Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

.

Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHERS: In Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, two boys in a border town fell in love. Now, they must discover what it means to stay in love and build a relationship in a world that seems to challenge their very existence.

Ari has spent all of high school burying who he really is, staying silent and invisible. He expected his senior year to be the same. But something in him cracked open when he fell in love with Dante, and he can’t go back. Suddenly he finds himself reaching out to new friends, standing up to bullies of all kinds, and making his voice heard. And, always, there is Dante, dreamy, witty Dante, who can get on Ari’s nerves and fill him with desire all at once.

The boys are determined to forge a path for themselves in a world that doesn’t understand them. But when Ari is faced with a shocking loss, he’ll have to fight like never before to create a life that is truthfully, joyfully his own.

MY TWO CENTS: After reading this book, I realized that this story is one of the sweetest and most heartwarming slice-of-life novels I have ever read. Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World describes the magic of falling in love for the first time– how terrifying and beautiful it is at the same time. In the first book, Dante opened up Aristotle’s eyes and made him face the truth about himself. Aristotle began to fall in love with Dante, but he still had difficulty opening himself up to others. In this novel, Aristotle’s love for Dante shakes up his whole universe and makes him realize that he shouldn’t shut off the people who love him.

Aristotle learns to open himself up to others along the way, and he makes lifelong friends who help him realize he was never truly alone. Dante, his family, and friends help Aristotle face the demons inside him that have been tucked away for a long time. They also help Aristotle get through one of the most significant life-altering moments of his life. I loved reading about these characters because they reminded me how life is about living it with the people you love. How Ari’s friends and family help him along the way is my favorite thing about this book because they are the exact kind of people anyone would be lucky to have in their life. The people who rally around Aristotle are the people you would want in your life forever.

In the first novel, the reader gets to know all the facets of Dante, but in this novel, he takes a bit of a backseat to other characters. Even though I loved the other characters in the book, I wanted more of Dante, especially since he goes through his life changes in this book and is the impetus for why Aristotle has changed so dramatically.

Besides Aristotle trying to find himself again, he also deals with the tumultuous world in the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic. Being a kid during the eighties and early nineties, I remember the devastation of this virus, but I never realized how much of a cultural impact it had on the entire world. Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Water of the World was the first book I read that eloquently describes the AIDS crisis and how the characters struggle with it and question their own identity in a world that hates who they love.

There are also thought-provoking discussions about what it means to be queer in a heteronormative society, especially the Latine culture’s reluctance to accept members of the LGBTQ community. The characters also deal with racism; the book perfectly analyzes the meaning of racism and delves into what makes someone racist. I enjoyed how the book made me think about serious issues and why people are the way they are. However, what I love most about this novel is its beautiful message — that learning how to love again could save us from ourselves.

.

TEACHING TIPS: Since Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World takes place during the AIDS epidemic, this would be an excellent opportunity to teach about the history of AIDS and how it has influenced society, then and now.

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books. He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature. A year later, he was awarded a Wallace E. Stegner fellowship. While at Stanford University under the guidance of Denise Levertov, he completed his first book of poems, Calendar of Dust, which won an American Book Award in 1992. He entered the Ph.D. program at Stanford and continued his studies for two more years. Before completing his Ph.D., he moved back to the border and began teaching at the University of Texas at El Paso in the bilingual MFA program.

His first novel, Carry Me Like Water, was a saga that brought together the Victorian novel and the Latin American tradition of magic realism and received much critical attention.

In The Book of What Remains (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), his fifth book of poems, he writes to the core truth of life’s ever-shifting memories. Set along the Mexican border, the contrast between the desert’s austere beauty and the brutality of border politics mirrors humanity’s capacity for both generosity and cruelty.

In 2005, he curated a show of photographs by Julian Cardona.

He lives and works in El Paso, Texas.

.

.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

Book Review: The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

.

Review by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION: New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.

To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.

When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

MY TWO CENTS: Last year was a good one for YA thriller and horror novels, but The Mary Shelley Club really stands out as exceptional in their midst. 

First, we’re presented with a solid plot that is very action driven, urging readers to race through this thriller. Goldy Moldavsky pulls the reader in with a plot line that is unique and riveting, keeping us guessing until the very, very end. The main character, Rachel Chavez, avidly watches horror films as a coping mechanism after suffering a traumatic event while at home alone on Long Island. After the event, she and her mom move to Brooklyn to give her a fresh start. In New York City, as an outsider at her new prestigious Manhattan school, Rachel finds herself without an ally — until the pranks begin. Once she’s falsely accused of pranking the most popular girl in school, Rachel finds a group of potential friends in a very unexpected way. This group, who call themselves the Mary Shelley Club, vie against each other to see who can come up with (and implement) the scariest prank, one which will incite real fear. 

It’s very easy to root for Rachel, even though her decisions might seem interesting, or even strange, given her past trauma. You want her to belong to a group that cares about her (though whether TMSC does that or not is debatable); you want to see her come to terms with her trauma (though, again, whether her horror fixation and TMSC do that is not immediately evident). Moldavsky is so good at writing horror, though, that it’s hard not to fall into the traps that horror movies often set up for their protagonists. The cast of characters emphasizes how hard it is to trust our instincts as readers. The four club members, including Rachel, are all mysterious in their own ways. 

I’m not a big fan of reading about pranks, as they often make me exceedingly uncomfortable. However, Moldovsky weaves them in such an integral way into the plot that they do just what good horror should do — make the reader terribly uneasy while making it impossible to look away. With a cast of characters that we cannot quite trust doing awful things to the people around them, readers will fly through this book wondering with a growing sense of foreboding, worried that Rachel is in mounting danger, unsure if she’s going to make it out without becoming a victim herself. The changes in point of view during the pranks also jars the reader with a sense of the unknown; after becoming comfortable with Rachel’s point of view, the flow is thrown into confusion with the sudden introduction of a new narrator. It hammers home the awareness of something awry, but it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what. Once the reader is sure that they know who to look to for safety, the twist hits. 

The Mary Shelley Club is a truly thrilling read, full of terrifying moments, untrustworthy characters, and tons of horror movie trivia. It’s perfect for any readers who are looking for some hair-raising pranks and a twist like you’ve never seen before.

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Goldy Moldavsky was born in Lima, Peru, and grew up in Brooklyn, where she still lives. Her novels include the New York Times bestseller, KILL THE BOY BAND, NO GOOD DEED (Scholastic), and THE MARY SHELLEY CLUB (Henry Holt). Her books have appeared on numerous Best-Books lists and have been translated to other languages. Her love of 80s movies, 90s boy bands, and horror flicks hugely influences her work.

.

The paperback of THE MARY SHELLEY CLUB releases 8/30/22. Goldy’s newest book, LORD OF THE FLY FEST also releases on 8/30/22. Here’s the amazing cover:

.

.

FullSizeRender

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the manager of the New York Public Library’s College and Career Pathways program. 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. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat

Book Review: Thirty Talks Weird Love by Alessandra Narváez Varela

.

Review by Katrina Ortega

Cover for Thirty Talks Weird Love

DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): Out of nowhere, a lady comes up to Anamaría and says she’s her, from the future. But Anamaría’s thirteen, she knows better than to talk to some weirdo stranger. Girls need to be careful, especially in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico—it’s the 90’s and fear is overtaking her beloved city as cases of kidnapped girls and women become alarmingly common. This thirty-year-old “future” lady doesn’t seem to be dangerous but she won’t stop bothering her, switching between cheesy Hallmark advice about being kind to yourself, and some mysterious talk about saving a girl.

Anamaría definitely doesn’t need any saving, she’s doing just fine. She works hard at her strict, grade-obsessed middle school—so hard that she hardly gets any sleep; so hard that the stress makes her snap not just at mean girls but even her own (few) friends; so hard that when she does sleep she dreams about dying—but she just wants to do the best she can so she can grow up to be successful. Maybe Thirty’s right, maybe she’s not supposed to be so exhausted with her life, but how can she ask for help when her city is mourning the much bigger tragedy of its stolen girls?

This thought-provoking, moving verse novel will lead adult and young adult readers alike to vital discussions on important topics—like dealing with depression and how to recognize this in yourself and others—through the accessible voice of a thirteen-year-old girl. 

MY TWO CENTS: I’m always a proponent for books that take place in settings of which I’m familiar. Growing up in El Paso in the 90s, just across the international border from Ciudad Juárez, I found myself sucked into a world that I remember all too well while reading this. Narváez Varela paints a picture of the turn of the century border city with such precision, it felt like memory. The great thing is that, while I recognize and can envision what Anamaría sees when she’s at school, and I can hear and see what music she’s listening to and what TV she’s watching, teens today will also be able to relate. They’ll be able to see familiar faces in the students that Anamaría goes to school with, relate to her struggles with school and with her family, might recognize her grappling with mental illness threatening to take over her life, and might possibly understand what it’s like to live in a reality where one’s own life and well-being feels constantly threatened. 

Violence against women is not a new social ill throughout the Americas, as is evident in this book. Centering the femicides that happened in Ciudad Juárez in the 1990s-2000s as part of this story helps connect the extreme violence that plagued the community in that era with what continues to be the case today in many areas around the Americas. It also helps to show readers how much of an impact her environment has on Anamaría , which is unfortunately something that teens still have to manage today. 

Additionally, the focus on Anamaría’s mental health is one of the standout components of this book and something that many readers, regardless of age, will recognize. The depression she’s dealing with as a result of her environment and the state of her community is something that will resonate with many teens today. Her obsession with being the top student in her class, her inability to sleep, and her suicidal thoughts are all things that many teens deal with, even though it’s just as unhealthy now as it was in the late 1990s. Readers, particularly teens, may find themselves easily identifying with Anamaría’s situation and her frame of mind: she wants to please her parents, wants to be the best version of herself, and wants to win.

The use of a “mentor” like Thirty is an excellent device because it shows Anamaría (and readers) a future that is hopeful–one where the decisions that she makes today don’t cease her existence, but instead create a new timeline that allows a wiser version of herself to show her all of the possibilities her future holds. The mentorship that Thirty offers to Anamaría prompts her to rethink her priorities, open up to her parents, begin to reflect on why she does what she does, and start healing herself by making choices that will improve her mental health, rather than sacrifice it for the sake of others. 

As a debut novelist, Narváez Varela does an incredible job of putting her verses together, so that they tell a clear narrative while also enticing the reader with beautiful language. Exposure to different kinds of poetry can be a wonderful introduction to literature for all readers, but is especially so for hesitant readers. Mixing both English and Spanish together in her verses will help any reader see the poeticism of the border language spoken in areas like Ciudad Juárez/El Paso, and Narváez Varela combines them in a way that is clear enough for any reader to understand. 

Finally, there was a perfect balance of reality and magic realism woven throughout this novel. Thirty’s character, a visitor from the future who is there to try to change Anamaría’s point of view (thereby changing the actions that she takes), is a believable one. She appears to be the same as any person on the street that Anamaría sees every day, rather than some mystical outsider. She gets along with people in Anamaría’s life, and pops into her daily routine sparsely to give her more bits of the story from the future or nuggets of advice. The steadiness of her presence seems to bolster Anamaría throughout, and really makes the entire thing perfectly believable for the reader. 

Thirty Talks Weird Love was a powerful read that will resonate with readers of all ages. 

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alessandra Narváez Varela is a poet and teacher born and raised in Ciudad Juárez, México. 

Her first book, Thirty Talks Weird Love, a young-adult novel in verse, was published on November 2, 2021 by Cinco Puntos Press, an imprint of Lee and Low Books. The audiobook, narrated by the author, was released by Listening Library on the same date.

She has published her poetry in Poets.org, Huizache, Acentos Review, Duende, The Normal School and TAYO. She was featured in “Seeking a Voice, Via a Bilingual M.F.A., in Writing and in Life,” an article in the New York Times Education Life section, where she spoke of her experience as a bilingual poet who writes mostly in English, instead of Spanish, her native tongue. Her, a chapbook, was published by the University of Houston, the Department of Hispanic Studies.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Texas at El Paso, where she is now a lecturer.

.

.

.

FullSizeRender

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Katrina Ortega (M.L.I.S.) is the manager of the New York Public Library’s College and Career Pathways program. 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. In her free time, if she’s not reading, Katrina loves to walk around New York, looking for good places to eat.

Book Review: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi

.

Reviewed by María Dolores Águila

.

DESCRIPTION OF BOOK: Fourteen-year-old Iranian-American Parvin Mohammadi sets out to win the ultimate date to homecoming in this heartfelt and outright hilarious debut.

Parvin Mohammadi has just been dumped – only days after receiving official girlfriend status. Not only is she heartbroken, she’s humiliated. Enter high school heartthrob Matty Fumero, who just might be the smoking-hot cure to all her boy problems. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to Homecoming, she’s positive it will prove to herself and her ex that she’s girlfriend material after all. There’s just one problem: Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself hasn’t worked for her in the past (see aforementioned dumping), she decides to start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those women aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk.

But Parvin discovers that being a rom-com dream girl is much harder than it looks. Also hard? The parent-mandated Farsi lessons. A confusing friendship with a boy who’s definitely not supposed to like her. And hardest of all, the ramifications of the Muslim ban on her family in Iran. Suddenly, being herself has never been more important.

Olivia Abtahi’s debut is as hilarious as it is heartfelt – a delightful tale where, amid the turmoil of high school friendships and crushes, being yourself is always the perfect way to be.

.

MY TWO CENTS: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi is a hilarious, fun, fast-paced yet surprisingly deep read; long after I read it, I found myself thinking about the themes hidden under the shiny veneer of the Rom-Com label. 

Parvin, pronounced PAR-veen with a hard A, not Par-vin, is about to start high school with a boyfriend she met while playing pranks on the beach during summer vacation, and she can’t wait to flaunt him to her friends, Ruth and Fabián, who may or may not believe he is a delusion. But Wesley is real, and at their high school orientation, he dumps her for being “too much” in front of everyone and the shock leaves her lying on the linoleum, with her friends scrambling to resuscitate her with an empty Hot Cheetos bag. Later, she muses:

Who cared if my friends and family like my ‘amazingness’? If potential boyfriends didn’t, then what was the point? What Wesley told me yesterday was right: I was too much…I was Parvin ‘Loud’ Mohammadi. It seems like everyone knew it but me.” 

After running into Wesley and his perfect new girlfriend, Teighan, who is “everything I was not”, and finding out they are going to Homecoming together, Ruth and Fabián try to cheer Parvin up with an emergency sleepover at which they watch The Little Mermaid, The Princess Bride, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After watching these films, Parvin “finally cracks the code for why I’d never had a boyfriend before, and why the one I did have dumped me so quickly…I was too chatty for a love story of my own.” Ruth and Fabián try to convince Parvin that she should find someone who likes her the way she is, but Parvin’s set on the idea that she must change herself into a “leading lady” in order to find a new boyfriend and make Wesley regret dumping her. 

She stops wearing the sparkly silver eyeshadow Ameh Sara taught her how to apply via Skype. She stops wearing her favorite clothes. She stops playing pranks and eating Hot Cheetos. She straightens her “…curls that are ‘loud’ in their own way.” She argues with her parents about going to Farsi lessons, even though there’s a cute Iranian boy that seems to like all the things Parvin is trying to change, because she’d rather spend her weekends like a “normal high schooler”.  

The friendship between Parvin, Fabián, and Ruth is the backbone of the story and carries us through the plot to the resolution. Fabián and Ruth are more than just Parvin’s friends – they’re fully realized characters with their own desires, goals, and arcs that intersect, complement, and at times, even oppose Parvin’s. Fabián is a gay Mexican American Tik Tok star who uploads amazing dance videos and whose parents are always busy with their jobs at the Mexican Embassy. Ruth is a pansexual crafter with a demanding Mom who is a professor at Georgetown University, and she’s not sure how to tell her mom about the girl she has a huge crush on. They both urge Parvin to embrace who she is and their friendship becomes strained as Parvin stubbornly clings to the idea that she needs to change. 

A secondary plot is the relationship with Ameh Sara, Parvin’s aunt, who lives in Iran, Skypes with her almost daily, is Parvin’s closest confidant, and is supposed to visit her in the fall. As Parvin’s plans begin unraveling and falling into chaos, Parvin desperately believes that if she can just hold out until Ameh Sara comes to visit her, she can still prevail with her “leading lady” plan. But Trump’s Muslim Ban complicates Ameh Sara’s visit. 

As Parvin gradually and subtly begins losing herself in her quest to become a “leading lady” and snag a date for Homecoming, sacrificing pieces of herself, she must decide: is it worth changing herself for someone else?

Avid romance readers will be able to spot the resolution of various romantic arcs quickly, but it doesn’t take away from the story in the slightest. It still feels fresh, fun, and unexpected.

Where Perfectly Parvin shines is the narrative voice – Parvin’s actions, thoughts, relationships, desires, problems, and mistakes feel authentic and appropriate to that of a fourteen-year-old high school freshman. It was refreshing to read a YA Novel on the younger side of the YA spectrum, especially since around that age, many adolescents are questioning who they are and who they want to be, and Perfectly Parvin explores the answer in all its glorious messiness. Loud, rebellious girls who may not relate to the shy and introverted heroine trope often found in YA literature will connect to Parvin and her struggle to become quiet and demure. There’s something deeply cathartic about reading someone experiencing something you’ve considered doing yourself. 

In the end, the reader is told a powerful message through Ameh Sara, “Just be yourself. I know people always say that, but only you get to decide what that means.” 

In Perfectly Parvin, Olivia Abtahi skillfully explores themes of racial identity, womanhood, family relationships, Western beauty standards, friendship, politics, and first love in a way that never feels heavy-handed or didactic. In fact, it discusses these concepts in such a way that you don’t realize exactly how deep the book is until you’ve finished it and you’re thinking about it later. I highly recommend reading the Author’s Note, as it really ties together why Abtahi made the narrative choices she did. Readers who enjoyed From Little Tokyo with Love by Sarah Kuhn and Made in Korea by Sarah Suk or fans of On My Block and Never Have I Ever on Netflix, will likely be delighted with Perfectly Parvin.

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website): Olivia Abtahi is a film director and writer based in Denver, Colorado. Born to an Iranian father and an Argentine mother, she is a melting pot of distinct cultures. Olivia holds a BFA from NYU’s School for Film and Television, as well as a Masters in advertising from VCU Brandcenter. From print to video to all things online, Olivia enjoys using different mediums to tell better stories for brands, causes, and communities.

.

.

.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: María Dolores Águila is a Chicana writer based in San Diego, California. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels celebrating and exploring the nuances of Chicanx culture and identity. She’s also a moderator of Kidlit Latinx, a writing group dedicated to supporting and amplifying Latinx voices in Children’s Literature. She has a forthcoming picture book coming in 2024. She is represented by Lindsay Auld of Writers House Literary Agency. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter.

Book Review: Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins

.

We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Reviewed by Alexandra Someillan

Cover for Like a Love Song (Underlined Paperbacks)

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Natalie is living her dream: topping the charts and setting records as a Brazilian pop star… until she’s dumped spectacularly on live television. Not only is it humiliating–it could end her career.

Her PR team’s desperate plan? A gorgeous yet oh-so-fake boyfriend. Nati reluctantly agrees, but William is not what she expected. She was hoping for a fierce bad boy–not a soft-hearted British indie film star. While she fights her way back to the top with a sweet and surprisingly swoon-worthy boy on her arm, she starts to fall for William–and realizes that maybe she’s the biggest fake of them all. Can she reclaim her voice and her heart?

MY TWO CENTS: Like a Love Song was the ultimate light-hearted book to get me out of my book funk, and it was the kind of book that reminded me why I love rom-coms so much. Gabriela Martins captures pop culture celebrities today and what it’s like living in a microscope. Natalie faces the pressures of being an international pop star as a young Latina trying to please everyone while dealing with one of the most humiliating breakup in front of the whole world.

As a registered celebrity-obsessed addict, nothing fascinates me more than a book that discusses the complexities of social media and how every move a celebrity makes is dissected and judged, even more so when it comes to young female stars. Natalie is the kind of character that reminds us of famous pop stars like Selena Gomez or Britney Spears and the intense media scrutiny they endure daily. She faces the heartbreaking reality of the constant expectation to be the poised and perfect pop star even after having her celebrity boyfriend break up with her on live television seconds before receiving her award.

Just like in the typical pop culture of today, Natalie getting dumped becomes a meme that is constantly posted and retweeted on social media. The author explores the distinction between male and female celebrities in a nuanced way and provides a realistic portrayal of who the public usually chooses to target in the aftermath of a scandal. Unfortunately, Natalie is the target, and her ex-boyfriend Trent comes out unscathed while her PR team scrambles to save Natalie’s career. Of course, the PR strategy involves getting her a fake boyfriend when all Natalie wants is to hide under the covers and stalk her ex-boyfriend’s Instagram.

Even though I thought that the relationship between Natalie and William was one of the most adorable opposites-attract love stories with all the rom-com feels, I came out of the story wanting more between these two characters. Normally, I am all about insta-love stories. Still, I felt that the relationship that developed between Natalie and William was a bit rushed, and this is probably due to the book being a relatively short read. Other than that, there were plenty of swoon-worthy parts in this book, and there were many times I caught myself smiling from ear to ear, loving the dynamic between a world-famous, glamorous pop singer and an indie actor with quirky socks.

One of Natalie’s main struggles that I found deeply relatable revolves around the theme of identity and what it means to be Brazilian. Throughout the story, Natalie questions her heritage and feels alienated from her Brazilian family. She chooses to assimilate to American culture, but she knows deep inside that something is missing. I loved the journey that Natalie goes through to find herself, and it’s something I can understand growing up Cuban-American in an extremely Americanized family.

This book is needed in Latinx publishing because it is one of the few rom-coms written by a Brazilian author, with a Brazilian main character, with queer representation, and features all the rom-com tropes we all know and love! Like a Love Song is the kind of story that reminds us to be ourselves instead of trying to meet other people’s expectations. When you are yourself, the people who accept you are the people who will be around you for life.

TEACHING TIPS: Gabriela Martin’s book could be used in a life skills class, where students could discuss the pressures of representing certain parts of yourself on social media and how to deal with online bullying.

The resource I recommend is from Mike’s Math Mall on https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Anti-Bullying-Campus-Social-Media-Campaign-using-Language-Arts-Story-Elements-436818.

There is a great activity where you can divide students into groups of four. You can have them create a social media campaign poster, skit, video, Instagram post, or short story related to online bullying, challenging the pressures of social media and learning how to protect yourself from cyberbullying. The activity includes many graphic organizers and templates students can use to organize their ideas.

.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from her website https://www.gabrielawrites.com/): GABRIELA MARTINS is a Brazilian kidlit author and linguist. Her stories feature Brazilian characters finding themselves and love. She was a high school teacher and has also worked as a TED Ed-Club facilitator, where she helped teens develop their own talks in TED format to present. She edited and self-published a pro-bono LGBTQ+ anthology (KEEP FAITH) with all funds going to queer people in need. When she’s not writing, she can be found cuddling with her two cats, or singing loudly and off-key.

.

.

.

.

.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Alexandra Someillan is a freelance book reviewer and teacher who lives in Miami, FL. She has written for Frolic Media, where she has raved about her favorite Latinx romances. Currently, she has been accepted in the Las Musas mentorship and is working on her Latinx contemporary novel with Nina Moreno. Usually, you can find Alexandra obsessing over nineties pop culture and eating too many pastelitos.

Book Review: Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

.

We are an affiliate with Indiebound and Bookshop. If If you make a purchase through these links, at no additional cost to you, we will earn a small commission.

Reviewed by María Dolores Águila

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Mateo Garcia and his younger sister, Sophie, have been taught to fear one word for as long as they can remember: deportation. Over the past few years, however, the fear that their undocumented immigrant parents could be sent back to Mexico started to fade. Ma and Pa have been in the United States for so long, they have American-born children, and they’re hard workers and good neighbors. When Mateo returns from school one day to find that his parents have been taken by ICE, he realizes that his family’s worst nightmare has become a reality. With his parents’ fate and his own future hanging in the balance, Mateo must figure out who he is and what he is capable of, even as he’s forced to question what it means to be an American.

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible is a remarkable story — both powerful in its explorations of immigration in America and deeply intimate in its portrait of a teen boy driven by his fierce, protective love for his parents and his sister.

MY TWO CENTS:  I read this book in one sitting. I couldn’t put it down because I had to find out what was going to happen to Mateo and Sophie. Daniel Aleman does an amazing job of pulling the reader deeper and deeper into Mateo’s world with every turn of the page.

“Ma is always telling me how I feel too much.” 

This is the opening line of the novel, and it does an excellent job of encapsulating who Mateo is and helps the reader understand Mateo’s point of view. When things are heavy, they drag him down. When things are good, he’s floating on air. 

Within the first ten pages, the stakes of the story become apparent. Mateo’s working at his parent’s bodega, Adela’s Corner Store, stacking tortillas, when an ICE Agent comes and asks about his father. As the cashier informs the ICE Agent that Mateo’s father is not there, Mateo watches in horror, cycling through emotions – shock, fear, and ultimately numbness.

For a few days, the Garcia family is in limbo, constantly looking over their shoulder, while they wait to see what’s going to happen. When will they come back? And why is ICE looking for Mateo’s father anyway? Enough time passes and the family writes the incident off as a fluke, and Mateo goes back to focusing on his SAT and GPA so he can go to NYU and pursue his Broadway dreams. 

The next day, he’s hit with the worst news possible: his parents were arrested by ICE while he was at school. 

Mateo’s world is flipped upside down, and as a reader, I was devastated when he had to tell Sophie the news. Mateo finds himself as the head of household, having to take care of his parent’s bodega, their apartment, and his little sister. He turns inward, and keeps what happened to himself, not even telling his best friends Adam and Kimmie what has transpired.

It’s heart wrenching to read about the impacts on a family ripped apart by ICE, and readers will empathize with Mateo’s struggle to keep his emotions contained and act like nothing happened. When things can’t get any worse, we learn that CPS is looking for Mateo and Sophie. In a desperate bid to keep his sister with him, Mateo contacts his Uncle Jorge, who’s really a family friend, and asks to stay with him until his parents have their court hearing. 

While Uncle Jorge is happy to have Mateo and Sophie stay at his apartment, his wife Amy, who just had a baby, is not thrilled. Pressure builds as they struggle to cohabitate and learn that his parents’ court hearing did not go in their favor. They have been deported and find themselves back in Mexico after building a life in the United States for the last twenty years. 

It’s another blow. Mateo had been hoping against hope that things would go back to normal, but it’s clear now that things will never be the same. Sophie takes the news worse than Mateo does. She is crushed by the turn of events and falls into a deep depression.

Meanwhile, Mateo’s parents struggle to find jobs, housing, and a way to support themselves. They want the kids to stay in the United States and finish their schooling, but Sophie is desperate to be reunited with their parents. Mateo doesn’t know how he is supposed to continue to take care of the bodega, their apartment, and Sophie while pursuing his dreams now that he knows his parents are not coming back anytime soon.

This further complicates the situation with Uncle Jorge, where a temporary stay has turned indefinite, escalating the tension in the household and things begin to unravel. 

Daniel slowly realizes that he cannot do it by himself, and he reluctantly opens up to his friends about what’s happened. To his surprise, they rally around him, supporting him in ways he never expected.

Mateo’s story ends on an unexpected, yet bittersweet note, tinged with sadness, but still full of hope. 

“And no matter how hard they tried to separate us, how much the distance hurt, or how it nearly broke us, we are really, truly indivisible.”

Daniel Aleman’s Indivisible masterfully weaves a raw and heartfelt story that dares the reader to look away from the aftermath of what happens when ICE tears apart a family. Aleman challenges readers to examine their own biases when it comes to immigration and the myth of the “good immigrant”. At the core of this story, we discover how love allows perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and propels us through it. In between these moments of deep despair, there is also levity, in the form of a sweet queer romance with someone who Mateo never expected and other tiny bits of joy with his best friends, that give the reader reprieve. The themes of this text — immigration, mixed status families, citizenship, family, love, hope, and friends — easily lead to complex discussions for book clubs and classrooms. Fans of We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sánchez, I’m Not You’re Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sánchez, and Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez will enjoy reading this book.

Daniel%20Aleman%20-%20Author%20Pic_edite

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website): Daniel Aleman was born and raised in Mexico City. A graduate of McGill University, he is passionate about books, coffee, and dogs. After spending time in Montreal and the New York City area, he now lives in Toronto, where he is on a never-ending search for the best tacos in the city. He is the debut author of Indivisible, a young adult novel available now from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

.

.

.

.

.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER: María Dolores Águila is a Chicana writer based in San Diego, California. She writes picture books, middle grade and young adult novels celebrating and exploring the nuances of Chicanx culture and identity. She’s also a moderator of Kidlit Latinx, a writing group dedicated to supporting and amplifying Latinx voices in Children’s Literature. She has a forthcoming picture book coming in 2023. She is represented by Lindsay Auld of Writers House Literary Agency. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter