We Read Banned Books: Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro

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Welcome to another Book Talk, which can be found on our YouTube channel!

Here, Dr. Sonia Rodriguez and Dora M. Guzmán talk about EACH OF US A DESERT written by Mark Oshiro.

ABOUT THE BOOK: From award-winning author Mark Oshiro comes a powerful coming-of-age fantasy novel about finding home and falling in love amidst the dangers of a desert where stories come to life

Xochitl is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enigmatic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.

Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.

One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous conqueror. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.

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Click on the link below to watch the book talk and then add your comments below to join the conversation. ENJOY!

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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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Dora M. Guzmán is a bilingual reading specialist for grades K-5 and also teaches college courses in Children’s Literature and Teaching Beginning Literacy. She is currently a doctoral student with a major in Reading, Language, and Literacy. When she is not sharing her love of reading with her students, you can find her in the nearest library, bookstore, or online, finding more great reads to add to her never-ending “to read” pile!

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Book Review: What if it’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

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Reviewed by Jen Vincent

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date…or a second first date…or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work…and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

MY TWO CENTS: What If It’s Us starts with a super cute meet cute, has it’s fair share of drama and suspense, along with a dose of reality. Arthur and Ben meeting at the post office is totally adorable, but they still have a bit of a rocky start when they don’t exchange phone numbers after that first encounter. Eep!

It’s endearing to read alternating chapters from both of them, each with their different backgrounds, different experiences, and different family lives, coming together at the beginning of their relationship. One of the biggest things they have to navigate is their cultural differences. What I love about this book is that Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli get right the nuances of people from different cultures coming together. As someone who grew up in a mixed family and has been a Latina navigating mostly white spaces, I’ve experienced this many times, but it’s rare to see it in a book. For example, while it’s a stereotype that Latinx people are always late, Silvera and Albertalli don’t play into the stereotype; they get underneath it and show us that at play is an underlying difference in how cultural values are lived out. This could have been written in a superficial way, but instead, they show us what it looks like when characters take the time to go deeper rather than avoid difficult conversations.

I always appreciate when a contemporary romance is honest about relationships and not everything goes perfectly. I’m so glad we have books like What If It’s Us that celebrate being young and the excitement of exploring a new relationship while also showing what it looks like to grow together as a couple and how that’s not always as simple as fairy tales make it seem.

TEACHING TIPS: As a middle school teacher, I love using excerpts from novels as mentor texts with students. Sometimes we use mentor texts to get ideas and sometimes to look at craft. Here are two excerpts teachers can use to inspire middle or high school students to write their own stories, personal or fictionalized.

Chapter One – The first page starts with the line, “I am not a New Yorker, and I want to go home.” And then a paragraph where Arthur explains all the unspoken rules about being in New York and how he’s struggling. I suggest reading this and inviting students to think about a time when they didn’t feel like they fit in, there were so many unspoken rules, they felt out of place, and wanted to go home. I would model my thinking first–thinking aloud about times when I didn’t feel like I fit in–and then ask students to brainstorm. Once they have a list, ask them to choose one situation and write long about it. 

Chapter Six – Ben starts off chapter six with this line, “I wish I felt Puerto Rican out in the world the way I do at home.” Thinking about our unique and complex identities and how we are able to show up as ourselves in different situations is an important self awareness practice. I love that this book gives us an opportunity to think about our experiences in different spaces. In my experience, some students will be able to identify places where they are able to act more like themselves than others, but other students may feel affirmed in their identity and in the spaces they frequent. Invite students to make a list of places they go and then think about how comfortable they feel in each. Then they can write long about either not feeling able to be fully themselves in different spaces or what contributes to feeling able to be fully themselves in different spaces. 

If you read the next paragraph in chapter six, Ben goes on to explain that friends told him he wasn’t really Puerto Rican because he’s white-passing. This is an opportunity for a deeper discussion about what people might assume about us from our appearances and/or what we might assume about other people. Books are such a great way to invite students to think about stereotypes and bias because we get to see a myriad of stories. As someone who has spent much of her life not feeling enough, this is such an important discussion to have. What it means to be Latinx is varied, and we need to share more stories like this to help everyone understand that we are not a monolith. Pairing this excerpt from What If It’s Us with this spoken word poetry 8 Confessions of My Tongue from Noel Quiñones and discussing with students is one way to take this discussion even further.

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The sequel to What if it’s Us is also available. When you’re caught up with the first novel, check out Here’s to Us:

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Adam Silvera is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Infinity Reaper, Infinity Son, They Both Die at the End, More Happy Than Not, History Is All You Left Me, and—with Becky Albertalli—What If It’s Us and Here’s to Us. All his novels have received multiple starred reviews. He worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, community manager at a content development company, and book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He was born and raised in New York. He lives in Los Angeles and is tall for no reason. 

Becky Albertalli is the number one New York Times bestselling author of William C. Morris Award winner and National Book Award longlist title Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (now a major motion picture, Love, Simon); The Upside of Unrequited; Leah on the Offbeat; the Simonverse novella Love, Creekwood; What If It’s Us (cowritten with Adam Silvera); Yes No Maybe So (cowritten with Aisha Saeed); and most recently, Kate in Waiting. Becky lives with her family in Atlanta. You can visit her online at http://www.beckyalbertalli.com.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER: Jen Vincent (she/her/ella) is a Latinx writer, blogger, and educator. She is a middle school LA/SS teacher and the founder of Story Exploratory where she offers a fun and funky community and curated resources to help amazing humans grow their confidence in using writing as self care. She believes radical self love is our path to change. Connect with her on Instagram and Twitter and her website jenvincentwrites.com.

April 2022 Latinx Releases!

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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.

In addition to listing 2022 titles by/for/about Latinx on our master list, we will remind readers of what’s releasing each month.

CONGRATULATIONS to these Latinx creators. Let’s celebrate these April book babies!

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Cover for Before the World Wakes

BEFORE THE WORLD WAKES by Estelle Laure, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (Two Lions, April 1, 2022). Picture Book. When everything is still gentle and quiet-ish and the stars say good morning at the same time they say good night, a brother and sister venture outside. They marvel at the dance of the snails and the birdsong that surrounds them. And then they join in, reveling in the early morning–and their time together before the rest of the world wakes.

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Cover for Does My Body Offend You?

DOES MY BODY OFFEND YOU? by Mayra Cuevas and Marie Marquardt. (Knopf Books for Young Readers, April 5, 2022.) Young Adult. Malena Rosario is starting to believe that catastrophes come in threes. First, Hurricane María destroyed her home, taking her unbreakable spirit with it. Second, she and her mother are now stuck in Florida, which is nothing like her beloved Puerto Rico. And third, when she goes to school bra-less after a bad sunburn and is humiliated by the school administration into covering up, she feels like she has no choice but to comply.
 
Ruby McAllister has a reputation as her school’s outspoken feminist rebel. But back in Seattle, she lived under her sister’s shadow. Now her sister is teaching in underprivileged communities, and she’s in a Florida high school, unsure of what to do with her future, or if she’s even capable of making a difference in the world. So when Ruby notices the new girl is being forced to cover up her chest, she is not willing to keep quiet about it.
 
Neither Malena nor Ruby expected to be the leaders of the school’s dress code rebellion. But the girls will have to face their own insecurities, biases, and privileges, and the ups and downs in their newfound friendship, if they want to stand up for their ideals and––ultimately––for themselves.

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Cover for Flock

FLOCK by Sara Cassidy, illustrated by Geraldo Valério (Groundwood Books, April 5, 2022). Picture Book. Lunch turns into bird food when a little girl starts feeding birds at the bus stop. First, a pigeon she names Serious comes pecking, and then Fancy and Sleepy gather to gobble up the offerings. But what happens when more and more birds want to join in on the feast? And what are all these fantastical birds doing in the city, anyway?

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Cover for Heartbreak Symphony

HEARTBREAK SYMPHONY by Laekan Zea Kemp. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 5, 2022). Young Adult. Aarón Medrano has been haunted by the onstage persona of his favorite DJ ever since his mother passed away. He seems to know all of Aarón’s deepest fears, like that his brain doesn’t work the way it should and that’s why his brother and father seem to be pushing him away. He thinks his ticket out is a scholarship to the prestigious Acadia School of Music. That is, if he can avoid blowing his audition.

Mia Villanueva has a haunting of her own and it’s the only family heirloom her parents left her: doubt. It’s the reason she can’t overcome her stage fright or believe that her music is worth making. Even though her trumpet teacher tells her she has a gift, she’s not sure if she’ll ever figure out how to use it or if she’s even deserving of it in the first place.

When Aarón and Mia cross paths, Aarón sees a chance to get close to the girl he’s had a crush on for years and to finally feel connected to someone since losing his mother. Mia sees a chance to hold herself accountable by making them both face their fears, and hopefully make their dreams come true. But soon they’ll realize there’s something much scarier than getting up on stage—falling in love with a broken heart.

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HIGH SPIRITS by Camille Gomera-Tavarez (Levine Querido, April 5, 2022). Middle GradeHigh Spirits is a collection of eleven interconnected short stories from the Dominican diaspora, from debut author Camille Gomera-Tavarez. It is a book centered on one extended family – the Beléns – across multiple generations. It is set in the fictional small town of Hidalpa – and Santo Domingo and Paterson and San Juan and Washington Heights too. It is told in a style both utterly real and distinctly magical – and its stories explore machismo, mental health, family, and identity.

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Cover for Can't Be Tamed (Horse Country #1)

HORSE COUNTRY: Can’t Be Tamed (Horse Country #1) by Yamile Saied Méndez (Scholastic, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. Welcome to Paradise Ranch, where everyone can get a second chance. Carolina Aguasvivas grew up on Paradise Ranch, which she knows down to every last pony. But things are sure to change when the new owner’s daughter, Chelsie Sánchez, sweeps in with an attitude and a feisty Thoroughbred named Velvet. The mare is skittish, headstrong, and hurt — and Carolina is determined to ride her.

Chelsie, who considers herself too good to clean stalls, certainly doesn’t seem like a real horse girl. Caro knows she’s the only one who can help Velvet recover, and she’s ready to prove it — no matter what it takes.

The girls may discover they have more in common than they think… including a passion for bringing the healing power of horses to every kid.

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Cover for I Am!

I AM!: A Book of Reminders by Juana Medina (Versify, April 5, 2022). Picture Book.

I am strong.
I am confident.
I am funny.

The words and pictures in this book are here to remind the reader how wonderful they are! Focusing on helping to build emotional literacy, self-esteem, and self-worth as well as improving communication skills, this new series is the perfect read aloud for kids and adults of any age!

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Cover for Nobody Likes Mermaids

NOBODY LIKES MERMAIDS by Karen Kilpatrick, illustrated by Germán Blanco (Genius Cat Books, April 5, 2022). Picture Book. When a seahorse tries to convince a group of sea creatures why nobody likes mermaids, will it be the seahorse who learns something in the end? Come along on this imaginative, laugh out loud adventure and learn why nobody likes mermaids (hint: it’s because everybody loves them ).

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Cover for The Do-Over

THE DO-OVER by Jennifer Torres (Scholastic, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. The Mendoza sisters need a do-over!

Raquel and Lucinda used to be inseparable. But ever since their parents split, Raquel has been acting like editor-in-chief of their lives. To avoid her overbearing sister, Lucinda spends most of her time with her headphones on, practicing her skating routine.

Then a pandemic hits, and the sisters are forced to spend the lockdown at their dad’s ranch house. Suddenly Raquel sees a chance to get back everything they’ve lost. If they can convince their mom to come along, maybe they can get their parents to fall in love again and give their family a second chance, a do-over.

But at the ranch, they get a not-so-welcome surprise: their dad’s new girlfriend and her daughter are already living there! Lucinda finds she actually likes them, which only makes Raquel more desperate to get rid of them. And as her Raquel’s schemes get more and more out of hand, Lucinda starts to wonder what they are really fighting for. Is trying to bring the Mendoza family back together really just tearing them further apart?

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SCOUT’S HONOR by Lily Anderson ( Henry Holt and Co., April 5, 2022). Young Adult. Sixteen-year-old Prudence Perry is a legacy Ladybird Scout, born to a family of hunters sworn to protect humans from mulligrubs—interdimensional parasites who feast on human emotions like sadness and anger. Masquerading as a prim and proper ladies’ social organization, the Ladybirds brew poisons masked as teas and use knitting needles as daggers, at least until they graduate to axes and swords.

Three years ago, Prue’s best friend was killed during a hunt, so she kissed the Scouts goodbye, preferring the company of her punkish friends lovingly dubbed the Criminal Element much to her mother and Tía Lo’s disappointment. However, unable to move on from her guilt and trauma, Prue devises a risky plan to infiltrate the Ladybirds in order to swipe the Tea of Forgetting, a restricted tincture laced with a powerful amnesia spell.

But old monster-slaying habits die hard and Prue finds herself falling back into the fold, growing close with the junior scouts that she trains to fight the creatures she can’t face. When her town is hit with a mysterious wave of demons, Prue knows it’s time to confront the most powerful monster of all: her past.

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Cover for Witchlings

WITCHLINGS by Claribel A. Ortega (Scholastic Press, April 5, 2022). Middle Grade. Every year, in the magical town of Ravenskill, Witchlings who participate in the Black Moon Ceremony are placed into covens and come into their powers as full-fledged witches.

And twelve-year-old Seven Salazar can’t wait to be placed in the most powerful coven with her best friend! But on the night of the ceremony, in front of the entire town, Seven isn’t placed in one of the five covens. She’s a Spare!

Spare covens have fewer witches, are less powerful, and are looked down on by everyone. Even worse, when Seven and the other two Spares perform the magic circle to seal their coven and cement themselves as sisters, it doesn’t work! They’re stuck as Witchlings—and will never be able to perform powerful magic.

Seven invokes her only option: the impossible task. The three Spares will be assigned an impossible task: If they work together and succeed at it, their coven will be sealed and they’ll gain their full powers. If they fail… Well, the last coven to make the attempt ended up being turned into toads. Forever.

But maybe friendship can be the most powerful magic of all…

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Cover for A Good Thing Happened Today

A GOOD THING HAPPENED TODAY by Michelle Figueroa, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki (HarperCollins, April 12, 2022). Picture Book.

A good thing happened today. Hooray! Did you hear?

Good things are happening every day, and everywhere!

A rhythmic collection of happiness and hope inspired by real-life good news, this book reminds us that there are positive things happening every day and we can all be a part of it.

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Cover for A Perfect Fit

A PERFECT FIT: How Lena “Lane” Bryant Changed the Shape of Fashion (Clarion Books, April 12, 2022). Picture Book. Lena came to America with nothing but a dream—and an exceptional ability to drape and snip and stitch. She never used a pattern or a tape measure, but every dress she sewed turned out to be a perfect fit.

Then, one day, a customer presented her with a new challenge. Could she design a stylish, comfortable gown for a body shape that did not meet the current standards of fashion?

Lena took the challenge. Under the company name Lane Bryant, she became famous for flattering and modish clothing designed for all different shapes and sizes. The world of fashion would never be the same.

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Cover for Sometimes, All I Need Is Me

SOMETIMES, ALL I NEED IS ME by Juliana Perdomo (Candlewick, April 12, 2022). Picture Book.

I love listening to music, especially samba!
It feels like my heart follows the beat.

Meet a young girl who loves her cozy home. It smells like cinnamon tea and feels like warm pajamas. But even when she’s away from home, and everything is different, she finds a way to become her own home, where she feels calm. At night, when it’s too dark and her feet are cold, her room can be a little scary. But she creates her own light when she closes her eyes and thinks of the sun.

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Cover for Alicia and the Hurricane / Alicia Y El Huracán

ALICIA AND THE HURRICANE: A Story of Puerto Rico/ALICIA Y EL HURICÁN: Un cuento de Puerto Rico by Lesléa Newmanillustrated by Elizabeth Erazo Baez, translated by Georgina Lazaro (Children’s Book Press, April 19, 2022). Picture Book. After snuggling into bed each night, Alicia listens for the big voices of the tiny coquíes that live all around Puerto Rico and sing her to sleep. Ko-kee, ko-kee, the little frogs call. Ko-kee, ko-kee.

One day a terrible hurricane comes to Puerto Rico, and Alicia and her family take refuge in a shelter. At bedtime Alicia hears grown-ups snoring and babies crying, wind howling and rain pounding. But even though she listens hard, she cannot hear the song of the coquíes. Are the little tree frogs safe? And what will Alicia and her family find at home when the storm is over?

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Cover for Flirting with Fate

FLIRTING WITH FATE by J.C. Cervantes (Razorbill, April 19, 2022). Young Adult. Ava Granados will never forgive herself for being late to her beloved nana’s deathbed. But due to a flash flood that left Ava in a fender bender with a mysterious boy, she missed her grandmother’s mystical blessing—one that has been passed between the women of her family upon death for generations. 
 
Then Nana’s ghost appears with a challenge from beyond the grave. As it turns out, Nana did give Ava a blessing, but it missed its target, landing with the boy from the night of the storm instead. Was it fate? Ava refuses to believe so. With the help of her sisters and Nana’s rather bumbling spiritual guide, she’s determined to reclaim her share of the family magic and set Nana free.
 
For guarded Ava, befriending some random boy is the last thing she wants to do. She’s gotten along just fine protecting her heart—keeping people at a distance is a great way to ensure no one ever hurts you. But as Ava embarks on her mission to retrieve the lost blessing, she starts to wonder if getting close to thunderstorm boy is worth the risk.

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Cover for Jagged Little Pill

JAGGED LITTLE PILL: The Novel by Eric Smith with Alanis Morissette, Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard (Amulet Books, April 26, 2022). Young AdultJagged Little Pill: The Novel follows the intertwining lives of five teens whose world is changed forever after the events at a party.

Adopted Frankie struggles to see eye-to-eye with her mother—who would rather ignore a problem and preserve their “perfect” life than stand up for what’s right. Jo just wants her mom to accept her queer identity—and is totally crushed when Frankie, the only person who really gets her, finds herself infatuated with someone new. Phoenix tries to find his place at the new school and balance wanting to spend time with Frankie but knowing he also has to help out with his sick sister at home. Bella wants to enjoy the end of high school and just head off to college without a hitch. Everyone expects Frankie’s brother Nick to be the golden boy, but even though he just got into his dream school, he’s not even sure he’s a good person. Each of their stories intersects when Bella is sexually assaulted at a party, and it looks like the perpetrator might get away with it.

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Cover for Joy Ride

JOYRIDE by Sherry Duskey Rinker, illustrated by Ana Ramírez González (Candlewick, April 26, 2022). Picture Book.

Needing something to fill up her summer days, Joy seeks out her granddad, who also likes to tinker, for something to do. Together they find the perfect project: sprucing up an old bike for Joy. From hardware stores to garage sales, the two find everything they need to transform this bike, little by little, into something that’s truly one of a kind. Ornamented with sparkles, a basket, and a brand-new bell, the bike is finally ready for Joy to ride it all over the neighborhood, filling the air with her own kind of music that exudes JOY.

But when a few kids take notice of Joy’s bike, and not in a good way, Joy makes an impulsive decision that ruins the dazzling bike she and Granddad worked so hard on. Joy realizes quickly, however, that trying to fit in can be boring, and it doesn’t make her feel JOY. Just maybe, with a heartfelt apology and Granddad’s help, she can get back on track to being true to herself. This touching story, told by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ana Ramírez González, addresses the moments of uncertainty when trying to fit in with the crowd, and exclaims the joyful exuberance of self-expression.

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Book Review: Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space, edited by Zoraida Córdova

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Review by Cris Rhodes

DESCRIPTION: Reclaim the Stars is a collection of bestselling and acclaimed YA authors that take the Latin American diaspora to places fantastical and out of this world. From princesses warring in space, to the all-too-near devastation of climate change, to haunting ghost stories in Argentina, and mermaids off the coast of the Caribbean. This is science fiction and fantasy that breaks borders and realms, and proves that stories are truly universal.

MY TWO CENTS: Fans of Latinx young adult literature will be familiar with many of the names on the cover of the anthology Reclaim the Stars, edited by Zoraida Córdova. These names alone promise that this volume will be fantastic (in more ways than one!). In the introduction to this volume, Córdova explains, “For many people in Latin America, and those living in the diaspora, science fiction and fantasy is the now. Communities ravaged by climate change. Myths that live in our islands and rivers and seas. Violence that leaves the imprint of ghosts through generations and into the future. And yet, when it comes to our literature, there are a million stories that have yet to be told.” This collection offers 17 of those not-yet-told stories, ranging from taking Latinx youth to outer space, back in time, or more currently in our present but with a twist. 

In 2014, we hosted a “Latinxs in Sci-Fi and Fantasy” month, for which Córdova wrote the inaugural post. So many years ago, Córdova opined, “I wonder if the reason there aren’t more [Latinxs] writing as much SF/F is because people … assume that the only story we have to tell is one of immigration or assimilation. And that’s just not so.” She was right then. And she’s right now. The stories in Reclaim the Stars demonstrate that we have so many more stories to tell, stories that take us to the outermost reaches of the universe or to the depths of our own world.  

Córdova’s emphasis on the impacts of fantasy and science fiction on Latinx communities, particularly young people, cannot be overstated and is masterfully captured in this collection. Reclaim the Stars is divided into three sections: “To the Stars,” “The Magical Now,” and “Other Times, Other Realms.” This organization provides loose parameters for the stories in each section, but the various authors’ stories each present a unique and distinct vision of the fantastic, supernatural, or scientific. 

Indeed, no two stories are alike, though many carry the distinct fingerprints of their individual authors. For example, Anna-Marie McLemore’s opening story, “Reign of Diamonds,” may take place on a distant planet, but it still sparkles with their distinctive touch of queer magic, and Romina Garber’s entry “Leyenda” takes place in the world of her Lobizona series. Others are new ventures for their authors, Maya Motayne’s “Color-Coded,” for instance, is a departure from her Nocturna series. Yet more, the collection serves as a debut for Circe Moskowitz and Linda Raquel Nieves Peréz, whose short stories are an introduction that has me putting their forthcoming works on my To Be Read list.

Reclaim the Stars’s wide array of stories will appeal to a diverse audience. While I certainly had my favorites in the collection, all of the stories are engaging. Further, the format of short stories has the unique ability to provide quick, intriguing, and easily-digestible reads for an audience that may not have the time to engage with a longer book. And, perhaps more importantly, this type of anthology allows readers to enter into multiple viewpoints—from South and Central America, from the United States, from AfroLatinxs, from queer Latinxs, from the past, and more. 

Reclaim the Stars has already received significant buzz. And I would add to that. It is worth every glowing review, every addition to a watchlist, every bit of praise. This is the kind of anthology that fills a necessary gap in our field. These are stories we need—and they’re great stories, at that. In fact, they’re fantastic.

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Credit: Melanie Barbosa

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Zoraida Córdova is the acclaimed author of more than two dozen novels and short stories, including the Brooklyn Brujas series, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: A Crash of Fate, and The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina. In addition to writing novels, she serves on the board of We Need Diverse Books, and is the co-editor of the bestselling anthology Vampires Never Get Old, as well as the cohost of the writing podcast, Deadline City. She writes romance novels as Zoey Castile. Zoraida was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and calls New York City home. When she’s not working, she’s roaming the world in search of magical stories. For more information, visit her at zoraidacordova.com.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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