A few months ago, I asked my 6-year-old son, who attends a Spanish immersion magnet school, a question. Looking directly into my eyes, he responded:
“Mom, I’m going to answer you in Spanish. No.”
Almost two years ago, I found myself following authors Myriam Gurba and David Bowles and journalist Robert Lovato, the originators of the Twitter hashtag #DignidadLiteraria. Their social-media-driven push to engage the publishing industry over its systemic failure to make adequate space for authentic representation of Latinx voices and stories was exciting and inspiring, and motivated me to intentionally seek out books written by Latinx authors. Almost 20 percent of the United States population claims Hispanic ethnicity, and almost 15 percent of what is now the United States used to be Mexico, but sadly, up until 2019, a whopping zero percent of my reading centered Latinx voices and experiences. I have found both delight and frustration as I’ve worked to remediate that deficiency. The delight, clearly, has come from the richness and creativity and artistry of Latinx authors. But frustration has also materialized as I struggled to find books centering Latinx voices for myself and my family in our local library’s collection. Although there is definitely momentum toward increasing diversity in the publishing industry, the Lee &Low Books blog reports that, in 2019, only 6 percent of published books were written by Latinx authors.
I’m not sharing these statistics to make us feel guilty and a burden of “should” when it comes to our reading. But I hope, as Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, we are motivated to pause and consider our reading practices, ponder the identities of the authors we find ourselves reading, and imagine the as-yet-unexplored literary vistas that might be waiting. If you need any suggestions to get yourself started, these books our Literary Mama staff recommend are a great jumping off point!
“Author Guadalupe Nettel likes to wrestle with solitude,” shares Profiles & Reviews Editorial Assistant, Lolita Pierce. “Whether it is the physical solitude created by distance or the psychological solitude formed by grief, the characters in After the Winter both embrace and eschew aloneness and all of its thorns. Claudio cocoons himself in habits and self-imposed restrictions. Following a traumatic sexual experience in his childhood, he moves from Havana to New York and dedicates himself to a life of ‘absolute privacy.’ Abandoned by her mother as a child, Cecilia leaves Oaxaca to pursue a graduate degree in Paris. Although she found comfort in cemeteries as a child, she is surprised to find herself ‘a specter whom nobody notices’ as an adult. The parallel and separate narratives of Claudio and Cecilia don’t converge until the novel is halfway over. Relishing his solitary life, Claudio is unprepared when he falls in love with Cecilia. But this is not a love story. Claudio and Cecilia meeting is the tipping point of a larger story.
“There is no adequate way to do this novel justice in such a small space. After the Winter explores urban apathy, grief, and all the ways in which we run from ourselves and others. In the novel, Cecilia comes across Georges Perec’s posthumous novel L’infra-ordinare and discovers that Perec lived and wrote about the neighborhood where she lives. The ‘infra-ordinariness’ of a barely noticed life provides a façade. Beneath are the lives of those exiled, orphaned, and absented. Nettel, like Perec, notices how ‘we live in the ordinary without ever interrogating ourselves about it and about the information it might give us.’ The human impulse to connect, even as we incubate ourselves, is an impulse that undergirds life. Nettel’s novel, keenly translated by Rosalind Harvey, is an unsentimental and exquisitely rendered portrayal of solitude and connection, loss and love.”
“On one of my weekly trips to the library,” recalls Senior Editor, Christina Consolino, “the bold red and yellow of Jaquira Díaz’s Ordinary Girls: A Memoir caught my eye. Two seemingly simple sentences at the end of the introduction prompted me to check the book out: ’We are women now—those of us who are alive, the ones who made it. For a while there, we didn’t know if any of us would.’ Díaz’s exquisite attention to detail, her word choices and sentence structure, along with vivid descriptions of her family and surroundings, are keeping me engaged. Though I’ve only just begun the book, already I’ve found myself noting vibrant passages of Díaz’s truth that stand out and resonate with me, and it’s clear that certain themes will emerge: Family and community (‘We were poor, like everybody who lived there, but we didn’t know any better,’ writes Díaz as she describes life in El Caserío. There, she ‘learned about danger and violence and death, but it was also where [she] learned about community’); gender inequality (‘Most days I ran wild around El Caserio . . . to be the boy I thought my father wanted’); mental health (‘After my father left her for the last time . . . my mother started hearing voices’), and more. The poet Julia Alvarez wrote of the book, ‘There is more life packed on each page of Ordinary Girls than some lives hold in a lifetime.’ So far, I would agree with her.”
I don’t always read YA romance novels, but when I do, they center young, fat-liberated, writerly Latinas who experience adolescent drama, romance, and heartache to it’s adorably sincere fullest. Or at least, they should. In Crystal Maldonado’s debut novel, Fat Chance Charlie Vega, the eponymous protagonist is a smart, funny teen who loves writing, fashion, and daydreaming about her first kiss. She’s also fat and actively challenges the body-shaming messaging she encounters online, at school, and at home. Which leads to a LOT of conflict with her diet-focused, recently skinny mother. Her best friend, Amelia, is always there to love and encourage her through the rough patches with her mom, but, as much as Charlie treasures her friend and appreciates her support, she also wrestles with feeling inferior to Amelia’s attractiveness and accomplishments. As a reader, I immediately loved Charlie and cheered her on as she assembled super-fresh outfits inspired by fat-affirming Instagrammers, navigated not one but TWO love triangles, and worked through significant identity formation within her immediate and extended family. Maldonado uses a light touch to make space for a cast of fat-affirming, queer, racially and ethnically diverse teens to be part of a “normal” high school ecosystem. The book is funny, charming, and utterly wholesome. I can’t wait for more from this author.
Our final book is not written by a Latinx author, but is near and dear to our LitMama hearts! Editor-in-Chief Amanda Jaros reports: “I’ve recently enjoyed our own Christina Consolino’s novel Rewrite the Stars, released earlier this year. The story follows Sadie and Theo, a couple who’s loving marriage has been decimated by Theo’s return from military service suffering from PTSD. As their relationship unravels and Theo’s symptoms increase, the couple tries to parent well, hold down jobs, and find some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Amidst it all, Sadie finds herself falling in love with another man, which, understandably, makes herself question just about everything. The characters’ conflict reaches a crescendo near the end of the book with a succession of incidents which force them to make tough decisions that will alter their lives. What I loved about Consolino’s work, aside from her skill as a story-teller and her meticulous attention to the written word, was the accessibility of this story. Sadie and Theo seem to be real people, suffering from real-life troubles, that just about anyone in a marriage or with kids could relate to. Rewrite the Stars is an emotional tale about how messy and confusing life can be, but Consolino reminds us that the course of our lives is not written in stone. Rather, with a little love, friendship, and hope, we all have the chance to rewrite our own stories.”