Book Review: Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry

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Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story.

MY TWO CENTS: In Tigers, Not Daughters, Samantha Mabry impossibly weaves the story of the Torres sisters, who are marred by grief and plagued by trauma. The novel opens with the Torres sisters, Jessica, Iridian, Rosa, and Ana, trying to make their escape from their negligent father. Their attempt is foiled, however, by a group of unwitting boys who often spy on Ana. Caught by their father, the sisters are returned home. Soon after, Ana attempts a solo escape, but this time she falls from her window. With Ana gone, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa are left bereft. Unable to cope, the sisters’ lives fall into disrepair.

Picking up a year after Ana’s untimely death, each sister narrates her own chapters in this book, with the boys who witnessed their initial escape acting as a sort of Greek chorus, alerting the reader to the Torres sister’s plight before Ana’s death. With Ana gone, Jessica tries to provide for the family, Iridian is lost in her writing, and Rosa has been attempting to learn to talk to animals. Their grief is palpable, and through Mabry’s delicate prose, their sorrow leaps off the page. But, as the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that the girls aren’t just plagued by the loss of Ana, but by her continued presence. 

Ana’s ghost makes itself known to all of the sisters, as well as the boys next door, in various forms. From spectral figures to animal encounters, the Torres sisters must contend with Ana’s spirit’s force upon their lives. As the tension rises, so too does the sense that not all is as it seems in the Torres’s world. The reader is left with a sense of urgency as well as a mounting fear that more tragedy is at the girls’ doorstep. 

Tigers, Not Daughters is simultaneously a story of one family’s very real grief and the very fantastic circumstances following Ana’s death. The combination is a heady one. Reading Tigers, Not Daughters, for me, was difficult. The book is at once un-put-down-able and one that you must take in small doses. Iridian’s chapters, in particular, felt like a knife to the heart. Her love for Ana is palpable and her guilt over Ana’s death is just as strong. I needed to know what happened next, but I often found myself reading as if I were peeping between my fingers, wanting to cover my eyes. And, what’s more, I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted to live with the Torres sisters for a little while longer. 

It’s difficult to explain the impact of Tigers, Not Daughters. Perhaps it’s because this book was so unlike any I’ve ever read before. It has hints of magical realism and horror, but it is certainly a creature of its own. While parts are somewhat muddled, they felt realistic to the inner turmoil experienced by Mabry’s multiple narrators. This may prove difficult for some readers, however. What’s more, some elements of Tigers, Not Daughters might prove alienating to readers who want a straightforward narrative (there’s an escaped hyena, just so you know), though these do ultimately get resolved and make sense to the overarching plot.

Mabry’s work has always captivated me (I’m a big fan of A Fierce and Subtle Poison). And that is no different in Tigers, Not Daughters. This book, released just as the pandemic was dawning, is certainly an antidote to the loneliness and listlessness we might all be feeling right now. Yes, the Torres sisters’ story is sad–but it’s also a story of love and triumph and family. It is the story of how three young women make sense of tragedy and rise above.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Samantha was born four days before the death of John Lennon. She grew up in Dallas, playing bass guitar along to vinyl records in her bedroom after school, writing fan letters to rock stars, doodling song lyrics into notebooks, and reading big, big books.

In college at Southern Methodist University, she majored in English literature, minored in Spanish, and studied Latin and classics. After that, she went on to receive a master’s degree in English from Boston College.

These days, she teaches at a community college and spends as much time as possible in the west Texas desert.

A FIERCE AND SUBTLE POISON (Algonquin Young Readers, spring 2016) was her first novel. ALL THE WIND IN THE WORLD, a Western, was published in the fall of 2017 and was nominated for the National Book Award for Young Peoples’ Literature. TIGERS, NOT DAUGHTERS released in the spring of 2020 and received six starred trade reviews.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities

Book Review: We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez

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Reviewed by Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD & Ingrid Campos

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Pulga has his dreams. Chico has his grief. Pequeña has her pride.

And these three teens have one another. But none of them have illusions about the town they’ve grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Even with the love of family, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the trio knows they have no choice but to run: from their country, from their families, from their beloved home.

Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico, they follow the route of La Bestia, the perilous train system that might deliver them to a better life–if they are lucky enough to survive the journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and desperation drumming through their hearts, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know there is no turning back, despite the unknown that awaits them. And the darkness that seems to follow wherever they go.

In this striking portrait of lives torn apart, the plight of migrants at the U.S. southern border is brought to light through poignant, vivid storytelling. An epic journey of danger, resilience, heartache, and hope.

OUR TWO CENTS: In We Are Not from Here (2020) Jenny Torres Sanchez tells the story of three Guatemalan teenagers Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña who, despite their loving families, are surrounded by danger in their pueblo, Puerto Barrios. The narrative voice switches between Pulga and Pequeña. At the beginning of the novel, Pequeña is about to give birth while also experiencing extreme rancor towards the baby and the baby’s father. Chico and Pulga are best friends, brought together by tragedy. After witnessing a horrific act of violence against a local store attendant, Chico and Pulga agree that it is best to risk the journey traveling to the United States than either work for or die at the hands of the local gang leader, Rey. Pequeña, who’s also afraid of Rey and desperate to escape, decides to join Chico and Pulga. The three flee wearing layers of clothes and their backpacks containing what’s left of their lives on what seems to be a never-ending and grappling journey aboard La Bestia, the fast-pace train known as the route most (im)migrants take to cross from Mexico to the United States. La Bestia is dangerous, and one wrong move may cost them their lives. The three of them travel from Guatemala to cities in Mexico like Ixtepec, Lecheria, and Guadalajara under extreme conditions. Their journey is full of new dangers and violence. Their commitment to one another and to a better life is what gives them hope and strength on their trek to the United States. 

With We are Not From Here, Torres Sanchez makes an important contribution to existing conversations around immigration through Mexico and into the United States. In the last decade, Central Americans have made up the majority of (im)migrants attempting to enter the U.S. through Mexico. In the U.S. popular imaginary, immigration at the U.S./Mexico border is often conflated with the Mexican experience. However, when we read and watch in the news about the babies, children, and parents in cages at the border, we cannot willfully ignore the fact that the majority of them are Central Americans fleeing the violence created by U.S. imperialism. Furthermore, it is also necessary to recognize the violence Central Americans experience at the hands of the Mexican state while journeying through Mexico. Chico, Pulga, and Pequeña experience these multiple levels of violence as they journey to the United States. 

One of the most significant aspects of this novel is the subtle critique of the violence Central American (im)migrants experience while traveling through Mexico. About half way through the novel, Pulga says, “‘Some don’t want us here […] We are to Mexico what Mexico is to the States” (Torres Sanchez 153). Later in the novel, Pulga adds, “Mexico doesn’t want us any more than the United States does. You’d be an immigrant here, Chico. If you try to work here, live here, whatever, Mexico will deport you right back, too” (Torres Sanchez 210). In both of these passages, Pulga points out the systemic violence they experience as Central Americans that is symptomatic of the U.S. empire. These young people in We Are Not From Here are very much aware that their subjectivity puts them at risk anywhere they go. All of this is not to say that Chico, Pulga, and Pequeña don’t experience kindness in Mexico–because they do. They stop at shelters who care for them, there are other Mexicans on La Bestia who try to guide them, and they make connections along the way that will help them further on. However, these individual acts of kindness do not erase the state-sanctioned violence against Central Americans in Mexico that needs to be addressed. Torres Sanchez touches on these topics with great care. There isn’t an overt, political critique but instead she allows her characters to make observations and share knowledge about the reality around them–which in and of itself is a political move. 

Torres Sanchez’s attention to language and voice captures the emotional turmoil of making this journey. The repetition of certain words or phrases helps emphasize the uncertainty and extremity of situations. For example, when the trio begin their journey, they have trouble with their sense of direction. Despite having had collected as much information as possible about the route, Pulga feels helpless: “And Pequeña and Chico are looking to me for answers. But I don’t know. I don’t know where to go. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know why I thought I could do this. I don’t know” (Torres 126.) Here the repetition reveals the anxiety Pulga feels at having been named the leader of the group without having a real sense of how to make the journey safely–never having done it before. The repetition also reminds the reader that the characters are young people making this journey on their own–there are no guides, just children risking their lives for a better one. The repetition of phrases, images, and memories are constant throughout the novel.

Additionally, the emphasis Torres Sanchez places on the characters’ internal thoughts allows readers to experience the roller coaster of emotions these young characters feel as they travel. In one instance, for example, Pulga and his friends are emotionally and physically exhausted as he narrates his thoughts: “I imagine I am an animal. Skulking through the darkness. Keen. Instinctive. Alert. Alive. Some don’t make it. But some do. Why not me? Why not us? I hold on to this thought as we walk. Why not me? my feet say with each pound to the ground. Why not us?” (Torres Sanchez 159). Pulga’s determination to continue walking, to push past exhaustion, demonstrates the inner strength needed to survive this journey. There are several, powerful moments like this throughout the novel where the characters must find individual strength and where they need to remind one another of that courage. That Pulga asks, “Why not me? Why not us?” is another example of Torres Sanchez’s talent with language because not only is Pulga trying to convince himself to keep going but these questions also force readers to question the value (or lack thereof) our society places on (im)migrant lives.

We Are Not From Here is a multi-layered story and Torres Sanchez tries to give space, not just to tell the story of the trio, but to also tell the story of a community and of many more unaccompanied minors. However, the character who stood out to us the most is Pequeña. Only the reader and the ghost bruja that appears to Pequeña every once in a while are witness to the sexual violence she endures in her hometown in Guatemala. When readying to join Pulga and Chico on their journey north, Pequeña chops off her long hair to pass for a boy because she knows of the violence women experience on this journey. After buying supplies at the market, she reflects:

I wonder if it’s coincidence that the razors and the switchblades are in the same area of the pharmacy as the birth control and morning after pills. At night, I go to sleep thinking of ways to be deadly. How to cover my body in razors. I imagine them covering my body like scales. I imagine anyone who touches me being cut and sliced and pierced. A warning. Nobody come near me.

(Torres Sanchez 87)

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The razors, the blades, and the contraceptives serve as ways for Pequeña, and young women like her, to protect her body because she knows that the world won’t–she knows from experience. This scene shows Pequeña’s pain and agency. She reveals to the reader the cruel reality of violence against women in different settings–at home and while (im)migrating. She indicates that this has happened to her. But by imagining herself covered in razor blades, she arms herself against patriarchal domination. She is readying herself to fight and survive at all costs. That she needs to live this way in the first place is terrible, but that she won’t surrender is a form of empowerment. 

There’s no denying that the trek on La Bestia through Mexico is traumatizing on various levels. But it’s also important to point out that this novel is also full of hope. One passage that stands out happens between Soledad, a woman in charge of a shelter in Mexico, and Pequeña. Soledad says, “You must always remember your name. Say it to yourself. You cannot forget who you are. La Bestia, the wind, a lot of people on the other side, they will try to make you forget. They will try to erase you. But you must always remember” (Torres Sanchez 208). Soledad ends this affirmation by repeating Pequeña’s given name. The act of remembering one’s name is also tied to family history, to culture, and to a sense of self. Soledad reassures Pequeña that what she knows about being an outsider is true–there will be those who “will try to erase you.” But she also encourages Pequeña that as long as she knows who she is, erasure is not an option. This naming scene is in contrast to an earlier scene in the novel, part of Torres Sanchez’s magic with repetition, where Pequeña comments on how the world tries to make her small, even her name is small (Torres Sanchez 12). Having Pequeña declare her given name and leave her nickname behind is an act of defiance to society’s attempt to make her small or to erase her entirely. 

Torres Sanchez has created tender and vulnerable characters with Chico, Pulga, and Pequeña. The authentic and harsh reality of this story is one of i(m)migrants fleeing violence and enduring violence for the sheer hope of a different possibility. We Are Not From Here is a beautiful and powerful must-read. Torres Sanchez tackles the story of three Guatemalan unaccompanied minors with compassion and fortitude.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: (From her website) Jenny Torres Sanchez is a full-time writer and former English teacher. She was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has lived on the border of two worlds her whole life. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and children.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWERSSonia Alejandra Rodriguez, PhD is an Associate Professor of English at LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) where she teaches composition, literature, and creative writing. Her academic research focuses on decolonial healing in Latinx children’s and young adult literature. Sonia is a Mellon Emerging Faculty Leader.

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Ingrid Campos is a 19-year-old college student interested in Latinx Literature. After graduating from LaGuardia Community College (CUNY) this year with an associates in Writing and Literature, she will continue her studies at Queens College to earn her Bachelors in English Education 7-12 . Ingrid was born and raised in Queens, New York. As a Mexican-American living in Queens and graduating from the public school system, Ingrid is inspired to become a high school teacher. One of her main goals is to center academic curriculums around more diversity and inclusivity towards Black and Brown students.

12 Afro-Latinx Kid Lit Creators You Can Support Right Now

 

Today, we would like to spotlight 12 Afro-Latinx creators in Kid Lit because:

  • the Kid Lit publishing world is overwhelmingly white,
  • the Latinx creators who do get published are largely white or white-passing,
  • racism, anti-blackness, and colorism are systemic plagues in Latinx communities, in addition to our communities at large,
  • and, as a result of all of the above, Afro-Latinx creators do not get the regular attention and respect they deserve.

We stand with the Black community and will use our blog to amplify the voices and work of Black creators more often. Many of us are also educators who are working within the K-12, higher education, and library systems to combat racism, shrink the achievement gap, and best serve our Black students and other students of color. We will continue to do this work.

Below, you will find information about the creators, links to their websites, and links to any past posts from our site. If you click on the book covers, you will go to IndieBound.org, where you can put money behind your support by buying books!

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Elizabeth Acevedo

From her website: Elizabeth Acevedo is a New York Times bestselling author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High. Her critically-acclaimed debut novel, The Poet X, won the 2018 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She is also the recipient of the Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction, the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and the Boston Globe-Hornbook Award. Additionally, she was honored with the 2019 Pure Belpré Author Award for celebrating, affirming, and portraying Latinx culture and experience.

Our review of THE POET X: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/03/08/book-review-the-poet-x-by-elizabeth-acevedo/

   

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Lily Anderson  Headshot - credit Chris Duffey.jpgLily Anderson:

From her website: I’m Lily, the curly haired gal in the pictures. I’m a writer from the slice of suburbs between Sacramento and San Francisco that could never get it together enough to be the Bay Area. After spending my childhood searching for books about mixed race kids who talk too fast and care too much, I decided to start writing my own.

My books are about snarky girls and emotional intelligence and sometimes monsters. As a woman of Afro-Puerto Rican decent, representing a diverse world isn’t a trend for me—it’s my greatest joy.

Our review of UNDEAD GIRL GANG: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/11/19/book-review-undead-girl-gang-by-lily-anderson/

   

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TransientVeronica Chambers

From her website: Veronica Chambers is a prolific author, best known for her critically acclaimed memoir, Mama’s Girl which has been course adopted by hundreds of high schools and colleges throughout the country. The New Yorker called Mama’s Girl, “a troubling testament to grit and mother love… one of the finest and most evenhanded in the genre in recent years.” Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, her work often reflects her Afro-Latina heritage.

She coauthored the award-winning memoir Yes Chef with chef Marcus Samuelsson as well as Samuelsson’s young adult memoir Make It Messy, and has collaborated on four New York Times bestsellers, most recently 32 Yolks, which she cowrote with chef Eric Ripert. She has been a senior editor at the New York Times MagazineNewsweek, and Glamour. Born in Panama and raised in Brooklyn, she writes often about her Afro-Latina heritage. She speaks, reads, and writes Spanish, but she is truly fluent in Spanglish. She is currently a JSK Knight fellow at Stanford University.

Our review of THE GO-BETWEEN: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/02/08/book-review-the-go-between-by-veronica-chambers/

        

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PictureTami Charles

From her website: Former teacher. Wannabe chef. Tami Charles writes books for children and young adults. Her middle grade novel, Like Vanessa, earned Top 10 spots on the Indies Introduce and Spring Kids’ Next lists, three starred reviews, and a Junior Library Guild selection. Here recent titles include a humorous middle grade, Definitely Daphne, picture book, Freedom Soup, and YA novel, Becoming Beatriz. When Tami isn’t writing, she can be found presenting at schools both statewide and abroad. (Or sneaking in a nap…because sleep is LIFE!)

Our Q&A with Tami Charles: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2019/10/03/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-12-tami-charles/

         

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Robert Liu-Trujillo

From his website: Robert Liu-Trujillo is a life long Bay Area resident. Born in Oakland California, he’s the child of student activists who watched lots of science fiction and took him to many demonstrations. Always drawing, Rob grew up to be an artist falling in love with graffiti, fine art, illustration, murals, and children’s books. In that order, sort of. Through storytelling he’s been able to scratch the surface of so many untold stories. Rob is the author and illustrator of Furqan’s First Flat Top. He’s a dad of a teenage boy and a brand new baby girl. He loves ice cream and his wife who laughs big and corrects his grammar every chance she gets. Down with the system and soggy french fries!

Rob is a co-founder of The Trust Your Struggle Collective, a contributor to The Social Justice Childrens Bk Holiday Fair, The Bull Horn BlogRad Dad,  Muphoric Sounds, and the founder of Come Bien Books.

Our review of FURQAN’S FIRST FLAT TOP: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/12/15/libros-latinxs-furqans-first-flat-topel-primer-corte-de-mesita-de-furqan/

Our review of ONE OF A KIND LIKE ME: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2017/05/04/book-review-one-of-a-kind-like-meunico-como-yo-written-by-laurin-mayeno-illustrated-by-robert-liu-trujillo/

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IMG_5888Torrey Maldonado

From his website: What do you get from teaching nearly 20 years in a middle school in the Brooklyn community that you’re from & you’re an author? Gripping relatable novels and real-life inspiration. Voted a “Top 10 Latino Author” & best Middle Grade & Young Adult novelist for African Americans, Torrey Maldonado was spotlighted as a top teacher by NYC’s former Chancellor. Maldonado is the author of the ALA “Quick Pick”, Secret Saturdays, that is praised for its current-feel & timeless themes. His newest MG novel, Tight, is a coming of age tale about choosing your own path. Learn more at torreymaldonado.com

Our review of TIGHT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/06/book-review-tight-by-torrey-maldonado/

Our Q&A with the Torrey Maldonado: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/09/04/spotlight-on-middle-grade-authors-part-6-torrey-maldonado/

   

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☆ Poet, Author, Editor, Lecturer, Scholar, ActivistTony Medina

From his website: Tony Medina is the author/editor of seventeen books for adults and young readers. Medina has taught English at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus and Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY and has earned an MA and PhD in English from Binghamton University, SUNY. The first Professor of Creative Writing at Howard University in Washington, DC, Medina’s latest books are I and I, Bob Marley (Lee & Low Books, 2009), My Old Man Was Always on the Lam (NYQ Books, 2010), finalist for The Paterson Poetry Prize, Broke on Ice (Willow Books/Aquarius Press, 2011), An Onion of Wars (Third World Press, 2012), The President Looks Like Me (Just Us Books, 2013) and Broke Baroque (2Leaf Press, 2013).

   

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Yesenia_HeadShotYesenia Moises

From her website: Bronx native, Afro-Latina, and illustrator on Monique Fields’ debut picture book Honeysmoke: A Story About Finding Your Color, Yesenia is a freelance toy designer and illustrator. Her work has been featured on various media outlets such as SyFy and NBC News. On the toy side of things, she worked with Mattel and Spin Master and has even dabbled in comics here and there with Action Lab and Image. She enjoys creating colorful and whimsical illustrations that depict people of marginalized backgrounds in worlds where even ordinary life can be vibrant and full of wonder. In a time where the world can be a scary place, she wants it to be filled with big hair, bright colors, and lots of sazón from the heart!

Her author-illustrator debut, Stella’s Stellar Hair, is set to release in January 2021.

Our Q&A with Yesenia Moises: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2018/12/06/spotlight-on-latina-illustrators-lulu-delacre-cecilia-ruiz-yesenia-moises/

 

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MaikaMouliteandMaritzaMouliteMaika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

From their website: Maika Moulite is a Miami native and daughter of Haitian immigrants. She earned a bachelor’s in marketing from Florida State University and an MBA from the University of Miami. When she’s not using her digital prowess to help nonprofits and major organizations tell their stories online, she’s writing stories of her own. She also blogs at Daily Ellement, a lifestyle website featuring everything from diverse inspirational women to career guidance. She’s the oldest of four sisters and loves Young Adult fantasy, fierce female leads, and laughing.

Maritza Moulite graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s in women’s studies and the University of Southern California with a master’s in journalism. She’s worked in various capacities for NBC News, CNN, and USA TODAY. An admirer of Michelle Obama, Maritza is a perpetual student and blogs at Daily Ellement as well. Her favorite song is “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire.

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Image may contain: one or more people and closeupSofia Quintero

Sofia Quintero is a writer, activist, educator, speaker, and comedienne. She is also the author of Show and Prove, Efrain’s Secret, and has written several hip-hop novels under the pen name Black Artemis. This self-proclaimed “Ivy League homegirl” graduated from Columbia and lives in the Bronx.

Our review of SHOW AND PROVE: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2015/06/18/libros-latins-show-and-prove/

 

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Eric VelasquezEric Velasquez

Eric Velasquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican illustrator born in Spanish Harlem. He attended the High School of Art and Design, the School of Visual Arts, and the famous Art Students League in New York City. As a children’s book illustrator, Velasquez has collaborated with many writers, receiving a nomination for the 1999 NAACP Image Award in Children’s Literature and the 1999 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent for The Piano Man. For more information, and to view a gallery of his beautiful book covers, visit his official website.

He is the illustrator of thirty books. Click here for a list of his work on his website.

Our review of GRANDMA’S GIFT: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2016/06/02/celebrating-pura-belpre-winners-spotlight-on-grandmas-gift-by-eric-velasquez/

Our review of GRANDMA’S RECORDS: https://latinosinkidlit.com/2014/02/13/libros-latinos-grandmas-records/

                 

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Ibi Zoboi

From her website: Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and a New York Times Notable Book. She is also the author of Pride and My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, a New York Times bestseller, and Punching the Air with co-author and Exonerated Five member, Yusef Salaam. She is the editor of the anthology Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Raised in New York City, she now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children.

   

 

 

Review of Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature

Reviewed by Cris Rhodes

Publisher’s Description of the Book: 

Contributions by Carolina Alonso, Elena Avilés, Trevor Boffone, Christi Cook, Ella Diaz, Amanda Ellis, Cristina Herrera, Guadalupe García McCall, Domino Pérez, Adrianna M. Santos, Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, Lettycia Terrones, and Tim Wadham

In Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature, the outsider intersects with discussions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The essays in this volume address questions of outsider identities and how these identities are shaped by mainstream myths around Chicanx and Latinx young people, particularly with the common stereotype of the struggling, underachieving inner-city teens. 

Contributors also grapple with how young adults reclaim what it means to be an outsider, weirdo, nerd, or goth, and how the reclamation of these marginalized identities expand conversations around authenticity and narrow understandings of what constitutes cultural identity. 

Included are analysis of such texts as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Shadowshaper, Swimming While Drowning, and others. Addressed in the essays are themes of outsiders in Chicanx/Latinx children’s and young adult literature, and the contributors insist that to understand Latinx youth identities it is necessary to shed light on outsiders within an already marginalized ethnic group: nerds, goths, geeks, freaks, and others who might not fit within such Latinx popular cultural paradigms as the chola and cholo, identities that are ever-present in films, television, and the internet.

MY TWO CENTS: In a departure from my usually reviewed materials for this website, I was delighted to jump into an academic text. I’ve reviewed fiction for Latinxs in Kid Lit, but this is a work of scholarship and thus, a very different read. Usually, when I review, I try to temper my scholarly focuses and think about what a readership of young people would enjoy. Here, however, the intended audience of the text is scholars like me! Thus, the publication of this edited collection was exciting, dating back to the moment when I spotted the original call for chapters and hoped that it would be just the right addition to our field. It is.

As scholars of Latinx children’s literature know, there is a paucity of edited volumes on the subject. In fact, only a few have been published, and all within the last several years. Importantly, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks furthers existing scholarly conversations about Latinx children’s literature by looking at “outsiders within an already marginalized community” (from the Introduction by editors Trevor Boffone and Cristina Herrera). For those outside of Latinx children’s literature scholarship: This area of study tends to focus on stereotypical portraits of young Latinxs–that is, the chola/a/x, inner-city kids, at-risk youth, etc. But, in focalizing other Latinx youth populations, this volume encourages engagement with very real, seldom interrogated Latinx adolescents. 

The book itself is neatly divided into different categories, allowing readers to hone in on chapters of particular interest to them. Though the title indicates that the book centers nerds, goths, geeks, and freaks–it actually does more than that, analyzing Latinx adolescents who are bookworms, or superheroes, or queer, or artists, in addition to those who fit within the identities listed in the book’s title. Such analyses of Latinxs who don’t settle in the stereotypical image of Latinx youth are much needed in the field of literary study and are also essential conversations for those of us who read and enjoy Latinx children’s books. Using the frameworks provided by Boffone and Herrera and their authors encourages us to spotlight Latinx youth literature that defies the single story often perpetuated about Latinxs. 

Cris Rhodes, the reviewer, in her teen years

For someone who identified, at some time or another throughout my own teen years, as a Latina nerd, goth, geek, and freak, seeing explorations of these identities in literature is affirming. I would’ve loved to have had a book like Gabi, A Girl in Pieces when I first decided I wanted to be a writer or The First Rule of Punk when I dyed half of my hair purple (not nearly as cool as the quetzal green Malú uses in the book). As a current scholar of children’s literature, I consider conversations about these textual moments as doing much good to our field. They highlight that studying Latinxs isn’t a niche occupation, but is integral to studying children’s literature as a whole. And, as a consumer of Latinx youth literature, I’m glad to see these books given their critical due. 

The chapters in this collection are academically rigorous and critical, yet accessible. This is one of the few scholarly texts that I would recommend for general readers (not just scholars), and particularly for older, adolescent readers headed into college. The writing modeled throughout is the kind of cogent, scholarly writing their professors and teachers will be looking for. Additionally, it should be largely understandable for those without a critical scholarly background, as each author does a good job of providing a foundation for the analyses they make. And, for anyone not fully comfortable reading scholarship, I encourage them to at least peruse the Table of Contents for ideas on quality fiction to read!

All in all, Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature is a solid academic text, a great invitation for new, Latinx youth literature scholars, and an intriguing library of excellent Latinx children’s books. 

TEACHING TIPS: Listen, I think all professors in the humanities (heck, also in STEM) should be teaching something about Latinx youth. If they’re not, then they’re doing a disservice both to their students and to the growing population of Latinx youth throughout the world. That being said, this volume would serve well in college-level education courses, especially for students at predominantly white institutions who have little previous exposure to studying Latinx youth or Latinx children’s literature. Additionally, I would teach the chapters in this volume in general literature courses or more specialized children’s or Latinx literature courses. (In fact, I’m a little miffed this volume wasn’t released before I taught my “Latinx Youth and Their Literatures” course!). Finally, as I explained in my review, the tone of each of the chapters is exemplary of good scholarly writing, thus I would also encourage teachers/professors to show this to students as a model of scholarly research and writing. 

The following chapter titles offer an additional glimpse of themes explored in Nerds, Goths, Geeks, and Freaks: Outsiders in Chicanx and Latinx Young Adult Literature:

Chapter 5: “Afuerxs and Cultural Practice in Shadowshaper and Labyrinth Lost“, by contributor Domino Pérez

Chapter 8: ” ‘These Latin Girls Mean Business’: Expanding the Boundaries of Latina Youth Identity in Meg Medina’s YA Novel, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass,” by editor-contributor Cristina Herrera

Chapter 12: “The Coming-of-Age Experience in Chicanx Queer Novels What Night Brings and Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” by contributor Carolina Alonso

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Cris Rhodes holds a Ph. D. from Texas A&M-Commerce. She is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.

Review: Running by Natalia Sylvester

 

Reviewed by Elena Foulis

SUMMARY FROM THE PUBLISHER: When fifteen-year-old Cuban American Mariana Ruiz’s father runs for president, Mari starts to see him with new eyes. A novel about waking up and standing up, and what happens when you stop seeing your dad as your hero—while the whole country is watching.

In this authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written debut novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was.

But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?

MY TWO CENTS: Natalia Sylvester’s YA debut novel, Running, is remarkable in many ways, but particularly in its attention to youth culture and the important role teens play in activism. Mariana (Mari) Ruiz, the protagonist, is a fifteen-year-old Cuban American girl, whose father is running for president but who has been in politics for most of his life. While the novel focuses on this Cuban-American family, and centers on Miami, Florida, as the geographical location of the story, it is not only about this. Sylvester masterfully weaves the complexity of growing up Latina/o with current issues of the region that resonate in other parts of the country, or are in some ways universal.

For example, Sylvester uses Spanish in the novel, especially in the dialogue between Mari’s parents and her abuelo, who lives with them, and we know that Mari understands it. At various points throughout the story, the protagonist reflects on the complexity of living in two languages and how incomprehensible literal translation is. I particularly enjoyed her reflection on the word desahogarse because I have used this word myself so many times and realize that some of the meaning is lost when you translate it. The novel also paints Latinx/Cuban-American identity by way of family traditions and food.

In the story, there are sociopolitical issues that Mari has heard about most of her short life but without understanding their gravity. For example, gentrification, water safety issues, and immigration. There are several moments throughout the novel when Mari is forced to think more critically about all these issues. She understands the impact of gentrification and water contamination more fully when her best friend, Vivi, along with Vivi’s recently divorced mother, are forced to leave their neighborhood. When Vivi moves to Miami Beach, she and her mother have to live in a small apartment with her aunt because they cannot afford anything in their old neighborhood. We also learn that Vivi’s grandmother ends up in the hospital due to water toxicity.

Mari, however, does not connect the dots that easily. She is also dealing with being the daughter of a politician. Along with this comes the pressure to be a perfect and supportive family. She also suffers the loss of privacy, which leads to cyberbullying–not to mention the usual challenges of being a teenager. When Vivi is forced to leave their high school, Mari connects with a group of students who are fighting for change by protesting and holding local leaders accountable. The group, called PODER, is made up of peers who are of Haitian, Dominican, and Peruvian ancestry, all with personal connections to some of the issues they advocate for. For example, Didier, whose family is Haitian, explains to Mari the different paths to immigration that Cubans and Haitians have had; one considered an exile and the other a refugee. It is through these encounters and personal stories that Mari begins to come into her own consciousness and political awareness; indeed, the political becomes very personal to her as she looks further into her own father’s voting record and his stand on issues. It is through PODER that she begins to understand the power of social media and technology in general. Yet, because of her family’s public life, she does not have access to these modes of communication and the political impact they wield.

As an orderly reader who reads books from beginning to end, I did not get to the author’s note which explains that the novel was inspired by real events until I had finished the story. Yet, throughout the novel, I kept thinking about the role played by young women like Emma Gonzalez from Parkland, Florida; Mari Copeny from Flint, Michigan; and Greta Thunberg, from Sweden, who have used their voices and the reach of social media to bring about action regarding gun control and environmental justice.

Instead of a traditional coming-of-age story, or even a love story, what Sylvester shows us is the growth of a leader and an activist. Mari—who grew up in politics, hearing her father’s speeches regarding family, justice, and community—slowly becomes aware of her own blindness on these issues. Although not fully explored in the novel, I would also like to add that the author reveals some of the dangers of technology. In this case, Mari becomes a victim of cyberbullying, but her newfound community helps her see that what happens is not her fault. This part of the story briefly addresses issues such as consent, shame and victim-blaming.

Given our current political environment, during a presidential election year and in the middle of a pandemic, I find this novel especially timely.

Note: This book’s release date is July 14, 2020, but is now available on pre-order. 

Photo credit: Eric Sylvester

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Natalia Sylvester is the author of two novels for adults, Chasing the Sun, and Everyone Knows You Go Home, which won an International Latino Book Award. Born in Lima, Peru, she grew up in Miami, Central Florida, and South Texas, and received a BFA from the University of Miami. Running is her YA debut. She lives in Austin, Texas, and can also be found at nataliasylvester.com

 

 

 

 

Elena Foulis

ABOUT 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. She is also producer and host of Ohio Habla.

 

 

Book Review: We Unleash the Merciless Storm by Tehlor Kay Mejia

 

Review by Cris Rhodes:

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Being a part of the resistance group La Voz is an act of devotion and desperation. On the other side of Medio’s border wall, the oppressed class fights for freedom and liberty, sacrificing what little they have to become defenders of the cause.

Carmen Santos is one of La Voz’s best soldiers. She spent years undercover, but now, with her identity exposed and the island on the brink of a civil war, Carmen returns to the only real home she’s ever known: La Voz’s headquarters.

There she must reckon with her beloved leader, who is under the influence of an aggressive new recruit, and with the devastating news that her true love might be the target of an assassination plot. Will Carmen break with her community and save the girl who stole her heart—or fully embrace the ruthless rebel she was always meant to be?

MY TWO CENTS: In this action-packed follow-up to her debut novel We Set the Dark on Fire, Tehlor Kay Mejia continues her revolutionary queer romance with a bang. Picking up moments after We Set the Dark on Fire ends, We Unleash the Merciless Storm shifts vantage points from Dani, the Primera wife whose secret identity as an undocumented immigrant from beyond Medio’s rigid borders complicates her life and causes her to tenatively join the resistance, to Carmen, who seemed to embody the social mores of Medio’s stratified and exclusive world, but is actually an undercover operative for the revolutionary group La Voz.

Readers will need to be familiar with We Set the Dark on Fire to fully grasp the extent of We Unleash the Merciless Storm. I found myself returning to the previous book to remember the intricacies of Medio’s social codes and to remind myself of character names and traits. This is not a stand alone book, and, I would wager, it’s a sequel best enjoyed immediately following reading (or rereading) the first novel.

The switch to Carmen as the main character proves an interesting counterpoint to Dani’s narrative in the first novel. Whereas Dani is largely unaware of the mounting resistance to Medio’s restrictive government, Carmen is deeply involved in the resistance. Carmen seems superficial and catty in the first novel, but We Unleash the Merciless Storm unravels that narrative, posing Carmen as an astute and powerful member of La Voz. But, her relationship with Dani was an unforeseen complication to her mission to unravel Medio from the inside.

It would be a typical narrative maneuver to have Carmen torn between her love for Dani and her loyalty to La Voz, but Mejia resists that stale plot. Rather, Carmen sees her loyalties to both Dani and La Voz as intertwined. Mejia’s explorations of Carmen’s motives seem authentic and they reflect the complex and competing emotions of resistance and love. Those who are looking for nonstop action may be frustrated with Carmen’s frequent reflections on her relationship with Dani, but these thoughts don’t seem out of place for someone like Carmen who was undercover for the majority of her formative years. Not only is Carmen contending with the loss of her love, but she’s also relearning how to be a part of La Voz after years away. Carmen’s wondering also reveals important questions about revolution. Is a political uprising necessarily violent? Can change be made without pain? As Carmen grapples with these questions, her loyalties to La Voz are questioned and she must prove herself while also remaining true to her values.

As with my feelings toward We Set the Dark on Fire, I found We Unleash the Merciless Storm to be the kind of novel that I longed for as a teenager (and, frankly, enjoyed immensely as an adult). The romance is there, of course, but it’s not the entire focus–and it shouldn’t be! I love a good romance, especially a queer romance, but the complexities of Medio’s government and La Voz’s revolutionary ideals give contemporary teens an important counterpoint to our own global politics.

 

Photo & Styling: Tia Reagan Photo  Editing: Adrian King

Photo & Styling: Tia Reagan Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Tehlor Kay Mejia is the author of the critically acclaimed young adult fantasy novel We Set the Dark on Fire and its sequel, We Unleash the Merciless Storm, and the forthcoming Miss Meteor (co-written with National Book Award nominee Anna-Marie McLemore). Her middle grade debut, Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, releases from Rick Riordan Presents in 2020.

Her debut novel received six starred reviews, and was chosen as an Indie’s Next Pick and a Junior Library Guild selection, as well as being an Indiebound bestseller in the Pacific Northwest region. It has been featured in Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, and O by Oprah Magazine’s best books of 2019 lists.

Tehlor lives in Oregon with her daughter, a dog that matches her hair, and several rescued houseplants. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

 

 

 

Cris Rhodes is an assistant professor of English at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She teaches courses of writing, culturally diverse literature, and ethnic literatures. In addition to teaching, Cris’s scholarship focuses on Latinx youth and their literature or related media. She also has a particular scholarly interest in activism and the ways that young Latinxs advocate for themselves and their communities.