National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) celebrates the heritage and culture of Hispanic and Latino Americans. September 15th is the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico, Chile and Belize also celebrate their independence days during this month.The term Hispanic or Latino refers to Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.
To commemorate this month, I am highlighting some of the recent and forthcoming YA books either written by, or about, Hispanic and Latino fictional or real characters.
Megan Miranda’s Soulprint, published this past February, is about Alina, a half-Hispanic 17-year-old, who has been confined on a secluded island for most of her life. She’s not confined for a crime that she committed in her present life, but for the past incursions of her soul. In this novel set in the not too distant world, scientists have discovered a way to create a fingerprint called a “Soulprint” of a particular soul that allows them trace its passage from individual to individual. Alina happens to possess the soul of the late June Calahan, a Soul Database hacker who blackmailed public figures with nefarious past lives. Broken out of prison by three strangers, Alina hopes to finally escape from June’s shadow and begin to live her own life, but her rescuers have ulterior motives.
Matt De La Peña’s The Hunted (published in May) is the sequel to the 2014 Pura Belpre Honor winner The Living (2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults). A tsunami has sunk the cruise ship Mexican-American teen Shy Espinoza was working on for the summer. He and teens Marcus and Carmen and their adult guide Shoeshine have survived the sinking ship; escaped an island harboring a deadly secret and survived over a month at sea. They have discovered that some of the passengers were working for an evil biotech company responsible for a deadly contagion ravaging Southern California. In an area of California patrolled by rival gangs, the dead and dying, and those desperate to survive, they struggle to make it to the nearest operating laboratory in Arizona. By bringing the chemical formula and samples of the vaccine there, they hope scientists will be able to duplicate the vaccine samples and save the population.
Shadowshaper (June) by Daniel José Older is an inventive tale that combines contemporary and magical realism in a stunning way. Sierra Santiago, a graffiti artist, is stunned when she notices the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears. Her ill grandfather gives her a strange warning and old men from her Brooklyn community begin mysteriously disappearing. After a zombielike corpse crashes a party one night and chases her, she and a cute guy from her neighborhood try to find out what’s going on and discover her family’s magical abilities. Sierra’s forced to do battle with a crazy anthropologist who wants that magical power for himself. What’s not to love about a kickass Latino heroine?
In Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not (June), it’s been very hard for Puerto Rican Aaron Soto, 16, to find happiness since his father’s suicide and Aaron’s attempted coming out and subsequent rejection by the boy he likes and by his friends. The grief and the scar on his wrist prevent him from ever completely forgetting. Maybe the solution is to have The Leteo Institute erase parts of the memory, even if he risks severe amnesia and possibly death.
Several recent memoirs feature prominent Hispanics or Latinos. Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings came out in August. Engle, the first Latino woman to receive a Newbery Honor (for The Surrender Tree), writes lyrically about her childhood summers at her mother’s idyllic homeland in Cuba while spending the rest of the year in LA trying to live the American Dream during the 1950s Cold War era.
Sonia Manzano, beloved Sesame Street star and 2013 Pura Belpre Honor winner for The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano, recently published her memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx. In it she recounts her life growing up in the 50s and 60 in the Bronx living with her large, noisy and often troubled extended Puerto Rican family. She seeks release in daydreaming of a better life to avoid the reality of living with an often abusive and alcoholic father and to escape her less than ideal living conditions. Mixed in with the darker moments are a lot of lighter ones filled with warmth and humor that show how all of these experiences shaped her life and who she would later become.
The recent September release of Marie Marquardt’s Dream Things True is about two teens – Evan and Alma – who live world’s apart in the same Georgia town. Evan’s from a wealthy, but dysfunctional family. Alma’s from a large Mexican family that has lived there since she was very young. They both want out. His way out is through soccer and her’s is through academic success. They meet and fall in love but then Immigration and Customs Enforcement comes. Alma knows that she needs to share her secret with Evan that she and almost everyone she’s close to are undocumented immigrants. Theirs is a bittersweet love story against a backdrop of US-Mexican immigration policies. (Marie E. Andreu’s 2014 book The Secret Side of Empty also explores the story of an undocumented teen whose family is from Argentina.)
The multi-layered story in Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Pérez, also published earlier this month, is an historical novel set in Texas that tells the story of a Naomi, 15, of Mexican descent, and her younger biracial twin half-siblings who are living with the twins’ white father in a segregated community where store signs say “No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs .” Naomi falls for Wash, a smart African-American boy and their ill-fated love story is told in the months leading up to the real school explosion that occurred in New London, Texas in 1937.
Two titles with Hispanic characters to look for in 2016 include Dan Wells’s Bluescreen (February) and Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (March). Wells’s novel is set Los Angeles in 2050 where almost everyone has a smart device implanted into their head and gangs control the communities. Mexican-American teen Marisa and a group of her friend live almost 24/7 online plugged into virtual games. When they discover a virtual drug that gives them a non-chemical safe high, they are drawn into a conspiracy involving something much bigger and more dangerous than they ever imagined.
Medina’s Burn Baby Burn takes place in New York City during the infamous summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout and the Son of Sam serial killings. For Nora, the real danger may be closer to home. She has a threatening, bullying brother, a mother who can’t cope, and an absentee dad. Nora’d like to date the new guy she works with at the deli but isn’t sure it’s worth the risk with a killer on the loose. She finds out that the greatest dangers are those that are hardest to accept.
I think the push for more diversity in YA books is evident in the increased number of books with Hispanic and Latino characters being published – although there’s always room for more! If you know of others I’ve missed, please suggest them. (I didn’t include new books geared more for younger readers with Latino characters like Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Moving Target or Laura Resau’s The Lightning Queen).
Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Sarah J. Maas’s Queen of Shadows
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