If you were a bookworm like me growing up, your childhood and middle school days, along with your bookshelf, was packed full of reads with fantastical characters you fell in love with. No doubt you fanned through the pages of “The Baby-Sitters Club” series, Judy Blume books and, of course, Harry Potter. But for those rainy days, where all you wanted was to read stories of characters whose lives more intimately reflected your own, various standout Latino writers made this possible.
Here are nine Latino YA books whose stories about familia, love and coming of age still stick with you.
The House On Mango Street
CREDIT: Barnes & Noble
This novella by Sandra Cisneros tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a Latina teen growing up in a Chicago barrio. In a series of vignettes, Cisneros poetically spins Esperanza’s beautiful story of resisting oppression while coming of age. Like so many of the books on this list, Esperanza’s story resonated with Latinas because of the shared experiences of familia and facing obstacles. Even now, readers can vividly recall the sadness of reading about female characters like Esperanza’s abuela, who were so trapped within their lives.
Speaking of Esperanzas, the main character in “Esperanza Rising” is the privileged daughter of a wealthy landowner living with her parents in Mexico when misfortune forces her and her mother to flee to a California farm workers colony. Set in the era of the Great Depression, Pam Muñoz Ryan’s story spurred our thoughts as young readers on topics surrounding prejudice, choice, economics and labor unions. The plot of this novel took us on a journey riddled with characters who managed to maintain optimism despite living amidst so much sadness and suffering.
Quinceañera Means Sweet 15
As readers of Veronica Chambers’ novel, connecting to Afro-Latina best friend’s Marisol and Magdalena was easy because of their friendship, crushes and familial pressures to maintain their Latino culture. The two friends navigate the cultural divide of being American, Black and Latina while also trying to remain true to themselves and their own interests. No doubt this book inspired young readers to stay educated about ourselves and explore our own roots.
Becoming Naomi León
At the very beginning of this novel, Naomi León’s strong bond with her abuela and brother appear unshakeable. That is until her alcoholic mom inserts herself into their lives and turns everything upside down when she decides to take Naomi away. After a chain of luckless events, Naomi is sent on a flight to Mexico with her brother and grandmother where she discovers her Mexican heritage. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s book helped us to better understand our anxieties as children.
Bless Me, Ultima
For many readers, Rudolfo Anaya’s novel acted as an introduction to the world of magic realism, and a unique grandson/abuela bond that was easy to relate to. At the heart of “Bless Me, Ultima” is the story of a boy undergoing a series of rites of passages which put him face to face with themes surrounding identity, free will and fear— subjects Latinas and really all women can relate to.
How Tía Lola Came to (Visit) Stay
CREDIT: How Tia Lola Came To (Visit) Stay / Amazon.com
Who didn’t want a tía like Tía Lola after this read? That is, if they didn’t have one like her already. Julia Alvarez tells the story of a boy named Miguel whose move to Vermont after his parents divorce is chaperoned by his colorful Tía Lola. Between this book’s pages is a story of acceptance, cultural diversity and holding onto family, even when it hurts.
CREDIT: Cuba 15 / Amazon.com
Nancy Osa’s novel is about Violet Paz, a girl who’s part Cuban, part Polish family. Cultures collide when she hits 15. For many Latinas coming from families who immigrated to the U.S., Violet’s narrative was a relatable read that taught them to embrace their multiple cultures.
Author Ana Castillo bestowed Latinas a fiercely independent female character in Tía Regina. As a young reader of this book, the amorous relationship between Regina and Miguel was a pleasing introduction to sensuous literature that (dare I say) rivaled the likes of Judy Blume.
In this book, Sandra Cisneros writes of the lies, trauma and history that affects a multigenerational family. It all comes out as they take a summer road trip to Mexico City, making us reminisce about long car rides and the pains of learning difficult parts of your heritage.