Book Review: Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

MY TWO CENTS: There are few authors writing at the level of poetic brilliance and crushing emotional complexity as Anna-Marie McLemore does with each novel. I’m a huge fan of Wild Beauty and When The Moon Was Ours, so I was eager to fall into another lush, layered world. McLemore writes in the tradition of magical realism, but manages to make each of her stories feel so vastly different from one another. Weaving together four distinct points of view, she captures the challenge the del Cisne sisters face: at some point in their life, one of them will be claimed by the swans and become them. Blanca, who has fairer skin and yellow hair, is expected to survive the curse, and Roja, who is darker-skinned with red hair, believes that she’s bound for an inevitable fate. But this thrilling element provides a chance for McLemore to delve deep into themes teenagers will find compelling: Love. Acceptance. Colorism. The terror of changing bodies, the fear of isolation. The del Cisne sisters love one another so much that they vow to save the other, no matter the cost to themselves.

Yet each new chapter builds the complexity of this novel, which borrows from a number of traditional fairy tales and myths, such as Snow White and Swan Lake. Two mysterious boys—Paige and Barclay—become wrapped up in the del Cisne’s attempts to outwit and manipulate the swans, and they are both fully-realized, unique characters. I love a book where I am eager to read every character’s POV, and McLemore accomplishes this with ease. It helps that this book is so effortlessly diverse, in skin color and culture, in gender identity and fluidity, in showing us just how many different ways you can love another person. It is one of the most outwardly queer books I’ve ever read.

And the writing is just stunning. This novel manages to balance realistic, modern dialogue with a hypnotic and lyrical prose that is overflowing with sentences and scenes that broke my heart. Made me laugh. Made me yearn for more words, more chapters, more of every bit of this gorgeous book. I thought I knew what I was in for because it was a retelling of stories I’m familiar with, but Blanca & Roja establishes an entirely different kind of tale, one that is distinctly from the mind of McLemore. I expect this book will appear on a lot of lists by the end of the year, and it deserves to be. The young adult world needs more books that are challenging, odd, and imaginative, and you can tell from reading this one that the author deeply respects her readers.

Embark on this journey. It’s worth it.

TEACHING TIPS: Blanca & Roja is the perfect novel to analyze for a lesson on metaphors, as there are so many fantastic ones utilized by McLemore to explore issues surrounding sexuality, gender, colorism, and familial ties. It would also serve as a fantastic chance to talk about retellings and how an author goes about making a story feel like their own, even if some of the pieces are taken from something else. But more than anything else, I was drawn to the story of Page, who alternates between using he and she pronouns throughout the book based on what they feel most comfortable with at the time. It’s a fantastic example of gender fluidity, and I highly recommend reading the Author’s Note upon finishing.

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by her family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. She is the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award, 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature and was the winner of the James Tiptree Jr. Award, WILD BEAUTY, a Fall 2017 Junior Library Guild selection, and BLANCA & ROJA, which released October 9, 2018.

 

 

 

Oshiro_Mark.jpgABOUT THE REVIEWER: Mark Oshiro is the Hugo-nominated writer of the online Mark Does Stuff universe (Mark Reads and Mark Watches), where he analyzes book and TV series. He was the nonfiction editor of Queers Destroy Science Fiction! and the co-editor of Speculative Fiction 2015, and is the President of the Con or Bust Board of Directors. When not writing/recording reviews or editing, Oshiro engages in social activism online and offline. Anger is a Gift is his acclaimed debut YA contemporary fiction novel, and his follow-up, planned for 2019, is a magical realism/fantasy novel about self-discovery.

Bilingual Border Kids: The Dilemma of Translating Summer of the Mariposas into Spanish

By David Bowles

Pretty soon after Summer of the Mariposas was published by Tu Books in 2012, teachers in the US started asking for a Spanish translation. This story of Mexican-American sisters who go on an odyssey into Mexico, confronting obstacles both supernatural and all-too-human, resonated with Latinx readers, and teachers especially wanted immigrant children and other Spanish-dominant ELLs to have full access to the narrative.

But author Guadalupe García McCall (and editor Stacy Whitman) had a very specific vision for the translation. The novel is narrated by Odilia Garza, oldest of the sisters, and it was important that her voice stay true to that of border girls like Guadalupe, even in Spanish.

Ideally, that vision meant hiring a Mexican-American from the Texas-Mexico border to translate the novel.

Five years later, Stacy approached me (full disclosure: she’s publishing a graphic novel that Raúl the Third and I created, Clockwork Curandera). I was excited at the chance to translate a book that I loved and had been teaching at the University of Texas Río Grande Valley, one written by a great friend, to boot!

Guadalupe and I dug in at once. As I translated, she was always available as a sounding board. I’ve discussed the particulars of our collaborative process on the Lee and Low Blog as well as in the journal Bookbird, but here I want to focus on a particular post-publication issue.

Some people just don’t like the translation.

Specifically, a couple of reviews—in Kirkus and elsewhere—fault the Spanish used in the translation as occasionally a “word-for-word” echo of the English, replete with Anglicisms.

Fair enough. I’m not going to actually claim there’s no truth to the critique. But there are some things you should definitely know before you leap to judgment.

The most important one is … most of that English flavor? It’s on purpose.

Quick digression. When I hear these sorts of complaints, they feel to me like code for one or more of the following: 1) this doesn’t read like typical juvenile literature written in Spanish; 2) this isn’t a recognizable Latin-American dialect of Spanish; 3) this feels too English-y in its syntax (though not ungrammatical); and 4) this has been clearly translated by someone who grew up in the US and was schooled primarily in English.

What none of those points takes into account is an obvious and pivotal fact. This book is a first-person narrative, by a Mexican-American teen. The strange Spanish? It’s how she sounds.

Guadalupe Garcia McCall and David Bowles

Let’s talk for a minute about Guadalupe García McCall and David Bowles. Both Mexican-American (yes, I’m half Anglo, but my family is Mexican-American and I identify as such). Both from the border (Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras versus McAllen/Reynosa). Both schooled EXCLUSIVELY in English (no bilingual education, no early efforts to promote our Spanish literacy). Both of us were robbed of that linguistic heritage. Both of us went on to earn degrees in English that we used to teach middle- and high-school English courses.

Our native dialect is border Spanish. Pocho Spanish, some would rudely put it. Rife with English syntax and borrowings, centuries-old forms and words that the rest of Latin-American might giggle or roll their collective eyes at. But it’s Spanish, yes it is. Aunque no te guste.

Now, I started studying formal Spanish in high school, then went on to minor in it for my BA and MA. I ended up teaching AP Spanish Literature for a time, etc. This process gave me a second, formal, literary dialect. I also have lived in Mexico, and I married a woman born in Monterrey. That’s where my third dialect arises, a version of Northern Mexican Spanish.

So, when I set out with Guadalupe to craft the voice of a border kid who loves to read and still has roots in Mexico, this mestizaje of Spanish dialects is what we hit upon.

It amazes me to no end that writers can do odd and/or regional dialogues all the time in English, but a similar attempt in Spanish elicits disapproving frowns.

I’m sorry, but not all books need to be translated into some neutral, RAE-approved literary Spanish. Some are so deeply rooted in a place, in a community, that we have to insist on breaking “the rules.”

To wrap this apologia up, I’ll just toss out two excerpts from chapter 8. No critic has added specifics to their negative reviews, but I will.

As a counter to the implication that the translation is too word-for-word, let’s look at this passage.

“Yup. According to this, the National Center for Missing and Exploded Children is looking for us,” Velia continued reading on.

“Exploited,” I corrected.

“What?” Velia asked, looking at me like I was confusing her.

“Exploi-t-ed, not exploded,” I explained. “The National Center for Missing and Exploi-t-ed Children.”

“Whatever,” Velia said.

Here’s the Spanish version.

—Pos, sí. Según esto, el Centro Nacional de Niños Desaparecidos y Explotados nos está buscando —continuó Velia—. Qué bueno que en nuestro caso no hay bombas.

—Claro que no hay bombas, mensa —corregí.

—¿Cómo? —preguntó Velia, mirándome como si la confundiera.

—Explotados en el sentido de “usados para cosas malas”, no explotados como “volados en pedazos por una bomba” —expliqué—. Ese centro busca a niños secuestrados, esclavizados, etcétera.

—Ah, órale —dijo Velia.

With the exception of “mirándome como si la confundiera” (someone else might’ve said “con una mirada confundida” or some other less English-y variation), the passage doesn’t ape the English at all. Sure, I can see some Spanish speakers objecting to “como si la confundiera,” expecting it to be followed by “con X cosa” (confusing her with X thing). But, yikes, this is pretty much the way lots of border folks would say it.

The other example is from the first paragraph of the chapter:

After I got back to the dead man’s houseI told Inés they were all out of newspapersthen we ate breakfast in record time.

Cuando volví a la casa del difuntole dije a Inés que ya se habían agotado los periódicos y luego desayunamos en tiempo récord.

Yes. Each part of that Spanish sentence is a (grammatically correct) mirror of its English equivalent.

Yes. There are multiple ways to have translated it more freely so that it doesn’t echo the original as much.

Yes. There are more “Mexican” ways of saying “in record time” than the (still pretty common) Anglicism “en tiempo récord.”

But that’s not what we were going for here. As a result, some people are going to not like my translation, just like some editors don’t like the peculiar voices of writers of color in English, with their code-switching and so on.

There are gatekeepers everywhere. Pero me vale.

ABOUT THE WRITER-TRANSLATOR: A Mexican-American author from deep South Texas, David Bowles is an assistant professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Recipient of awards from the American Library Association, Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written thirteen titles, most notably the Pura Belpré Honor Book The Smoking Mirror and the critically acclaimed Feathered Serpent, Dark Heart of Sky: Mexican Myths, and They Call Me Güero: A Border Kid’s Poems. In 2019, Penguin will publish The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande, co-written with Adam Gidwitz as part of The Unicorn Rescue Society series, and Tu Books will release his steampunk graphic novel Clockwork Curandera. His work has also appeared in multiple venues such as Journal of Children’s Literature, Rattle, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Translation Review, and Southwestern American Literature.

Book Review: All the Stars Denied by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

 

Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Lee & Low Books): In the heart of the Great Depression, Rancho Las Moras, like everywhere else in Texas, is gripped by the drought of the Dust Bowl, and resentment is building among white farmers against Mexican Americans. All around town, signs go up proclaiming “No Dogs or Mexicans” and “No Mexicans Allowed.”

When Estrella organizes a protest against the treatment of tejanos in their town of Monteseco, Texas, her whole family becomes a target of “repatriation” efforts to send Mexicans “back to Mexico” –whether they were ever Mexican citizens or not. Dumped across the border and separated from half her family, Estrella must figure out a way to survive and care for her mother and baby brother. How can she reunite with her father and grandparents and convince her country of birth that she deserves to return home?

There are no easy answers in the first YA book to tackle this hidden history. In a companion novel to her critically acclaimed Shame the Stars, Guadalupe Garcia McCall tackles the hidden history of the United States and its first mass deportation event that swept up hundreds of thousands of Mexican American citizens during the Great Depression.

 

Image result for no dogs or mexicans

 

MY TWO CENTS: The one thing not lacking in All the Stars Denied is very intense, often life-or-death, drama. Guadalupe Garcia McCall presents readers with historically accurate situations and characters and environments that many readers may connect with deeply. The story is also full of incredibly high stakes, and ultimately can be read as a coming-of-age story.

All the Stars Denied is fast-paced, and readers hit the ground running with Garcia McCall’s high-stakes, dramatic writing. Estrella Del Toro’s family’s story, particularly that of her parents, is spelled out more clearly in Shame the Stars. The story takes place in the Rio Grande valley, an area of Texas where Mexican-American or Tejano (Mexican-Americans born in Texas) identity is often built into every capacity of life. As Estrella illustrates early in the story, language in an area like Monteseco is fluid, with people switching from English to Spanish easily, as their Mexican and American identities interact. Estrella organizes her protest to show the injustices shown to people born on American soil but of (sometimes very distant) Mexican descent. This not only recognizes that, though the people of her town are U.S. citizens, their ethnicity and culture bring their citizenship into question. This also demonstrates the inseparability of ethnicity and culture of many people in Latinx communities in the U.S.

Garcia McCall’s attention to these details is especially critical in today’s political and social climate. She demonstrates how intertwined the lives of many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are, and how similar the cultures continue to be throughout the United States. Through this, Garcia McCall exemplifies the extensive presence, scrutiny, and discrimination that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have had in the United States for many decades.

Garcia McCall also addresses class issues in her book; readers take a close look at the disparities between economic and social classes through Estrella’s experience as a repatriate. The reader gets the impression that the family is quite comfortable in Monteseco and holds both economic and social prestige in their community. During the repatriation process, though, Estrella is thrust into the very real experience of those who do not have the economic means to save themselves from unfair judicial processes. She, along with her mother and younger brother, experience a disarmament of sorts, where anything they might have been able to use to help their cause is denied to them. Throughout their journey, Estrella’s mother tries to soften the blows of their newfound economic hardship, reminding Estrella that much of what they experience is the norm for populations more socially or economically disadvantaged than they are. Estrella learns to appreciate their newfound situation, humbles herself, and works with her mother in any way she can to make sure their family survives another day.

The points made above all contribute to the way in which All the Stars Denied is a Bildungsroman, a coming of age story about a young girl who grows exponentially as a person because of the difficult, unjust, and discriminatory situations she experiences. Estrella repeatedly looks to her family for direction through her father’s journals, her mother’s sage advice, and her grandmother’s memory, and she uses her own journal to express her thoughts and emotions. Even still, and regardless of her young age, Estrella takes a leadership role throughout the narrative. The reader can see Estrella’s development by the way that she creates plans and ideas. Though her proposals might be half-baked, Estrella’s consistently trying to help her mother, putting herself in positions to listen and learn from others to the great benefit of her family. While Estrella’s outspokenness might arguably lead to more scrutiny upon her family, her growing courage – and her notorious tenacity – assist her family in so many different ways and helps her to become a person that not only her family can be proud of, but one that she can be proud of herself.

 

Mexican and Mexican-American families wait to board Mexico-bound trains in Los Angeles on March 8, 1932. County officials arranged these mass departures as part of “repatriation campaigns,” fueled by fears that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were taking scarce jobs and government assistance during the Great Depression.
Los Angeles Public Library/Herald Examiner Collection. Posted on NPR’s website 2015.

 

TEACHING TIPS: In All the Stars Denied, as in Shame the Stars, Garcia McCall shows readers why Mexican American studies is an incredibly important part of any school curriculum, but especially in areas of the country where a majority of the population either comes from or is descended from Latinx countries. Both books stand on their own. By reading both novels, the reader learns about a slice of history not often taught, and is able to do so in both a macro- and microscopic way. In All the Stars Denied, readers see the damage that Mexican Repatriation did to entire communities in cities across the country, as well as to individuals and their families. The life-and-death stakes were real, and this book is an excellent way to introduce not only the chaos caused by terrible discrimination in general, but specifically the destruction caused by unjust immigration laws and xenophobia.

The novel can also teach about the economic hardships experienced around the country as a result of the Great Depression. Much of what Estrella’s family faces during their time in limbo is a result of their lack of monetary resources, but also the lack felt by both the U.S. and Mexico.

Though not the only two teaching tips in the book, these points can easily be used to jump into more contemporary conversations, looking at ways in which present day immigration laws and current economic policies create waves of hardship experienced by many already disenfranchised communities. The resources that Garcia McCall includes in the appendices give excellent background information that is accessible and of significant interest to both youth and adult historians interested in learning about this piece of concealed history.

Posted on Lee & Low Books’ websiteJacqueline Stallworth, curriculum consultant and professional developer, created a guide featuring All the Stars Denied for the “Putting Books to Work” panel at the International Literacy Association (ILA) conference. Check out this guide to find out about tips and strategies for how to use All the Stars Denied alongside other great texts in your classroom.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Lee & Low Books): Guadalupe Garcia McCall was born in Mexico and moved to Texas as a young girl, keeping close ties with family on both sides of the border. Trained in Theater Arts and English, she now teaches English/Language Arts at a junior high school. Her poems for adults have appeared in more than twenty literary journals. McCall is an up-and-coming talent whose debut YA novel, Under the Mesquite, won the Pura Belpré Award and was named a Morris Award finalist. McCall lives with her husband and their three sons in the San Antonio, Texas, area. You can find her online at guadalupegarciamccall.com.

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the Young Adult Librarian at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the New York Public Library. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she has lived in New York City for six years. She is a strong advocate of continuing education (in all of its forms) and is very interested in learning new ways that public libraries can provide higher education to all. She is also very interested in working with non-traditional communities in the library, particularly incarcerated and homeless populations. While pursuing her own higher education, she received two Bachelors of Arts degrees (in English and in History), a Masters of Arts in English, and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. Katrina loves reading most anything, but particularly loves literary fiction, YA novels, and any type of graphic novel or comic. She’s also an Anglophile when it comes to film and TV, and is a sucker for British period pieces. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.

Book Review: Lies that Bind by Diana Rodriguez Wallach

 

Review by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Reeling from the truths uncovered while searching for her sister in Italy, Anastasia Phoenix is ready to call it quits with spies. The only way to stop being a pawn in their game is to remove herself from the board. But before she can leave her parents’ crimes behind her, tragedy strikes. No one is safe, not while Department D still exists.

Now, with help from her friends, Anastasia embarks on a dangerous plan to bring down an entire criminal empire. From a fire-filled festival in England to a lavish wedding in Rio de Janeiro, Anastasia is determined to confront the enemies who want to destroy her family. But even Marcus, the handsome bad boy who’s been there for her at every step, is connected to the deadly spy network. And the more she learns about Department D, the more she realizes the true danger might be coming from someone closer than she expects.

MY TWO CENTS: A year after Proof of Lies, author Diana Rodriguez Wallach gives us a sequel that is just as a fast-paced, Lies that Bind. We follow Anastasia Phoenix’s quest to discover the truth about the Dresden Corporation, her parents’ death and, like the protagonist, the reader does not know who to trust. The novel skillfully reintroduces us to the main characters and the story line; Anastasia reflects on the events Keira, Marcus, and Charlotte have just experienced and reminds the reader of the key information to put us right back into another action-packed adventure. Wallach continues to develop her female protagonists. Although Keira continues to act a bit irresponsible and Charlotte has developed a love interest, we see Anastasia take charge and make decisions about next steps in their quest for safety and justice. According to my teen daughters, one of the things that they most liked was the suspense-filled chapters, which kept them turning page after page to try to figure out which one of the characters was good, bad, or in-between. They also liked the romance that continues to develop between Marcus and Anastasia.

The novel moves locations and remarks on cultural differences in each of the places the characters visit. For example, they find themselves in the middle of festival in England that is full of satire about American immigration politics and borderline racist overtones. Another occasion worth noting, although not central to the plot, is a long speech given by one of her friends at the funeral of her dead boyfriend. The speech remarks on the experiences of young black men who the educational system fails to help. If nothing else, this adds to Anastasia’s growth in understanding the intersection of race and immigration as experienced by marginalized communities.

Wallach includes information about real events at the end of the book, such as the fake Turkish coup of 2003, Hilda Murrell’s murder, and the 1998 World Cup Final, which adds to the detective-like narrative and espionage plot. She titled this section as “truths,” but this is ironic because although these events happened, they are full of mystery! This is, perhaps, one of my favorite parts of the book, realizing how the author uses this in the novel and, at the same time, reminding us that life is full of secrets. The last book in this trilogy, titled The End of The Lie, comes out in 2019 and we can’t wait to read it!

CLICK HERE for our review of PROOF OF LIES.

CLICK HERE for a guest post by Diana Rodriguez Wallach about pushing genre boundaries.

Also, check out the video below. Author Diana Rodriguez Wallach talks about how her personal travels match Anastasia’s journey in Lies that Bind. The video was posted on Jean Book Nerd’s YouTube Channel.

 

 

 

AuthorHeadshot_2015ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of the Anastasia Phoenix Series, three young adult spy thrillers (Entangled Publishing, 2017, ’18, ‘19). The first book in the trilogy, Proof of Lies, was named by Paste Magazine as one of the “Top 10 Best Young Adult Books for March 2017.” Bustle also listed her as one of the “Top Nine Latinx Authors to Read for Women’s History Month 2017.” Additionally, she is the author of three award-winning young adult novels: Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books); as well as a YA short-story collection entitled Mirror, Mirror (Buzz Books, 2013).

In 2010 Diana was named one of the Top Ten New Latino Authors to Watch by LatinoStories.com, and she placed second in the International Latino Book Awards. Diana is featured in the anthology, Latina Authors and Their Muses (Twilight Times Books, 2015), and she currently blogs for Quirk Books.

 

 

headshot2016ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, and Digital Oral History. Dr. Foulis is currently working on a digital oral history project about Latin@s in Ohio, which is being archived at the Center for Folklore Studies’ internet collection. Some of these narratives can be found in her iBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio.

A Conversation with Dr. Frederick Aldama, Author and Scholar

Frederick Aldama’s Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling is a compilation of creator interviews. Its table of contents includes many names familiar to readers of Latinxs in Kid Lit, such as Malín Alegria, Lulu Delacre, Margarita Engle, Maya Christina Gonzalez, Pat Mora, Daniel José Older and 27 others. The following post, an interview with Dr. Aldama, is a conversation about his conversations with writers and illustrators, illuminating the joys and challenges encountered by Latinx creators who work in young people’s literary arts. 

 

Cristina Raquel Rivera: First things first, this book is a major and undeniable milestone to larger communities that include not only the publishing and academic world, but also anyone who reads as and to children and young adults. Yet, through all the interviews a reoccurring topic came up suggesting a much-needed conversation regarding the lack of Latinx representation the publishing world. Can you speak to this theme? Did it play a role in the compilation of the book? How would you outline modes for changing the underrepresentation of Latinx in children’s and young adult literature after speaking with the authors in your book? Do you think that a greater Latinx representation in the children’s and young adult publishing community could change the political arena of today?

Frederick Luis Aldama: In many ways, you and the Latinxs in Kid Lit community are the ideal readers of my book. By this I mean, as Latinx parents, guardians, aunties and uncles, older siblings and so many others, we all think about and put into practice on a daily basis the use of Latinx children’s and young adult fiction and nonfiction. It’s the heart that beats in our chest. It’s a central part of the development of the many growing minds around us.

However, much work needs to be done not only to open eyes to many more and to show the world that this is a serious area of pedagogical practice and scholarly inquiry. And along with this, there needs to continue this conversation around issues of Latinx representation. By this I don’t mean that we become prescriptive, telling Latinx authors and artists what they should or shouldn’t do. In all Latinx art there should be total freedom. This said, from our local libraries all the way up to those pearly gates of the titans of the publishing world, there remain blinders to the resplendent ways that Latinx children’s literature and YA fiction can and does guide minds to wondrous new places. In this sense, they prove to be less an edifying device as a set of puentes or bridges that carry us into newly imagined storyworlds packed with characters who experience all sorts of emotions, thoughts, and feelings that make new our sense of self in the world.

With our Latinx community increasingly hunted and imprisoned, along with the ripping of children from families, there’s so much deep traumatic scarring happening today. We must fight not only to be sure that our fellow creators have the space and freedom to create literature for all ages, but also fight with our boots on the street to bandage this bleeding out of Latinx youth. This is not only happening in the most brutal way along the US/Mexico border with the US sanctioned concentration camps being set up that allow for the abuse of Latinx children. It’s happening in our schools where Latinx youth are disproportionately punished and suspended in ways that lead to a push-out then lock-out system. It’s happening all across the country with the underfunding of public schools that disallow teachers to have the adequate resources for growing Latinx minds to realize their full potentialities. It’s happening dramatically in Puerto Rico with a quarter of its schools permanently shuttered. It’s happening in higher education that’s becoming more and more expensive for Latinx and other working families in this country.

What I’m getting at is that our work as scholars is important. To put it bluntly, it’s a way to legitimize what you and I know to be a significant space of exploration of our past, present, and future. And, it’s important to keep in mind that historically we know that the only way to prevent further hemorrhaging of Latinx youth is to take a stand. One way or another, you’ll see this echoed by the Latinx creators I had the great fortune to interview for this book. It’s why my students choose not only to pursue PhDs, but to also work with LASER/Latinx Space for Enrichment Research. As a LASER Hub Co-coordinator, you meet weekly with Latinx students at Centennial High, working with them to ensure that they have as full an access as possible to knowledge and creativity—and the tools for further refining and shaping for a better tomorrow. You see clearly that it’s a two-pronged approach: your own scholarly work to further solidify and enrich Latinx children’s literature as an important area of study; and, to be working in the community in ways that materially and directly impact new generations of Latinx youth.

CRR: Throughout your interviews you touch on the narrative elements and devices that change when authors incorporate Latinidad in works for children and young adults. These conversations described narratives attempting to depict more than just youth culture but also what a Latinx childhood feels like. Looking back at these interviews, do you find that there are particular structures of narrative that are more useful or successful in the creation of works for the Latinx community? Do you find that these differ between literature for adult and children/YA? How do you see the narrative structures these authors spoke of addressing layers of experience? In other words, are these emerging experiences changing the publishing community or do you find them at any risk when being separated into its own category?

FLA: I’ve approached this question of narrative shaping device both as a scholar and creator. As a scholar, I dedicated my first theory books (a trilogy of sorts) to grappling with whether there are specific techniques used by Latinx authors—and not other authors. In my Postethnic Narrative Criticism (2003), Brown on Brown (2005), and A User’s Guide to Postcolonial and Borderland Fiction (2009), I sleuth out the narrative devices used by Latinx authors and poets to give shape to their respective images, characters, and storyworlds. (Later in my career I also consider the question of shaping device with regards to poetry in the book, Formal Matters in Latino Poetry.) And, like the children’s and YA fictions I discuss in this recent work of mine, I’m deeply interested in what these Latinx creators who have been historically pushed to the margins are interested in shaping for their audiences. At the same time, I’m careful not to collapse what I see as a shaping device or tool (whether a choice of meter in poetry or use of free indirect discourse in prose) with ideology. This doesn’t mean that Latinx children’s and YA fiction can’t transform. It does, and even radically. But it’s a transformation that takes place in its recalibration of our planetary periodic table of narrative fiction. Let me use the example of magical realism—something that I focus on in Postethnic Narrative Criticism. I distinguish between a Latinx author’s reconstruction of reality in magical realist fictional format and that of everyday material reality. I do so to remind myself and others that while narrative fiction is referential, there is a difference between it and everyday lived reality. So, while magical realism opens our eyes to new ways of perceiving, thinking, and feeling about the world, actual material transformation of our reality requires additional intellectual, interpretive, and material work that goes beyond the narrative fiction. Just as realism is an available shaping device for Latinx creators, so too is magical realism. We will leave it to the individual creator to decide how best they want to shape their story.

I have recently completed my first children’s book, With Papá. Together with artist Jason “Gonzo” Gonzalez (of La Mano del Destino fame) we worked together to slice into the building blocks of reality and reconstruct the synesthetic sensory education of a Latinx child with her papá. We worked long and hard to find then use specific storytelling devices that would convey the way children’s experience of the world is synesthetic and polymorphous: they smell tastes, touch sounds, visualize sounds. . . Choices of color and point of view proved important, too, as we wanted to create a story that celebrated Latinoness. And, I’m in the middle of a YA novel that gravitates around a set of Latinx teens living in Columbus, Ohio. I decided not to give shape to the story through the perspective of one character. Instead, I decided that each chapter would be told from the point of view of the respective character that makes up this storyworld. This allowed me to immerse readers in the subjectivity of all the different ways that Latinxs are in the world in terms of gender, sexuality, and class.

In my scholarship, discussions with Latinx children’s and YA authors, and my own creative work it’s clear to me that we are free to choose any and all shaping devices to tell reconstruct those building blocks of reality that make up our respective storyworlds.

CRR: Noticeably, breaking into the publishing industry has always held obstacles created by “gatekeepers.” Considering that most author’s in your book speak to the complicated nature of publishing in general, what are some ways of battling these gatekeepers to create greater representation of Latinx as consistently called for in your book? How do you see the work of these authors and the work you do in your book changing the academic field as a whole? How might Latinx studies in combination with children’s literature/young adult scholars improve the gap between “traditional” academic literature and children’s and young adult conversations? What challenges do you see the Latinx publishing community face in the current moment and upcoming future?

FLA: Unfortunately, Latinx authors continue to run up against road-blocks deliberately built by industry gatekeepers. We can and do create our fictions and nonfictions, but once we push these out into literary marketplace we face obstacles of all kinds.

The wonderful creators I interviewed for this book have all had a certain amount of struggle getting their work into the hands of readers—of all kinds. For this reason, we have been creating our own venues for getting Latinx children’s and YA literature into the world, from internet distribution to book series and grassroots grown publishing houses like Arte Publíco, Floricanto, Cinco Punto, Groundwood Books, Cedar Grove, and others. This fall I will launch a Latinx children’s and young adult tread-press series with University of Pittsburgh Press. And, internet venues like Latinx Kids Lit offer much needed forums for identifying all of our resplendent talent. This fall I will launch The Latinx Book Club through LASER, with an especial focus on children’s and young adult fiction. This will largely be an online forum moderated by myself and LASER Coordinator, Carlos Kelly. The Latinx Book Club will provide books to read and topics to consider as well as guide online discussions that will likely touch on all aspects concerning life for us Latinxs in the US.

CRR: Most the authors you interviewed in your book were college educated. Due to the lack of Latinx student who don’t even make it out of high school, do you find that publishing for Latinx youth a privileged position? Can you speak to how this level of education plays a role in publishing works about Latinx children/adolescents and childhood in general? Do you see the education level of the authors interviewed playing a viable role against the “gatekeepers” in the publishing world? Do you think this attribute may also deter aspiring Latinx authors who haven’t graduated high school? Or do you see the education level of so many Latinx authors influencing Latinx communities in a different way?

FLA: Education is becoming a scarce resource—no, commodity. So, growing a mind in a soil-rich learning environment where one can not only learn to read literature and undertake scientific discovery is becoming more and more for the Haves—and in this country, this remains steadfastly held by race (white) and gender (male) privilege. Until there’s a level playing field where all have access to the resplendent wonders of reading, writing, creating, making science and all else, this will be the case.

Latinx creators don’t have it easy by any means. Most of the Latinx authors interviewed in the book make huge sacrifices on a daily basis to be able to create their children’s and YA fictions. By this I mean, even the most, say, commercially successful authors work other jobs; the more fortunate find jobs attached to universities where they can teach (creative writing courses, for instance) that doesn’t intrude quite as much as jobs in completely unrelated areas.

CRR: Given that the literary academic community often belittles the study of children’s and young adult literature (or better put—doesn’t take it seriously), how do you think your book might change the way we talk about this issue? In other words, what role do you see Latinx children’s and young adult literature playing in the grand scheme of things?

FLA: Unfortunately, people confuse the seeming simplicity of children’s and YA fiction with simplemindedness. The scholarly work that you and I do along with our colleagues here at OSU like Michelle Abate and others across the country like Mary Pat Brady, Jamie Naidoo, and Philip Serrato, to name a few, not only reveals, say, the complexity of children’s and YA literature, in the long run and by accretion it legitimizes further, deeper study. Today you are writing a dissertation dedicated to Latinx children’s literature. This wasn’t possible when I was writing my dissertation—and not by a long shot.

CRR: What was your favorite part of publishing this collection of interviews? What other work are you considering pursuing on the topic of children’s and young adult Latinx themes?

FLA: As you can imagine, my favorite parts were: re-reading and reading anew all the fiction created by the many authors interviewed; and, learning deeply from the creators themselves. We know intuitively and even through our scholarly study a lot about how this literature works. However, it’s not until you speak with the creators that this knowledge comes alive—and is even radically revised.

As far as new work in this area, I’m singularly focused on creating a space for reading seriously (the LASER Latinx Book Club) and publishing (University of Pittsburgh Press trade-book series) Latinx children’s and YA fiction. As I mentioned already, I’ve just finished my children’s book, With Papá, and amcompleting a YA novel that’s filled with all variety of teen Latinxs.

CRR: Lastly, what advice would you give to anyone in the Latinx community who wants to pursue a career in the publishing world or artistic world—in and outside of academia?

FLA: My simple and brief advice: write and learn what you are passionate about and don’t take no for an answer.

For ordering information, visit University of Pittsburgh Press.

Author: Frederick Luis Aldama is Arts & Humanities Distinguished Professor and University Distinguished Scholar at The Ohio State University. In addition to Latino/a Children’s and Young Adult Writers on the Art of Storytelling, Dr. Aldama has published over 30 works of scholarship and fiction, including Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez, and Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands. He is creator of the first documentary on the history of Latinx comics and editor of numerous book series, including Latinographix—a trade-press series that publishes Latinx graphic fiction and nonfiction. Learn more at ProfessorLatinX.

Interviewer: Cristina Raquel Rivera is a Ph.D. candidate at The Ohio State University. She has published numerous articles on Latino/a children’s literature and animation, including recently “Branding ‘Latinohood,’ Juan Bobo, and the Commodification of Dora the Explorer” in The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Pop Culture. She works as a Hub Co-Cordinator for OSU’s LASER/Latinx Space for Enrichment Research to create higher education pipelines for Columbus’s Latinx youth.

Book Review: The Victoria In My Head by Janelle Milanes

 

Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK (from Simon & Schuster): A shy, rule-following teen winds up joining a local rock band in this laugh-out-loud, heartfelt coming-of-age novel.

Victoria Cruz inhabits two worlds: In one, she is a rock star, thrashing the stage with her husky voice and purple-streaked hair. In the other, currently serving as her reality, Victoria is a shy teenager with overprotective Cuban parents, who sleepwalks through her life at the prestigious Evanston Academy. Unable to overcome the whole paralyzing-stage-fright thing, Victoria settles for living inside her fantasies, where nothing can go wrong and everything is set to her expertly crafted music playlists.

But after a chance encounter with an unattainably gorgeous boy named Strand, whose band seeks a lead singer, Victoria is tempted to turn her fevered daydreams into reality. To do that, she must confront her insecurities and break away from the treadmill that is her life. Suddenly, Victoria is faced with the choice of staying on the path she’s always known and straying off-course to find love, adventure, and danger.

From debut author Janelle Milanes comes a hilarious and heartfelt tale of the spectacular things that can happen when you go after what you really want.

MY TWO CENTS: I’m not a voracious reader of romance novels for any age group. This book, however, completely caught me off guard. I won’t say that the book wasn’t predictable. It was, but it would have been disappointing if it had not been predictable.

Without giving too many details away, Victoria Cruz is growing up in a world where all outcomes are designed to please what she thinks others are expecting of her. The Victoria in her head wants so much to be her own person, but she has a hard time dealing with what she thinks her parents reactions will be. Her Cuban parents gave up everything in Cuba and have worked so hard in the United States to give Victoria and her brother the life that is often unavailable in countries like Cuba. Victoria, like so many children of immigrant parents, feels like telling them that she doesn’t want to become a doctor and graduate from Harvard will disappoint them in a way she’s not ready to accept. When she finally takes the plunge and starts rebelling in small ways (which she does with help from her best friend, Annie), Victoria finally starts feeling like herself. In doing this, of course, she lies to her parents, hiding her real self once she begins acting more like the “Victoria in her head.”

Here’s where the predictability sets in. Does Victoria get in over her head with the lies she’s telling to others? Yes. Does she inevitably have to face some truths that she’s been trying to hide from herself? Maybe. Does everything turn out well in the end? Quite possibly, but I don’t want to give any spoilers!

But as I mentioned, that’s not a disadvantage in this case! The version of herself that she tries to hide is a person who is passionate, easy-going, and even incredibly funny. In one passage, Victoria complains about a part of her female anatomy in a way that is “lmao” funny, but in a way that most anyone, regardless of gender, can empathize with. Herein lies Victoria’s real value. She’s a very likable character who makes questionable decisions (just like any of us), is afraid of disappointing her parents, sometimes is a little self-centered, but not maliciously. Readers will want her to succeed, to make the person she is in her head a reality.

Because of her Cuban background, the reader gets a taste of the Latinidad that she identifies with (large family gatherings, celebrating Noche Buena with her abuelita who never lets an opportunity to comment on Victoria’s vegetarianism pass, learning choreographed salsa dances because you’re in your cousin’s quince court). The thing that Milanes does particularly well is she makes Victoria more than just a Cuban-American. While her parents are a little obsessed with her being an exemplary child (for legitimate reasons, of course), Victoria is not defined just by her Cuban identity or her Latina ethnicity. Instead, those things are small parts of the compilation that is a more real representation of identity: where she comes from is important, but so is what she likes and dislikes, who she meshes well with, what her dreams are. The way that Milanes creates a “whole package” character in Victoria is what shines brightest in this book.

TEACHING TIPS: One important lesson to be learned from reading The Victoria In My Head is that it’s important to be true to yourself. Throughout the book, Victoria tries to deny the things that she wants out of life to either please those around her or be the model person that she thinks others want to see. The reader can see her grapple with her identity throughout, and can hopefully associate with her struggle and learn that compromising one’s identity to please the world often leads to catastrophe.

greeceABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Author’s Website): Janelle Milanes is originally from Miami, FL and received her BA in English Literature from Davidson College. A lifelong YA addict, she moved to New York for her first job as a children’s literature associate at Simon & Schuster. For the past five years, Janelle has worked as a teacher and librarian throughout the New York City area. Her first novel reflects many of her own experiences growing up as a second-generation Latina in America. Janelle currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite Disney princess is Belle, since she was also a big book nerd.

 

 

FullSizeRenderABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the Young Adult Librarian at the Hamilton Grange Branch of the New York Public Library. Originally from El Paso, Texas, she has lived in New York City for six years. She is a strong advocate of continuing education (in all of its forms) and is very interested in learning new ways that public libraries can provide higher education to all. She is also very interested in working with non-traditional communities in the library, particularly incarcerated and homeless populations. While pursuing her own higher education, she received two Bachelors of Arts degrees (in English and in History), a Masters of Arts in English, and a Masters of Library and Information Sciences. Katrina loves reading most anything, but particularly loves literary fiction, YA novels, and any type of graphic novel or comic. She’s also an Anglophile when it comes to film and TV, and is a sucker for British period pieces. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.