Book Review: Indivisible by Daniel Aleman

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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.

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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.

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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

Celebrating 25 Years of the Pura Belpré Award: A Conversation with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez

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The Pura Belpré Award is named after Pura Belpré, the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library. The Pura Belpré Award, established in 1996, is presented annually to a Latinx writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

We have been marking the award’s 25th anniversary in different ways on the blog. Today, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Cecilia Cackley talk with Guadalupe García McCall and Yamile Saied Méndez.

Photo by Michael Mercado Smith

Guadalupe García McCall is a young adult novelist, educator, poet, and speaker. Born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, she immigrated with her close-knit family to Eagle Pass, Texas (the setting for most of her poems and some of her novels) when she was six years old.

Guadalupe is the author of Under the Mesquite (MG, Lee & Low Books, 2011), an autobiographical novel in verse based on her family’s difficult times, struggling with loss and grief during her teenage years. Her second novel, Summer of the Mariposas (MG, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2012), is a magical retelling of the Odyssey starring five Mexican-American sisters and featuring monsters and legendary characters from Mexican mythology.

Guadalupe’s third novel, Shame the Stars (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2016), is a historical reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet set during the tumultuous times at the turn of the century known as La Matanza (the slaughter/genocide). Her latest book, All the Stars Denied (YA, Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, 2018) is a companion novel to Shame the Stars and illustrates the struggles of the del Toro family 16 years later, during the 1930’s repatriation of more than a million Mexican and Mexican-Americans, 600,000 of which were US citizens.

Guadalupe’s fifth novel, The Keeper, a MG Horror/Mystery about a boy who receives increasingly threatening letters from a stranger who calls himself “the Keeper” will be available from Harper Collins on January 25, 2022, and her sixth novel, Echoes of Grace, a YA gothic set on the US/Mexico borderlands which explores the nature of sisterhood, family secrets, sexual crimes against women, and femicide is forthcoming from Tu Books, an imprint of Lee & Low Books, in the Fall of 2022.

Guadalupe travels all over the country speaking to students and adults on topics of importance to the Latine community. She is an advocate for literacy and diverse books. In her travels, she is always looking for a good taco place and she never met a chocolate mole sauce she didn’t love! She loves to garden, cook, read, write, walk, and take pictures of nature. Though she keeps a home in Texas, she is currently an Assistant Professor of English at George Fox University and lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest most of the year.

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YAMILE SAIED MÉNDEZ is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American Pura Belpré gold medal winning author. She lives in Utah with her Puerto Rican husband and their five kids, two adorable dogs, and one majestic cat. An inaugural Walter Dean Myers Grant recipient, she’s also a graduate of Voices of Our Nations (VONA) and the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Writing for Children’s and Young Adult program. She writes picture books, middle grade, young adult and adult romance fiction. Yamile is a founding member of Las Musas, the first collective of women and nonbinary Latinx MG and YA authors. She’s represented by Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary.

Her novel Furia won the 2021 Pura Belpré Award.

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Sonia 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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Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

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 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.

Book Review: The Cholo Tree by Daniel Chacón

 

Review by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: “Do you know what a stereotype you are?” Jessica asks her son. “You’re the existential Chicano.” Fourteen-year-old Victor has just been released from the hospital; his chest is wrapped in bandages and his arm is in a sling. He has barely survived being shot, and his mother accuses him of being a cholo, something he denies.

She’s not the only adult who thinks he’s a gangbanger. His sociology teacher once sent him to a teach-in on gang violence. Victor’s philosophy is that everyone is racist. “They see a brown kid, they see a banger.” Even other kids think he’s in a gang, maybe because of the clothes he wears. The truth is, he loves death (metal, that is), reading books, drawing, the cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, and the Showtime series Weeds. He likes school and cooking. He knows what a double negative is!

But he can’t convince his mom that he’s not in a gang. And even with a genius girlfriend and an art teacher who mentors and encourages him to apply to art schools, Victor can’t seem to overcome society’s expectations for him.

MY TWO CENTS: Daniel Chacón’s novel, The Cholo Tree, is a story that confronts stereotypes within one’s own community and family. Told from the perspective of a young Chicano protagonist, this story exposes not only obstacles a young teen in a impoverished neighborhood might face, but also what contributes to perpetuating a cycle of violence, gang-culture, and drugs when young, Latino men repeatedly hear assumptions about who they might be or what they are destined to become. The protagonist, Victor, navigates hearing these messages from people like his own mother or teachers who assume he is a gangbanger, although he is not. Chacón tells the story of a young Chicano teen who is navigating school, a single parent household, and his gift as an artist.

After his near-death experience, Victor navigates high school life, confronting stereotypes on a daily basis. One thing that catches the reader’s attention is the school administrators’ and teachers’ insistence that Victor must belong in a gang because he is Chicano, plus the clothes he wears and his attitude. However, this does not stop at school. Often, his own mother, who he calls Jessica, accuses him of being a gangbanger, a cholo. While Victor is no angel, the reader can come to understand the impact of placing labels on Latino youth, and how, in particular, young artists risk being boxed into stereotypes that see them as dangerous or a menace to society.

Victor is often a spectator, an observer of his environment and surroundings, which he realizes contributes to many of the negative labels society puts on young brown men like him. Indeed, through his interactions with a group of young men, who are involved in drug using and selling, he tries to rescue two sisters getting caught in this lifestyle. He uses his drawings to engage with them and possibly persuade them to see themselves as young women who deserve better lives, and he remembers what his friend Freddy once said to him when Victor became interested in Iliana, a genius girl he had met at a party and Victor’s love interest,  “Every Chicanita is my sister.”

One of the things that saves Victor is his relationship with an art teacher, Mr. García, who is possibly the only person who sees his gift as an artist and helps him see himself as something different than what society expects of him. Mr. García not only lets Victor use his own studio, he encourages Victor to apply to prestigious art schools, which he has not considered as a possibility for himself. Chacón uses imagery and fantasy and the complexity of family dynamics to make this a story worth reading.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Chacón is the author of Hotel Juárez: Stories, Rooms and Loops (Arte Público Press, 2013); Unending Rooms (Black Lawrence Press, 2008), winner of the Hudson Prize; and the shadows took him (Washington Square Press, 2005) and Chicano Chicanery (Arte Público Press, 2000). A professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, he is co-editor of The Last Supper of Chicano Heroes: The Selected Works of José Antonio Burciaga (University of Arizona Press, 2008).

 

 

 

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.

Book Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg, France.  Women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia Blau and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves. 

Five centuries late:  A pair of red shoes seals to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.

MY TWO CENTS: As with any Anna-Marie McLemore book, Dark and Deepest Red is like watching a particularly colorful sunrise breach over a murky, ominous landscape. It’s illuminating, warming, but also bears with it a hint of darkness that makes the sunlight that much sweeter. Their distinctive prose, full of lush and elegant language, is immediately recognizable as is their attention to telling the stories of people history would try to forget. Dark and Deepest Red takes that task to a new level, pairing the historical narrative of Lala and Alifair in Strasbourg in 1518 with that of Rosella and Emil in a contemporary world. Their stories parallel, sharing common themes and motifs.

The Strasbourg narrative retells the dancing plague, in which roughly 400 people were struck by a shared affliction: dancing incessantly, sometimes to death. McLemore frames this historical moment as not just a time to examine socio-religious and early medicinal practices, but as a backdrop for xenophobic concerns about the Romani peoples. Lala, also called Lavinia to avoid being coded as Romani, flees her homeland to avoid persecution, but anti-Romani laws follow her. With the onset of the dancing plague also comes speculation that Lala or her aunt are the culprits. Her assumed involvement is further compounded by her relationship with the transgender Alifair. Lala is the focus character for the chapters recounting Strasbourg in 1518, making her a key character alongside Rosella and Emil.

Meanwhile, Rosella and Emil alternate chapters. Rosella’s told in the first person and Emil’s in the third. That we only get into Rosella’s mind is important, as she is afflicted with a similar plague: when she resews a pair of shoes originally made by her treasured grandparents and tries them on, she quickly learns that she cannot remove the shoes, and, to make matters worse, the shoes force Rosella to dance and, indeed, act independently of her body, often putting her in danger. The shoes also lead Rosella into Emil’s arms. Emil, who has rejected his own Romani heritage, must tap into his roots to help save Rosella.

The alternating chapters are a dance in and of themselves, leaping from Rosella to Strasbourg to Emil back to Strasbourg and resuming the sequence. This alternation, however, does possibly overemphasize the Strasbourg chapters, potentially at the risk of subordinating Rosella and Emil’s stories. When reading, I did find myself more invested in Lala and Alifair, rather than Rosella and Emil. (And, to be fair, this may just be a personal preference, but I do wonder if this is tied to the narrative structure, or my own personal interest in dance and the dancing plague…) While each story is deeply intertwined and McLemore does an artful job of drawing them together, the dual narratives may appear too divergent, at least initially. To be clear, they do come together. And they do so in the intricate, special, and supernatural ways typical of McLemore’s work.

Importantly, as well, for an audience invested in Latinx children’s literature, this text does not centralize Latinidad or problematize it. It’s incidental but nevertheless present. I find this so significant. Rosella’s ethnicity and racialized body are certainly something that inform the plot, but she is not the one who largely experiences xenophobia, Lala does. Regardless, Latinx readers will find mirrors in Lala’s experiences. That McLemore poses this shift in representation offers a wider appeal to this text. Rather than being seen as a “Latinx text,” or a “Romani text,” or a “queer text,” it’s all three. At these intersections we find a lovely, challenging, and poignant read.

TEACHING TIPS: The historical narrative of this text would lend it well to a paired text with a lesson on history. It may also be an interesting discussion tool to aid in explorations of the treatment of queer peoples in history. 

It would also pair well with discussions of Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” as McLemore notes thus tale as a major influence on their writing of the novel. Students may read both and write about the similar themes. Students may also consider other Andersenesque stories and write their own retelling wise diverse casts. 

 

Anna-Marie McLemoreABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) is the queer, Latinx, non-binary author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist Best Book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; and THE MIRROR SEASON, forthcoming in 2021. 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE REVIEWERCris 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.