9 Young Adult Books About Latinx Youth
Diverse literature for young adults is essential. Young Afro Caribbean-American activist Marley Dias started the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks in 2015 because she was “tired of reading was books about white boys and dogs and felt there wasn’t really any freedom for me to read what I wanted.” Her mission sparked international conversations about the need to diversify Young Adult literature to reflect the diversity of people that read.
According to Diversity in YA, in 2014 the Young Adult Library Association’s Best for Young Adults List only had 4% of books about characters with disabilities; only 3% of the books on the list had Latino characters, and authors of color only made up 10% of the list. Although these numbers look abysmal there are books available with young Latina protagonist that are worth putting on your reading list and the reading list of young Latinxs in your family.
“The Poet X” by Elizabeth Acevedo
Xiomara Batista is an Afro-Dominican Latina that lives in Harlem with her twin brother Xavier, her extremely Catholic mother, and her father that seems to be more of a shadow than a physical presence in their home. Xiomara writes poetry to deal with street harassment, feelings of hyper-visibility as a teen girl, hyper-sexualization because of her figure, she shares what she feels for her crushes, and her mother’s overbearing and overprotective ways. After her mother finds her private journal that includes intimate thoughts, Xiomara is desperate to find a way to balance her ambitions while being respectful of her parents conservative and somewhat antiquated beliefs. Written in narrative poetry form, “The Poet X” is a gripping, easy-to-read, and highly relatable book about a young Latina trying to find the balance between parental expectations and their own dreams.
“ShadowShaper” by Daniel Jose Older
Book one in the “Shadow Shaper Cypher,” “Shadowshaper” introduces us to Sierra Santiago. Sierra is a young Afro-Latina that lives in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, brother and grandfather who suffered what many believe to be a stroke. Sierra creates visual arts because she believes they help capture the essence of her ever-changing Brooklyn neighborhood. However, her world is about to change even more when she realizes that the visual arts she loves to create hold magical powers. One day, her grandfather tells Sierra she must work with Robbie, a Haitian classmate and fellow visual artist, to heal wounds that Sierra didn’t inflict. Generational secrets, magic, and intergenerational trust are major themes in “Shadowshaper.” Sierra’s friends Bennie, Tee, and Izzy help Sierra understand this parallel world. Magic, spirits, and generational knowledge about Brooklyn and beyond must be learned to make sure her family, friends, and neighborhood aren’t forever changed by evil plans.
“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sánchez
Stricken by the grief of her sister’s untimely death, young Chicago native Julia is always under her parents’ watch. Without privacy or a person that will listen without judgment, Julia is full of questions about her sister’s death. On top of that, Julia is also dealing with her own mental and emotional health concerns, self-esteem issues, while trying to find a way to get out of her family’s financially poor living conditions and into college outside of Chicago. On an especially difficult day when she was missing her sister more than usual, she sneaks into Olga, her sister’s, room. Her room was untouched since the day she died and finds hints that shatter her perception of her “perfect sister”. Julia is determined to find out who her sister was, who she herself is, and how to live her life outside of the shadow of her sister’s perfect image. Mental health, grief, romance, and trip back to Mexico help Julia find her way back to herself and her family in ways she would never imagine. “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” takes you through a windy and necessary healing journey that many can relate to.
“House of Spirits” by Isabel Allende
This multi-generational novel includes themes about social economic class lines, cultural expectations, marriage and how all these must come together as a way of survival. The two narrators of this tale walk us through a web of family history and political realities in Chile. While no one wants to question their ancestors’ motives, as seen in this story, one can get frustrated with past events that have both brought them into this world and make surviving feel like a curse.
“American Streets” by Ibi Zoboi
Fabiola Toussant and her mother are relocating from Port-au-Prince Haiti to Detroit, Michigan to be reunited with Fabiola’s mother’s sister and her three daughters — but there is a problem. Fabiola is a United States citizen but her mother isn’t. Before she can dream of a life with her mother in Detroit, those hopes are ripped away from her by U.S Immigration. Fabiola must learn how to navigate the gray cityscape of Detroit with family members that feel more like strangers, a private school that feels like she doesn’t belong, and also find a way to get her mother back. Romance, cultural differences, grief, and guilt about enjoying life while her mother is detained, become gnarled for Fabiola. Using ancestral knowledge through vodou, a secret and toxic relationship with a detective that prays on Fabiola’s naivety and vulnerability, Fabiola must find a way to get her mother back and a start her new life in Detroit. American Streets tells a story about the Black immigration experience, cultural divides, and how ancestral knowledge is an invaluable lesson.
“Indestructible: Growing up Queer, Cuban, and Punk in Miami” by Cristy C. Road
90’s punk is almost its own character in this zine stylebook by Queer Cuban artist Cristy C. Road. Punk means challenging status quo, it means living out loud, it means finding a home that to others may seem “unsafe” or “sinister.” Punk, Queer, and Latinx are intersecting identities that do not often make it to bookshelves in one book. Written as a collection of short stories inspired by real-life events, they talk about challenging cis and heteronormative ideas, being Cuban and finding queerness as a home, and coming together with ‘misfits’ that are the perfect fit. This book tells the story many other Latinx folks can relate to.
“The Land of Childhood” by Claudia Lars
You never forget the places that saw you grow up and Claudia Lars proves this with her intimate stories about life in rural El Salvador. Lars’ descriptions about El Salvador will make you feel nostalgic about your own upbringing. This book tells the story of how generations of families help build the physical and figurative foundation of family and life. Being of Salvadorian and Irish descent meshes into a vivid story of remembering customs, honor folklore, and celebrating those who came before you. This book will remind you of home, wherever that may be.
“The Meaning of Consuelo” by Judith Ortiz Cofer
This story follows two sisters, Mili and Consuelo, who were born to a Puerto Rican family. Almost as if a reflection of the land, the family’s reality is tested often. Consuelo struggles to find a way to live beyond the cultural constraints of her family and what they expect her to do. “The Meaning of Consuelo” is a story about family but it’s also very much a story about Puerto Rico.
“Touching Snow” by M. Sindy Felin
Karina’s family moved from Haiti to the United States and while some things remained the same, like her stepfather’s violent temper, other things changed. In Haiti, her stepfather used to beat her siblings but when they moved to the states he began beating Karina. Things reach a new level of scary during one particularly violent episode when her stepfather is arrested and placed in jail. Karina is relieved that he is locked up behind bars, but the relief is short-lived when her mother asks Karina to say she made up all those accusations about her stepfather. Karina wants her siblings and mother to be safe and away from her violent stepfather but safety in America also means having to pay more bills on time and having to find a new place to live — all things Karina’s mother can’t do on her own. Stuck between two different lifestyles in Haiti and The United States, Karina has to figure out where she wants to live not only for herself but for her family as well.
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