case you ignore it. Some lipstick might remain on the icing. In which case you also ignore it. And if the person does not want to do La Mordida, then someone will push their face. We will know it is coming
When people start singing Mordida, mordida, mordida, clapping feverishly”.
Most of the times, the birthday girl ends up looking like this:
Credit: Instagram. @mveronicaz15
However, there are true female warriors and defenders del buen estilo that have managed to remain classy during and after the pinche Mordida. This is a considerable feat, considering the stickiness and general mess involved in a merengue-rich Mexican pasteleria style cake.
Here are some of these wonder women of all ages!
This little princess and her mami, who have mastered the art of mess-free Mordida
Credit: Instagram. @gringonaldo_cajun
Look at the immaculate hair fascinator sported by this tiny princes del cumple. Her mom has the football grab nailed down to allow for a tiny besito on that Little Pony masterpiece. The cake remains almost intact, and so does her style.
Twinkle and bite, little star
Credit: 58769517_140171377106405_1636695043357940306_n. Digital image. Gallery of Social.
This chamaquita is doing the bare minimum so her cake doesn’t get all guacala and she can keep her face and her hair intact. Respect.
Look at this balancing act!
Credit: cake_mom_with_baby_son_with_mom_boy_mom_kid_with_mom_holiday_cake_bites-554619. Digital image. PX Here
So let us get this straight: this mom is carrying a baby while someone holds a cake and she is still giving Kate Middleton vibes while pecking the cake. Double…. triple respect!
Rosa nada salvaje
Credit: images (2). Digital image. BuenMP3
The perfect distance for the deed: far enough so they can’t push you, but close enough to barely touch the icing. The pink dress will remain untouched. Great technique, reina!
La Sirenita preciosa
Credit: Instagram. @snlb21
This other little one did not let the cake ruin her Ariel outfit. She kept the merengue pretty contained to one area of her face, the area that can then be cleaned by kissing mom. What a perfect Mordida blueprint.
The best way to prevent a mordida: look menacing
Credit: Instagram. @lilchubmonkey
We can’t get over this little girl’s face and her dad’s contemplative gaze. He knows that he is in BIG trouble if the Mordida is even thought of! Her face is so gangster and cute at the same time.
It is all about the hair
Credit: Instagram. @sorecastillo89
This girl turned 25, an age in which el qué dirán can be pretty brutal. So just like any long-haired person knows if they have had a bit too much to drink and need to, well, to throw up, the key to keeping your dignity is to meticulously hold your hair. Sore Castillo did it in an understated, yet effective way.
This blast from the past that shows no mess
Credit: Instagram. @febev
When browsing through old photo albums get rid of all evidence of a Mordida ever happening. This is what user @febev did, instead of posting a before-Mordida shot on her Insta. It is better not to show the aftermath of the sugary apocalypse.
If only life was like stock photography!
Credit: depositphotos_170233840-stock-photo-woman-biting-birthday-cake.jpg. Digital image. Depositphotos
Stock photos have given us some fantastic memes. They show ridiculous and super fake situations. Just look at this elegant lady about to take a Mordida on the cake. Sure, we all celebrate with our loved ones still holding their perfectly wrapped presents while a pristine cake is about to be a victim of the infamous tradition.
The queen of Mexican pop Thalia is class personified, even giving a Mordida
Credit: thalia-pastel-mordida-1—a. Digital image. Hola Mexico
Credit: Credit: thalia-pastel-mordida-1—a. Digital image. Hola Mexico. Digital image. Hola Mexico
We mean, is she even real? How can someone’s smile look so radiant after having had their face smashed into a sweet decadent delight?
Mordida in the age of Instagram?
Credit: embarrar-pastel-cara-tendencia-redes-sociales_cover. Digital image. PM Canal 5
That’s why we can’t have nice things. The Mordida has been gentrified! Yes, non-Latinos are now embarrandose cake all over the face and posting glam shots. Look at these three: cultural appropriation much?
Don’t give me gato por liebre: that #adultcakesmash thing is La Mordida!
Credit: Instagram. @tonyaphipps22
There is now a trend of women turning 30 and organizing a photo shoot while doing a Cake Smash, which is gringo for La Mordida. To be honest, Tonya here looks super cute doing it, so we give her a pass. No sean criticones.
That cake is a true fashion statement!
Credit: fotos 247. Digital image. La camara y el tlacuache
We can’t get over this girl’s amazing smile. She seems unbothered by the fact that her whole face is covered in artificial food coloring. We are sure, however, that Lady Gaga would love this look and perhaps incorporate it in one of her outlandish shows.
No pushing, porfavorcito
Credit: 10523584_521191348014907_1197145469_n. Digital image. Deskgram
We love this little one’s determination. If the damn Mordida is gonna happen, it will be on her terms. By the way, that giant Oreo cake is cool as, o no?
Never too young to learn
Credit: 54447139_2245292365736559_799266132714657876_n. Digital image. Pic of Year.
This bebita who must be around four or five months old is, however, already well versed in the art of ladylike Mordidas. Wisdom travels from generation to generation.
When Salma was classy but Jimmy Kimmel got smashed
Salma Hayek is the epitome if Mexican class, so when she visited Jimmy Kimmel she didn’t lose her cool…. whole smashing Jimmy’s face straight into a cake. Only she can pull this off and ser elegante.
Dos pueden more than one
Double trouble or how to give a double mordida and look cute while doing it.
Michelle Ruiz Keil is about to release her first book June 18 but considering the hype surrounding All of Us with Wingsis already receiving it’s easy to assume she’s an established novelist. It was selected as one of Barnes & Noble’s most anticipated #OwnVoices YA books and a Book Riot must-read debut book and most anticipated LGBTQ book of 2019. This YA fantasy debut is about love, family, and healing set in a post-punk San Francisco and following the story of a 17-year-old Mexican-American girl named Xochi, She was living alone in San Francisco until she met 12-year-old Pallas and her pagan rockstar family who live in one of the city’s famous Victorian homes. She takes on the role of live-in governess for Pallas and together they accidentally summon a pair of ancient creatures set on avenging the wrongs of Xochi’s past.
Keil is an only child who was born to a teen mom and a father who later passed away at the age of 30, both parents instilled a love of reading in her. She grew up in the Bay area and at 17 dropped out of high school and moved to San Francisco to study acting. She found a passion for theatre writing plays and her first play Pure Gold Baby produced in Oregon. She’s the founder/former director of The Portland Teen Actor’s Workshop and Milk & Honey Community Studio. She’s been reading tarot cards since she was 16 and, like the lead characters in her book, spirituality plays a big role in her life. She dedicated the book to her grandma, Luciana Ruiz Dudley, the matriarch of her Mexican family and her husband, whom she has two daughters with. She lives in a house in the woods above downtown Portland, Oregon and has a “coyote familiar” named Stella and is a self-proclaimed coyote whisperer and mythpunk word witch.
Here she talks about the post-punk music subculture and its role in the book, finding community as a mixed-race queer Latinx, and how this book is a love letter to those who overcame their traumas.
This is a magical coming of age story with a Latinx protagonist, what was the writing process like for your first book and why was this the story you chose to tell?
Writing this book was the result of a dare. Some of the teenagers at my daughters’ Free School decided they wanted to try NaNoWriMo [an internet-based creative writing project]. Since I was a playwright, their teacher asked me to co-facilitate the class. I did it mainly to dare the kids into finishing their books—basically, if I can do it, you can do it. I also let them pick the story I’d write out of four possible plots. The one they chose eventually became All of Us with Wings.
Xochi is a bisexual and biracial Mexican-American girl trying to build a new life in San Francisco, can you explain how you decided on each of those elements to develop her character?
Like Xochi, I ran away to San Francisco at seventeen and fell in love with the city. I’m also mixed-race and bisexual. A bookseller once told me they were excited for my book because so many punk and post punk stories are centered on white people, but black and brown kids were there as well, playing in the bands as well as dancing to them. I wanted to write about a subculture where everyone is mixed and queer and making art and practicing magic and riding around on motorcycles. I wanted to capture the joy and relief of finding a community where, for the first time, all the parts of you are seen and accepted.
The friendship between Pallas and Xochi is key in the story and though they differ in age, sometimes Pallas is the wiser character. Can you talk a little about their friendship and how you developed the character of Pallas?
I’m very interested in a certain kind of hero that we don’t often talk about. There’s a book I read in college, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, [it] was the first place I encountered the term “emotional labor” and it really resonated with me, describing a skillset that includes empathy, conscientiousness, creativity, and endurance. These characteristics often show up in a trusty sidekick, but I wanted to see them shining out in a main character.
I also love governess stories—so many of my early literary heroines came of age working as teachers or caretakers-Anne Shirley, Jo March, Sara Crewe, Jane Eyre. The nanny/governess aspect of All of Us with Wings comes out of that.
Pallas’s character allowed me to explore another literary love—the story of the very precocious child. Pallas’s personality and personal style, cat hat and sharp tongue included, are mostly an homage to my two amazing daughters at that age.
There are elements of brujeria especially in the development of the Waterbabies, can you explain why this was important to you and what research went into it?
I encountered stories of the Waterbabies at a Pacific Northwest hot spring and became deeply fascinated by the idea of creatures who appear as children but are actually ancient beings with extraordinarily power. I went down a research rabbit hole and read about such creatures worldwide. It was important to me to not re-write any of the stories I read but rather to find my own manifestation of that energy. There was an eco-horror element to many of the stories, the juxtaposition of innocence and an ancient understanding of natural law not centered around the lives of humans that was particularly compelling. And there was definitely an element of wish-fulfillment present as I imagined creatures that would avenge the wrongs of an abused child.
The elements of brujeria came from my own writing and spiritual practices– lighting candles and drawing cards, spaying charged water. When I wrote the Waterbabies, I did it from that space, but was hard to find the correct tone for them. Finally, I decided to try writing their POV chapters in verse. I had a deadline for my editor and also a high fever. That combination seemed to create enough heat and pressure to find their voices.
You feature multiple narrators and develop their distinct point of views, what was it like developing and writing these different perspectives and characters? Do you have a favorite?
It’s so hard to pick a favorite! I loved writing Peasblossom, who is based on a real life bookstore cat with the same name. I also really enjoyed writing Kylen, the snarky bass player. He is very different from me, but his voice was so clear and easy to write—and, I thought, pretty dark and hilarious.
Filling All of Us with Wings with multiple voices seemed like the only way to really tell the story. I think that, because of my background is in theater, voice comes pretty naturally to me. My very favorite scenes are the ones where the whole household is together in the kitchen. I just imagine it’s a play I’m directing and use the characters movements to keep the dialogue flowing.
You incorporate magical realism into the book which is huge in Latin American literature, can you talk about why that was important to you?
Magical realism is really just regular Tuesday to me. It’s how I see the world– full of life and purpose and magic. A few stories I’ve written are straight up contemporary, but even then, there is magic around the edges.
This is geared toward young adult readers but the book deals with serious issues including rape, underage romance, domestic violence, and drug use. What was the writing process like with such difficult subjects involving young protagonists?
I wanted to write a coming of age story for the girl I used to be. As an abuse survivor and mixed-race Latinx, I’ve struggled with empowerment and identity. Although promising and bright, I found myself unable to follow the prescribed path of
high school, college, and career as the effects of my childhood trauma became too obvious to ignore. I had to find my own rites of passage, my own path to becoming an adult. In practice, it was a hard story to write. There were many elements of the plot, many decisions Xochi makes in the story, that I tried to prevent or change. As a parent, I wanted to protect Xochi the way I’d protect my own girls. The way I wish I was protected. Eventually, I had to tell a story consistent with the character I’d created and true to my own experience as a young adult. I had to remind myself that it’s possible to feel empowered by something at seventeen that we see very differently a few years later. I also reminded myself that every choice I made, even the most perilous, was an honest attempt at finding myself that eventually led to the sweet life I have now. I had to trust Xochi to walk that path, too.
What message do you have for young readers who can relate to some of the trauma you write about?
In the beginning of the book, Xochi sees a movie called Wings Of Desire, an 80s art film about an angel who falls in love with a trapeze artist from a low-rent travelling circus. In the film, there is a character playing an actor visiting Berlin with a knack for recognizing angels—because he used to be one himself. He senses the lovelorn angel’s presence and holds out his hand in the empty air. “I can’t see you, but I know you’re there.” He touches his chest and smiles. “Friend,” he says. “Compañero”.
That’s what I hope All of Us with Wings is—my hand out to people who are struggling through the darkest part of the forest. My love letter to those who’ve made it out.
Can you explain the significance of the title and why you chose the family to be a part of a rock band and how that plays into the story?
The title comes from the song “Three Days” by Jane’s Addiction and is an ode to found family and complicated love, just like my book. As for Lady Frieda, the All of Us with Wings, I wanted a way to weave in some of the less known but, to me, more interesting parts of the late 80s indie music scene–the way certain bands were using magic, body modification through piercing and tattoos, and experimenting with communal living as part of their creative practice.
As a Latinx writer, how did you approach these Latinx characters and elements to represent the culture?
I knew I wanted to write about a character that struggles with finding her place in her culture. Personally, I’ve struggled with feeling Mexican at home with my family and rootless when I’m out in the world because it’s hard to place my ethnicity visually and because previous generations of our family have really valued assimilation so my Spanish isn’t great. I’ve had no connection with my Colombian side of the family which was disrupted by trauma. It’s a diaspora story I wanted to tell, this sense of rootlessness and loss of connection and hunger to be seen. It’s also an element that draws Xochi and Leviticus, Pallas’s father, to one another– even though their getting close is a very bad idea.
What was the most challenging part of writing your first book and what has been the most rewarding so far?
The most challenging part of writing All of Us with Wings was teaching myself to write a book! Many people I know have several practice novels in the drawer, but my practice novel was just five versions of this same story. It took years, but I never could put it down.
The most rewarding thing had been connecting with so many kindred spirits through the writing and publication process, from my agent and publishing team to other writers and readers. It’s been pretty amazing!
Who were some of the Latinx writers that influenced you during the making of this book?
Anna-Marie MacLemore’s debut The Weight of Feathers made me believe there was a place for my kind of story in the world. Tehlor Kay Mejia, who is my critique partner and dear friend, has taught me so much about trusting my voice. Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a book I return to often. Estes is a Latinx storyteller and Jungian analyst who uses fairytale as a map for women’s stages of life. Her work helped me ground the experiences of Xochi, Pallas and Gina, Xochi’s mother, in story arcs that made organic sense.
I’d also love to mention the support I’ve gotten during my debut year from Las Musas, a collective of Latinx YA and MG (Middle Grade) authors. From organizing panels and twitter chats to boosting each other’s work and crying and celebrating together, Las Musas has been the gift of my debut year.
YA fantasy by Latinx writers is becoming more popular and it continues to grow, how does it feel to join the ranks with your first book?
Like joining the coolest possible coven!
What would you like readers to take away from this book?
My favorite books make me feel seen and known and accompanied—less alone. My deepest hope is that All of Us with Wings will be that kind of company for its readers.
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