Long-Awaited Mirrors: Latino Lit for Teens | Libro por libro

In recent years, we have seen an explosion of Latino authors writing for young adults. These works offer much-needed windows (and mirrors) for all readers.


IN RECENT YEARS, WE HAVE SEEN AN EXPLOSION of Latino authors writing for young adults. Prominent writers have also published memoirs about their lives as adolescents. All of this activity is great news for Latino YA readers, who are now able to see themselves—their problems, concerns, and issues with cultural identity in a bicultural world—represented in engaging and thoughtful fiction and memoir. And this is also wonderful for non-Hispanic teens. These works offer much-needed windows for all readers.


Realistic Fiction

ANDREU, Maria E. The Secret Side of Empty. Running Pr. 2014. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9780762451920; pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780762459162. Gr 9 Up –Montserrat Thalia, otherwise known as M.T., is the last person who would be tagged as an illegal immigrant—a blond, English-speaking teen with light skin. She has been keeping her citizenship, or lack thereof, a closely guarded secret. But as she reaches her senior year of high school, she finds herself in a few predicaments due to her lack of documentation, not the least of which is the fact that she can’t apply for college. It is difficult for her to keep her secret, especially when bombarded with questions from her friends and peers. This is a terrific examination of what it means to be an immigrant from the point of view of someone not perceived as “illegal.” Drawn from the Argentina-born author’s experience, this is an important book that will spark lots of discussion. DE LA PEÑA, Matt. The Hunted. Delacorte. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780385741224. Gr 7 Up –The author’s follow-up to his cruise ship disaster thriller, The Living (Delacorte, 2014), is just as pulse-pounding and unputdownable as the first. Shy, Carmen, Shoeshine, and Marcus have now reached land in Southern California, except everything has been destroyed by the earthquake and the resulting fires. The few people who are left are being terrorized by the Suzuki biker gang that is ostensibly trying to keep everyone in their Zone to prevent the spread of Romero disease. Shy and his friends have syringes with a vaccine, and a portion of the recipe—minus a page—that they want to transport over the border into Arizona, where good-guy scientists can replicate it. The missing page is in the possession of Addie, who had a memorable voyage with Shy on a lifeboat. Their mission is to journey across a brutal landscape of rotting corpses and collapsed buildings while being hunted by Mad Max–like biker gangs and black helicopters manned by thugs. A cliff-hanger ending bodes well for a third volume in this terrific series. QUINTERO, Isabel. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces. Cinco Puntos. 2014. Tr $17.95. ISBN 978-1935955948; pap. $11.95. ISBN 9781935955955. Gr 9 Up –Winner of the 2015 William C. Morris award for YA debuts, Quintero has created another character who, like Andreu’s M.T., has to straddle two worlds. Gabi is a bilingual and bicultural protagonist who describes her struggles with both cultures in her diary. Her views on sexuality differ from the traditional religious and cultural views of her mother and aunt. For her family, Gabi is too “white,” but for her white classmates, she is too “Mexican.” She also embraces her body, something else that sets her apart, when her peers and family try to shame her. Quintero explores that blurred space of racial and cultural identity that many teens in the United States are navigating. In this novel for mature teens, Quintero displays bravery in presenting a very real and honest picture of identity issues. MELÉNDEZ SALINAS, Claudia. A Fighting Chance. Arte Público Pr/Piñata Bks. 2015. pap. $10.95. ISBN 9781558858183. Gr 9 Up –Meléndez Salinas is a journalist working in California’s Central Coast, and her first YA novel is set in this area, which she clearly knows well. Miguel Angel, 17, has managed to stay out of gang life because of a generous man, known as Coach, who has established a boxing club in an abandoned packing shed. Miguel Angel reads about Muhammad Ali, and dreams of the boxing ring as a way to bring his family out of poverty. As the story begins, he and girlfriend Britney have just discovered that she is pregnant. The narrative alternates between Britney and Miguel Angel, drawing a sharp contrast between the lives of her ultra-rich celebrity lawyer father and their family, and Miguel Angel’s impoverished life in a one-bedroom apartment with his mother and five stepsiblings. Britney’s chapters focus on her efforts to keep the pregnancy a secret, especially her abusive and racist father. Miguel Angel struggles with the threatened closure of the boxing club. Meléndez Salinas expertly juggles these two plot threads in a way that is satisfying and still true to the realities of these two very different teens.


Historical Fiction

PÉREZ, Ashley Hope. Out of Darkness. Carlolrhoda Lab. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781467742023. Gr 9 Up –Based on a real incident—the 1937 New London school explosion—Perez’s novel takes the historical facts and uses the tragedy as a centerpiece for this tale of racism and the worst of human nature. After their mother dies, Naomi, half-sister to twins Beto and Cari, has come to New London so that the twins can be with their father Henry, who is white. The twins’ school was built with the proceeds of the oil boom that was happening at the time in East Texas. But even with the wealth of the community, they still cut corners to save money. This proves fatal when the decision is made to tap into the free raw gas from the oil company’s lines to heat the school. Odorless and invisible, the gas is a literal time bomb, which destroys the school and hundreds of young lives. QUINTERO, Sofia. Show and Prove. Knopf. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375847073. Gr 9 Up –A story about the hip-hop/breakdance culture of the early 1980s. Nike is Puerto Rican and an up-and-coming breakdancer. His friend, Smiles, is an African American who has more socially conscious aspirations and is going to a private school in Manhattan. Smiles is becoming influenced by Qusay, a friend who has converted to Islam and is trying to set up a group to help young black brothers escape from the traps of gangs and drugs and violence. Nike is obsessed with winning an upcoming breakdance competition, and with the pretty new girl, Sara. The bulk of the story takes place over the summer during which the friends work at a youth camp. Smiles is not promoted to senior counselor, and believes that it is because the Puerto Rican head of the camp wanted to promote one of her own. Nike learns some painful lessons when he finds out the truth about Sara, while also learning some important things about his own character. VOLOJ, Julian. Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker. illus. by Claudia Ahlering. NBM. 2015. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781561639489. Gr 9 Up –This powerful graphic novel tells the little-known story of Benjamin (Benjy) Melendez, a Puerto Rican immigrant who became the leader of the Ghetto Brothers, one of largest and most powerful gangs in the Bronx in the early 1970s. The gritty language and details of gang life are balanced by a nuanced look at coming of age in an urban environment. When a key member of the Ghetto Brothers is killed, it seems inevitable that an all-out gang war will break out. But instead, Benjy chooses peace, inspired by a member of the Black Panthers who had approached his gang preaching peace rather than violence. The message is ultimately positive—Melendez is able to bring all of the gangs together in a truce meeting. The unintended consequence of this cease-fire created an environment conducive to the birth of hip hop and breakdancing. 1511-Libro-Memoirs-CVs


ADA, Alma Flor. Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba. S. & S/Atheneum. 2015. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481442459; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781481429009. Gr 7 Up –This book includes two previously published works by Ada: Where the Flame Trees Bloom (1994) and Under the Royal Palms (1998), which was a Pura Belpré author winner. Added to the collection are newly published stories in the “Days at La Quinta Simoni” section. These five new vignettes are mostly atmospheric recollections about her life growing up in pre–communist Camagüey, Cuba. A short introduction focus on the magic she felt in her surroundings as a child—a fallen tree, fragrant blossoms, and animals such as river turtles. There was also magic in her grandmother’s storytelling. The first of the five new stories reflects on the cries of street vendors, using poetic Spanish to hawk bread, coconut candy, taro root, and peanuts. But it is the empanadillas (sweet or savory filled pastries) that she most loves. While buying these treats, Ada learns a lesson from her father about not taking advantage of others. The other entries reflect on childhood memories of sailing paper boats, flying kites, and playing games. ENGLE, Margarita. Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. S. & S./Atheneum. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481435222. Gr 7 Up –A touching and emotionally moving memoir. Engle’s poetry is the right vehicle for these personal memories, and her language shines. The theme of the novel, how Engle is torn between two places—Cuba, the home of her birth, and California where she grows up—will resonate with teens. The tension escalates with the start of the Cold War. The young Engle can’t understand the politics that keep her from returning to her extended family. This is a timely work, especially as relations between the two countries are being restored. MANZANO, Sonia. Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx. Scholastic. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545621847. Gr 9 Up –Recently retired from her role as Maria on Sesame Street, Manzano relates her life experiences up until the moment she auditioned for the show. Manzano’s father was an alcoholic and abused her mother, and her childhood was one of constant fear and anxiety. Beginning with fragmentary memories from her early childhood, the book gives a child’s-eye view of parental conflict. Life is not easy, but Manzano paints a picture of a large, extended, and loving Puerto Rican family. There are over-the-top Christmas Eve parties with aguinaldos sung, and food everywhere. The memoir conveys a good sense of Puerto Rican culture in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. Seeing West Side Story (the film) becomes a life-changing event in her life and sets Manzano on a path to acting. She ends up at the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan, and later in the theater program at Carnegie Mellon. The ultimate message here is one of perseverance and hope, and that one can use talent and imagination to get out of even the most desperate of circumstances.

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