¡Viva! YA Literature for Hispanic Heritage Month

Image courtesy of Flickr user Classic Film
Image courtesy of Flickr user Classic Film

September 15 – October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month which honors the history, culture, and contributions of Americans of Hispanic/Latino descent. As someone who works in a primarily Spanish-speaking community, this national observance is especially meaningful for myself, my colleagues, and the patrons we serve. Hispanic Heritage Month presents the opportunity to showcase literature in which many of our readers see their personal and unique experiences reflected, celebrated, and made visible to the world around them. Here are a few titles for you to enjoy that feature Hispanic/Latino characters and/or are written by Hispanic/Latino authors. ¡Viva!

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafónmarina

I’ve been a fan of Ruiz Zafón since 2001, when he transfixed me with his stunning gothic novel for adults, Shadow of the Wind; naturally it’s been wonderful to see his young adult fiction (orig. published in Spanish) translated into English. The Prince of Mist (2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults) was lauded for its gorgeous attention to historical detail, haunting mood, and suspenseful twists. Ruiz Zafón’s Marina continues the same lush storytelling tradition. Fifteen-year old Oscar Drai’s adventure begins when he encounters the mysterious Marina while exploring an older part of Barcelona. They go to a cemetery where they witness a woman dressed in black placing a rose on an unmarked grave. Marina and Oscar choose to follow the woman, and are soon drawn into a world full of dark secrets involving a dead actress, a reclusive industrial tycoon, and creepy science experiments.

GabiGabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (Forthcoming October 2014)

Gabi Hernandez’s life is in pieces. The teen’s mother constantly lectures her about sex and losing weight and her father is a meth addict. Things on the friendship front are tough, too – her best friend, Cindy is dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, and their other friend, Sebastian has been kicked out of his home after coming out as gay to his parents. Amidst all of these issues, Gabi is also trying to get through her senior year in high school – while she is acing poetry, she’s also struggling in Algebra II, which may jeopardize her dream of attending UC Berkeley. Written poignantly in diary format, Gabi is a remarkable story about a girl who is determined to beat the odds and make a better life for herself.


Lightning DreamerThe Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist by Margarita Engle
This powerful historical verse novel (2014 Pura Belpre Honor Book, 2014 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults) celebrates nineteenth-century Cuban abolitionist poet Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda, better known as Tula. The teen finds inspiration in the writings of activist poet José María de Heredia. In a time when women were expected to marry and raise families, Tula spurns two arranged marriages, falls deeply in love with a freed slave, and, through her rich poetry, agitates for equality and social change.


Secret_Side_EmptyThe Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu
High school senior M.T. has been living with a secret all her life – she was born in Argentina but immigrated to the United States as a baby without any legal paperwork. Feeling that college and employment are out of her reach due to her legal status, M.T. faces incredibly tough decisions. The teen also experiences first love and deals with complex family dynamics. Andreu’s novel is a timely exploration of immigration issues and a compassionate portrayal of what it’s like to live in the shadows.



Cup_WaterA Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez
In this stunning coming-of-age memoir, Hernandez richly details the lessons taught to her by the women in her Cuban-Colombian family. These lessons relate to immigration, sexuality, and class. In addition to navigating her cultural identity, Hernandez also explores her bisexuality. An evocative narrative about immigrant and queer experiences.


Additional titles to check out:
  • Border Town series by Malin Alegria
  • Secret Saturdays by Torrey Maldonado
  • Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Illegal by Bettina Restrepo
  • The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Sitomer
  • Dizzy in Your Eyes by Pat Mora

Forthcoming 2015 titles to keep on your radar:

  • Encantrix by Zoraida Córdova
  • When Reason Breaks by Cindy L. Rodriguez
  • More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera

What are some of your favorite books featuring Hispanic/Latino characters? Please share in the comments.

-Lalitha Nataraj, currently reading The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

One thought on “¡Viva! YA Literature for Hispanic Heritage Month”

  1. I thought Loteria, by Mario Alberto Zambrano, was fabulous, and even though it’s not a YA book per se, it gets circulated a lot in my high school library. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, by Meg Medina, is also a popular title among my Latino students.

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