Book Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

 

Reviewed by Mimi Rankin

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea—at least, that’s what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you’re a boy with a boat.

But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.

As her college decision looms, Rosa collides—literally—with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?

Don’t Date Rosa Santos releases Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

MY TWO CENTS: I had seen this book circulating the Latinx KidLit Twittersphere (Thanks Las Musas! @lasmusasbooks) and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it at ALA Midwinter (Thanks Dina at Disney!). I had an inkling I would like this seemingly sweet YA romance with a Latinx heroine, but the weight this story carries is far greater than a springtime young love. Rosa is a fierce, brilliant, Type A goal chaser, and I am completely here for her. She is unapologetic in figuring out not just what she wants, but is realistic in how to get there. As a former college admissions counselor, I was very proud of Rosa for dually enrolling in a community college and looking into Study Abroad programs while still in high school. So, yes, Rosa is an awesome lead. I laughed out loud at Moreno’s far-too-relatable scenes of awkward first dates and embarrassing parents. If you want an impeccably written YA novel that reads much older and more “real,” this is the perfect spring break read.

Still, Don’t Date Rosa Santos is just the first story in a new narrative for young Cuban-Americans. With the embargo lifted in the last few years, young people of Cuban descent are finally able to see where they come from, where their own narrative began. I myself am of Puerto Rican descent, so while our islands are not super far from each other, our stories are worlds apart. Since all of my relatives are American citizens, they have never had a problem popping back and forth between San Juan and Texas, Louisiana, or Florida. For Cubans, they had to make a decision so much bigger than just “moving”; it was fleeing, knowing that returning was not an option. Now, young Cuban-Americans have the option to visit the island of their people, but it is not without the weighted guilt of knowing the fear of their ancestors. Moreno beautifully illustrates this feeling of being torn that I’m sure many young Cuban-Americans feel: the desire to visit Cuba while battling abuelos y abuelas who still remember the horrors they escaped. This new reality is sure to bring up hard conversations within families—can you be Cuban without taking the chance to experience Cuba? To those who faced exile, is the Cuba they remember the Cuba of today?

Sometimes characters were introduced in a way that felt abrupt and confusing, but the confusion was usually alleviated quickly. Parts of the last few chapters felt slightly rushed in the plot, but Moreno tied up the story in a very lovely manner that was not at all cliché. I am so excited to watch how this story contributes to a very specific Latinx Children’s Literature conversation.

 

ninamorenophotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nina Moreno is a YA writer whose prose is somewhere between Southern fiction and a telenovela. She graduated from the University of Florida with a B.A. in English Don’t Date Rosa Santos is her first novel.

 

 

 

 

file-2ABOUT THE REVIEWERMimi Rankin received her Master’s Degree with distinction in Children’s Literature from the University of Reading. Her thesis, on which she received a rating of First, centered around claims to cultural authenticity and representation in Hispanic Children’s Literature. She currently works in the publishing industry as a marketing manager for over 20 international children’s publishers. Her reviews do not reflect the opinions of her employer or clients. She currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Book Review: The Last 8 by Laura Pohl

 

Reviewed by Katrina Ortega

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOKClover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it. When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth. Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

MY TWO CENTS: The Last 8 is a solid science fiction read. For those who are passionate about sci-fi, the book presents a really enticing plot that keeps the reader on the edge of their seats. Readers are taken on a journey with Clover and forced to contend with the mysterious beings that have taken over the planet and decimated all forms of life (with the exception of a tiny population of which Clover is a member). Clover can find no way of killing them, and is completely clueless as to why they do not seem to notice her, even though they’ve obliterated every other living thing around her.

Her arrival at Area 51, six months after the initial contact with these otherworldly beings, introduces her to a seemingly random group of other teens who, like her, pass unnoticed by these violent beings. This group of teens, as it turns out, may not be as random as the reader thinks (but I won’t give any spoilers!). The plot is a pretty solid suspense ride, with thrills heightening as these teens try to figure out a way to overcome these new alien overlords.

The best thing about this book is Clover. Clover is a complicated and well-formed character.

She highlights a number of really interesting qualities that are not often explored in YA (or any) literature. First, though it’s never delved deeply into, she seems to be a character who is not immediately looking for romance or any sort of sexual relationship (i.e. Clover is aromantic/asexual – it’s never blatantly stated, but heavily implied). The reader comes to understand her complicated relationship with her ex-boyfriend, as one that Clover was appreciative of because she is able to appreciate people in her life without it needing to be about romance or sex.

Additionally, throughout her journey to Area 51, Clover goes through periods of serious helplessness and severe depression to the point that she realistically contemplates suicide. I find it refreshing that Pohl is up-front about Clover’s feelings as she travels through the country for the six months between the initial alien contact and her arrival at Area 51.

Another great thing about this book is that it involves a large and diverse cast. The readers see young people who come from all areas of this country, and even from abroad. There is a great variety of ethnicities and sexual identities. I appreciate that this is becoming more common in YA literature, but an example like this one, where the characters are intersectionally diverse (ethnically and sexually diverse at the same time) is particularly admirable.

While an overall good start to this series, there are a couple of weaker points. First, though it’s made clear that Clover has been flying planes for a large part of her life and that she is genetically designed to be better at this than any other living being on Earth, it was still hard to wrap my head around the idea that she’s not only adept at flying very high-level military grade aircrafts, but that she’s so adept she can fly several different ones with no training whatsoever. Now, I completely understand that this can be explained by the idea that she’s not entirely human and therefore has superhuman capabilities, but it was still a stretch for me.

Lastly, the ending was not only confusing, but it seemed very rushed and slapped together. This is particularly unfortunate because Pohl spends a good amount of time really building up the middle portion of the book. It would have been worthwhile to focus on continuing that trend through the rest of the novel.

Overall, though, this was a great read, and I’m excited to see what happens in the second book of this duology!

TEACHING TIPS: The Last 8 was a thoroughly entertaining read, and any lover of sci-fi or adventure novels would find it a fast and fun read.

This book’s greatest teaching points come from the conversations about relationships and mental health that the book encourages. I love that many YA writers make it a point to destigmatize the diversity of these two things and challenge the ways readers might think about these topics. Honestly, if you think about the situation that Clover finds herself in, it is plain that anyone would be overcome with a sense of hopelessness and loss. Pohl’s description of Clover’s thought processes is legitimate and accurate and can be a great way to begin having conversations about what loneliness and depression are and how both can affect our mental health.

The book also brings to light relationships and individuals that are healthy and diverse. Clover’s relationships with her grandparents, her ex-boyfriend, and her newfound group of friends illustrate how vastly different relationships can look. Additionally, Clover’s character is one that is in charge of the interactions that she wants to have with people. She’s open and honest about how she feels, romantically or friendship-wise, and that is absolutely something that should be explored more in conversations with youth and adults.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from Author’s Website): Laura Pohl is a YA writer and the author of THE LAST 8 (Sourcebooks, 2019). She likes writing messages in caps lock, quoting Hamilton and obsessing about Star Wars. When not taking pictures of her dog, she can be found curled up with a fantasy or science-fiction book. A Brazilian at heart and soul, she makes her home in São Paulo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

January and February 2019 Latinx Book Deals

 

Compiled by Cecila Cackley

This is a bi-monthly series keeping track of the book deals announced by Latinx writers and illustrators. The purpose of this series is to celebrate book deals by authors and illustrators in our community and to advocate for more of them. If you are an agent and you have a Latinx client who just announced a deal, you can let me know on Twitter, @citymousedc. If you are a Latinx author or illustrator writing for children or young adults, and you just got a book deal, send me a message and we will celebrate with you! And if I left anyone out here, please let me know! Here’s to many more wonderful books in the years to come.

 

February 28

None.

February 26

Melanie Cordova at Candlewick has bought world rights to Laurenne Sala‘s (l.) picture book, Mi Casa Is My Home, a bilingual celebration of home and family starring Lucía who lives en su casa with her big, loud, beautiful familia. Zara Gonzalez Hoang will illustrate; publication is set for fall 2021. Kelly Sonnack at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency represented the author, and Andrea Morrison at Writers House represented the illustrator.

 

Karen Boss at Charlesbridge has acquired world rights to We Laugh Alike/Nos reímos igual, written by three-time Pura Belpré Honor author Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (l.), illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. Written in English and Spanish and based on the author’s experiences as an immigrant, the picture book is about the sense of wonderment when children make connections across language barriers. Publication is planned for spring 2021; Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary represented the author, and Claire Easton at Painted Words represented the illustrator.

February 21

Cheryl Klein at Lee & Low Books has acquired Miosotis Flores Never Forgets by Hilda Eunice Burgos (Ana María Reyes Does Not Live in a Castle). In this middle grade novel, Miosotis struggles with her growing distance from her college-aged sister, until her work with an abandoned dog at a local animal rescue leads her to realize her sister may be experiencing similar abuse. Publication is set for 2020; the author was unagented.

 

Lee Wade at Random House/Schwartz & Wade has acquired world rights to Areli’s Story by DACA recipient Areli Morales Romero (l.), illustrated by Luisa Uribe, an autobiographical picture book about the author’s immigration to America from Mexico at age six. Publication is scheduled for spring 2021; Brenda Bowen at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates represented the author, and Anne Armstrong at the Bright Agency represented the artist.

 

Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury has acquired world rights to Book Magic by Kate Messner (l.), a picture book that celebrates the magic of books for readers at any age. Ana Ramírez González will illustrate; publication is scheduled for fall 2020. Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown Literary Agency represented the author, and Andrea Morrison at Writers House represented the illustrator.

February 14

Kate Fletcher at Candlewick has acquired world rights to Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site author Sherri Duskey Rinker‘s (l.) picture book Joy Ride, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González, in which a girl realizes that creativity can take courage when she’s teased about the fancy bike she built with her grandfather. Publication is slated for spring 2021; Lori Kilkelly at LK Literary Agency represented the author, and Andrea Morrison at Writers House represented the illustrator.

 

Reka Simonsen at Atheneum has acquired world rights to a new picture book by the team behind the Pura Belpré Award-winning Drum Dream Girl: Margarita Engle and Rafael López. Dancing Hands is the story of Teresa Carreño, a child prodigy refugee from Venezuela who played piano for President Abraham Lincoln. Publication is set for August 2019; Michelle Humphrey at the Martha Kaplan Agency represented the author, and Adriana Domínguez and Stefanie Sanchez Von Borstel at Full Circle Literary represented the artist.

February 12

Reka Simonsen at Atheneum has bought world rights to Young People’s Poet Laureate and Newbery Honor author Margarita Engle‘s (l.) A Song of Frutas, illustrated by Sara Palacios, about the poignant relationship between a girl and her grandfather who is a pregonero—a singing vendor who walks the streets of Cuba. Publication is planned for summer 2020; Michelle Humphrey at the Martha Kaplan Agency represented the author, and Kendra Marcus at BookStop Literary represented the illustrator.

 

Louise May at Lee & Low has acquired world rights to Sandra Nickel‘s Nacho’s Nachos, the true story of Ignacio Anaya and the invention of nachos, illustrated by Oliver Dominguez. Publication is planned for spring 2020 to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the invention of this popular snack; Victoria Wells Arms at Wells Arms Literary/Hannigan Salky Getzler represented the author, and Abigail Samoun at Red Fox Literary represented the illustrator.

February 7

Rosemary Brosnan at HarperCollins has acquired two new YA novels by Elizabeth Acevedo, author of the NBA and Printz Award winner The Poet X. The first, Clap When You Land, is a dual narrative novel in verse about two girls who learn of each other, and discover that they are half-sisters, after their father’s death in a plane crash. The first book will publish in spring 2020; Ammi-Joan Paquette at Erin Murphy Literary Agency brokered the deal for North American rights.

 

Kendra Levin at Viking has bought, at auction, Patrice Caldwell‘s YA speculative fiction anthology A Phoenix First Must Burn. The collection features stories centering Black girls and gender nonconforming teens by Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Dhonielle Clayton, Jalissa Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Davis, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Justina Ireland, Danny Lore, L.L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi. Publication is slated for spring 2020; Pete Knapp at Park Literary negotiated the deal for world English rights.

 

Whitney Leopard at Random House Graphic has acquired world rights to Jose Pimienta‘s YA graphic novel Suncatcher. The story, which began as a Kickstarter, follows Beatriz, a young musician growing up in Mexicali who learns that her grandfather’s soul is trapped in his guitar; she goes on a journey to discover the truth about her grandfather’s life while at the same time learning a few truths about herself. Publication is planned for 2021; Pimienta was unagented.

 

Andrea Tompa at Candlewick has won at auction world rights to I’ll Go and Come Back by Rajani LaRocca (l.), illustrated by Sara Palacios. A tribute to long-distance family relationships and cross-cultural connections, the story follows a girl on a trip to India. When she finds herself homesick, her grandmother knows the cure, and the girl knows just how to welcome her grandmother when she visits the U.S. Publication is slated for spring 2022; Brent Taylor at Triada US represented the author, and Kendra Marcus and Minju Chang at Bookstop Literary represented the illustrator.

February 5

None.

January 31

None.

January 24

Nancy Paulsen at Penguin/Paulsen has acquired world rights to Talia Aikens-Nuñez‘s (l.) bilingual picture book, Sueñito/Little Nap, illustrated by Argentinian artist Natalia Colombo. The book is about the simple activities that tire baby out and lead to a small, sweet nap. Publication is set for spring 2021. Author agent: Susan Graham at Einstein Literary Management. Illustrator agent: Mela Bolinao at MB Artists.

January 17

Elise Howard at Algonquin preempted world English and Spanish-language rights to Yamile Saied Méndez‘s Furia, pitched in the vein of Bend It Like Beckham. Set in Argentina, the story centers on Camila “Furia” Hassan, who longs to play professional soccer in the United States and not only has to contend with deeply disapproving parents, but with a blossoming love interest that threatens to tempt her away from her dream. Publication is planned for 2020. Author agent: Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary.

January 15

Olivia Valcarce at Scholastic has bought Yamile Saied Méndez‘s Random Acts of Kittens, in which a girl tries to spread happiness by pairing a litter of kittens with the perfect owners, but realizes that her good intentions don’t always yield the results she expects. Publication is slated for 2020. Author agent: Linda Camacho at Gallt and Zacker Literary Agency.

January 10

Tamar Mays at HarperCollins has acquired world rights to Erin Dealey‘s (l.) picture book, Dear Earth… From Your Friends in Room 5, illustrated by Luisa Uribe, recipient of the 2018 Society of Illustrators Dilys Evans Founder’s Award. What begins as a monthly exchange of ideas between Earth and Room 5 grows into a lasting friendship, a school club with a surprising president, and—hopefully—lifelong earth-smart habits. Publication is slated for winter 2021. Illustrator agent:  James Burns at the Bright Agency.

January 8

Cassandra Pelham Fulton and David Saylor at Scholastic/Graphix have acquired, in a 10-house auction, Miss Quinces and an untitled middle grade graphic novel by Kat Fajardo. Miss Quinces features Sue, a Honduran-American girl who, instead of going to sleepaway camp with her friends, gets stuck visiting family in Honduras and having a surprise quinceañera, which is the last thing Sue wants—until she grows to appreciate both her family and their traditions. Simultaneous publication in both English and Spanish is planned for 2020. Author agent: Linda Camacho at Gallt & Zacker Literary Agency.

January 2

Asia Citro at Innovation Press has acquired world rights to Your Name Is a Song, a picture book by Mommy’s Khimar author Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (l.). Saddened by her classmates’ and teacher’s mispronunciations of her name, a girl is empowered by her discovery that names are like songs when she and her mom celebrate the musicality of African, Asian, Black-American, Latinx, and Middle Eastern names. Luisa Uribe will illustrate; publication is set for summer 2020. Illustrator agent: Alex Gehringer at the Bright Agency.

 

 

cecilia-02-originalCecilia 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: The Art of White Roses by Viviana Prado-Nuñez

 

Review by Elena Foulis

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: It is 1957 in Marianao, a suburb on the outskirts of Havana. Adela Santiago is thirteen years old and lives in a small blue house with her mother, father, brother, and grandfather. And yet something is amiss. Her neighbors are disappearing. Not only that, but her parents’ marriage seems to be disintegrating and her cousin is involved with a bombing at the Hotel Nacional. Welcome to a world where the sight of police officers shooting citizens in broad daylight is a normalcy, where every day there is a higher body count than the day before, where in the cramped pews of churches, in the creaking wood of backwards Havana alleys, a revolution is brewing. Welcome to Cuba.

MY TWO CENTS: Viviana Prado-Nuñez’s first novel, The Art of White Roses, is a beautifully told story of a young girl growing up in Batista’s Cuba. Adela, the protagonist, tells the story of her neighborhood, family, and friends as she tries to make sense of how disappearances, violence, and affairs affect her and the people she loves. The story looks deeply into family life, such as sibling interactions, her parents’ sweet but complicated relationship, and Adela’s abuelo. Despite the political conditions of the time—including repression, police brutality, and desaparecidos—Adela is most impacted by her family dynamics. As she tries to make sense of cruelty, mysteries, and her own disappointments, Adela is both observant and conversant about the possible deaths of universitarios whom they all knew and who were possible revolucionarios. She witnesses the death of Luis, a neighbor and troubled-young man who also might have been part of an uprising against the police, and her own family drama of her father’s affair. One of my favorite chapters is, “The night they met,” because Prado-Nuñez’s weaves happy memories of when Adela’s parents met and the present reality of their strained marriage. The author’s narrative choice, at once nostalgic, funny, and tragic, centers around Adela’s perspective with the backdrop of the revolution.

The novel is not always told chronologically, rather, each of the chapters tells the story of an event, family member, or place. The stories help the reader see the protagonist’s development, but it is not a typical coming-of-age story, meaning, there is no event that suddenly helps her find her voice. Instead, Adela’s understanding of herself is directly tied to her place and community, including the oppressive political circumstances that, in the end, force her family to move. Her future is uncertain—including her educational future—because of circumstances that have to do with her father’s affair first, and her Batista’s regime second. Prado-Nuñez’s detailed descriptions of places and people add to Adela’s understanding of the world around her, and the reader enjoys the author’s carefully crafted narrative. This is best exemplified by her discussion of the book’s title, connected to José Martí’s poem and personal story of choosing to love and forgive, in the face of pain, as Adela’s father explains, “white roses are hard times,” and later says, “white roses are hard for me, too.”

TEACHING TIPS: Taking advantage of today’s digital tools, a google earth exploration of Marianao, its surrounding neighborhoods, and its proximity to Havana, can help understand the setting and how that might determine the experiences of Adela and her family. Research on Hotel Nacional, a historical site, will add to discussion of time and place of the novel. There is a lot to explore visually via photography about Cuba, especially since it seems suspended in time. These already available resources, can lead to digital projects such as storymaps, digital storytelling and digital archival projects about neighborhoods and historical sites.  While the historical background of Bastista and Castro is important, it would be also helpful to study American influence in the country and how this might have affected Cubans during this time and how this has informed U.S.-Cuba relations today.

 

Viviana Prado-NúñezABOUT THE AUTHOR: Viviana Prado-Núñez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in a hospital with a 4.0 Google review rating and a view of the ocean. Previous publications include The Best Teen Writing of 2014, 4×4 Magazine, Columbia Spectator, and Quarto Magazine. She is also the 2017 winner of the Burt Award for Caribbean Young Adult Literature for her novel, The Art of White Roses.

 

 

 

 

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: Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Meet teenage Wiccan Mila Flores, who truly could not care less what you think about her Doc Martens, her attitude, or her weight because she knows that, no matter what, her BFF Riley is right by her side. So when Riley and Fairmont Academy mean girls June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders. But they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer…before the killer strikes again.

MY TWO CENTS: The opening scene of Undead Girl Gang is a funeral—the funeral of teenage bruja Mila Flores’s best and ONLY friend, Riley. It’s a bold start to a story, and Anderson gives Mila a voice that is so funny, so angry, and so captivating that by the end of the first chapter, I was ready to go on any ride as long as Mila was there.

And what a ride that was! Undead Girl Gang isn’t just about grief and losing your best friend; it’s about justice. Mila refuses to accept the official story, that Riley was the third person at school to kill themselves. Mila is convinced that her BFF was murdered. In a brilliant twist, Mila casts a spell to bring her friend back to life to solve her own murder, but accidentally revives all three girls who died. What transpires after this is shocking, illuminating, and utterly enthralling. Mila must care for the recently revived, all of whom revert to near-zombie-status the further away Mila is from them. But that’s easier said than done when the other two resurrected girls are… well, really, really mean.

Anderson does a fantastic job addressing the ramifications of bullying throughout the text, and as otherworldly as this premise may seem, there’s a stark realism to what unfolds. If teenagers were brought back to life, how would they actually behave? How would someone who was bullied react to being revived alongside one of their bullies? How would three teens deal with the restrictions that this situation would require of them? All these issues and so very many more are addressed throughout the novel, and Anderson’s style is a perfect match for such a strange story.

Twisty, heartbreaking, and wildly entertaining, this is one of the best YA novels of the year.

TEACHING TIPS: Undead Girl Gang is rich with detail and nuance, and there are many moments that can provide teaching opportunities within the book. Note how Mila refers to herself and her body, and how she talks about fatness; this book has absolutely stellar representation for different body types that are not white, and Anderson’s body positivity adds a necessary layer to the story. Since the novel deals with bullying head-on (all the way to the end!), there are fruitful conversations to be had about difference (and how people are punished for being different) and the power dynamics that are present in character interactions. Additionally, Mila’s brujeria is intricately woven into the story, and you can tell how well-researched it is; conversations about faith and mortality would be apt in dissecting this book.

 Photo by Chris Duffey ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lily Anderson is a school librarian and Melvil Dewey fangirl with an ever-growing collection of musical theater tattoos and Harry Potter ephemera. She lives in Northern California. She is also the author of THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU and NOT NOW, NOT EVER. She tweets @mslilyanderson.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Book Review: Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

 

Review by Mark Oshiro

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

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

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

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

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

Embark on this journey. It’s worth it.

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

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

 

 

 

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