Four Spanish-Language YA Novels on Bullying, Heritage, and Found Family

From Alejandro Palomas Pubill’s introspective companion novels to a debut work about a teen’s Puerto Rican roots, these coming-of-age titles will strike a chord with young people.

From Alejandro Palomas Pubill’s introspective companion novels to a debut work about a teen’s Puerto Rican roots, these coming-of-age titles will strike a chord with young people.

Mañas, Pedro. Un lobo dentro. 304p. Nube de Tinta. Jun. 2023. pap. $17.95. ISBN 9788418050381. SP
Gr 7 Up–A realistic novel that delves into bullying and finding strength through adversity with nuance. Different and misunderstood, Eric buries himself in comic books as an escape from students that make fun of him. He contends with an inner rage as others torment him. This leads to failing grades and hopping from school to school, each time trying to avoid more bullying. As the novel progresses, Eric gives in to his anger and begins to bully others to fit in. With lyrical language and even plotting, Mañas tackles the issue of bullying through the extended metaphor of the wolf, waiting to attack. Layered characterization and insightful prose will ensure that readers will relate to and root for Eric, hoping that he will accept himself and realize that others’ opinions are not as important as self-acceptance. Resolved without being simplistic or trite, this coming-of-age novel is perfect for middle schoolers working through identity issues and peer conflicts. VERDICT A wholly original Spanish-language novel for young people.

Palomas Pubill, Alejandro. Un hijo. illus. by Teo. 320p. Editorial Flamboyant. Mar. 2023. Tr $12.79. ISBN 9788419401175. SP
Gr 7 Up–An incisive YA novel of magical realism. Guille is an introvert who buries himself in books and hides behind a smile. That façade covers up his interior struggles and expansive imagination. Guille sees the world differently, filled with mystery and curiosity. But he doesn’t share his singular perspective with the world or the one friend he has made. The teen also doesn’t share his issues with an absentee mother, a father in crisis mode, and his struggle to be a good son. These compound upon one another and affect his mental health. As the story progresses, readers follow Guille on his journey to find peace within himself, his parents, his friend, and the wider world. A powerful story, this tackles realistic topics with expressive language and complex characterization. VERDICT A ruminative novel that might be difficult for some adolescents to follow. Experienced readers of Spanish might find this more accessible.

Palomas Pubill, Alejandro. Un secreto. 128p. Editorial Flamboyant. Jan. 2023. pap. $12.80. ISBN 9788419401182.
Gr 7 Up–In this standalone sequel to Un hijo, Palomas tackles the theme of found family, friendships, how some secrets are not meant to be kept. The book is told from several perspectives, students at the same secondary school, but Guille, the protagonist from the previous book, and Nazia, the Pakistani girl who he and his father took in at the end of Un hijo, are the primary focus. Guille and Nazia have adopted each other as brother and sister. They tell each other everything. Except, Nazia has promised her mother to not reveal a very important but dangerous secret. It is soon uncovered that Nazia has been raised to be a child bride, and her whole family is complicit. Very much a character-driven story, this novel unfolds at a slow pace. However, the characterization and plot will keep readers engaged. Readers will immerse themselves in this second book because of the beautiful language and the important subject. Though this book is presented as a standalone, familiarity with the first installment will add to the experience. VERDICT Purchase where there’s a need of literary Spanish-language novels for younger teens.

Santiago, Elizabeth. Claro de luna. tr. from English by Cecilia Molinari. illus. by McKenzie Mayle. 384p. Tu Bks. May 2023. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781643796512. SP
Gr 7 Up–Full of Puerto Rican history and folklore, this novel captures the magic of the Caribbean while presenting an unforgettable heroine teens will root for. Readers follow Taína Perez, a Puerto Rican teenager who has always been curious about her name and family’s history. She gets a lead from her grandmother, who confesses that her name means more than she thought. The 14-year-old’s abuela reveals that she might be a direct descendant of Anacaona, a strong Taíno cacica who fought as a warrior until she was murdered in 1503. Taína’s life completely changes as she realizes that her identity is more tied to her island’s history than she ever would’ve thought. As the story progresses, readers will get deep insight into Puerto Rico, the island’s ancestors, and how learning about the past will shape the present and future. This genre-bending book is perfect for those seeking a coming-of-age novel with threads of the historical. VERDICT An engaging novel for younger teens that centers around a relatable heroine and a fascinating history.

Aurora Dominguez is an educator and journalist in Hollywood, FL

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