Category Archives: Young Adult Books

Book review: Matt de la Peña’s “The Living”

the+living+matt+de+la+penaShy, the main character in Matt de la Peña’s The Living (Delacorte), is not having a good week.

The 18-year-old cruise ship worker watched a passenger jump to his death. Some of his family members have fallen sick. His crush is engaged to another man. And, oh yeah, a catastrophic earthquake has hit Los Angeles, leading to a tsunami that upends the ship and leaves Shy stranded in the ocean with some sharks.

“ ‘What the hell!’ he shouted, angrily pushing himself off one of the corpses and sloshing through the water to pick up the raft oar. Now he was pissed. On top of everything else he had to deal with this? He stood and started beating at the ocean and screaming down the sharks: ‘Get your asses away from here!’”

The Living combines the drama of 90210 with the adventures of Yann Mantel’s Life of Pi and the mystery of the TV show Lost.

The book has multicultural appeal with Shy and his friend, Carmen, boasting Mexican roots and coming from border towns in the San Diego area. de la Peña has an easygoing style, with relatable characters and language (including a few curse words) that will draw teens, including reluctant readers.

Although the exposition and some parts of the book could have been speedier, the last 40 pages provided a great plot twist that kept me riveted. The ending made me wish that I didn’t have to wait until fall 2014 for the sequel, The Forgotten, to come out.

The Living is one heck of an adventure.

Matt de la PenaMore about Matt de la Peña: de la Peña is the author of four other novels, including Mexican White Boy, Ball Don’t Lie (which was made into a 2008 movie), We Were Here and I Will Save You. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the News: New releases, remembering Oscar Hijuelos and more

Here’s the latest new releases and news in Latino literature for the month of November:

FamilyTroubleAlready out: In her book Family Trouble, Joy Castro explores what happens to writers when they reveal their family secrets. Judith Ortiz Cofer and Rigoberto González are included in the book.

• In the novel The Accidental Native by J.L. Torres, a man comes to Puerto Rico to bury his parents, only to discover he was adopted.

Almost White• Actor/writer/director/producer Rick Najera, whose credits include the screenplay for Nothing Like the Holidays, explores his time in the entertainment industry in Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood. He talked about the book to NPR. In another memoir, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutiérrez talks about his life in Still Dreaming: My Journey from the Barrio to Capitol Hill.

Don'tSayAWordDon’t Say a Word, Mama/No Digas Nada, Mama is the latest children’s book from Joe Hayes. The story focuses on two sisters and the garden they make with their mother.

Nov. 5: Chris Pérez remembers his wife in the memoir To Selena, with Love (Commemorative Edition).

Nov. 12: In The Living by Matt de la Peña, an 18-year-old cruise ship worker finds himself fighting for his life when a huge earthquake and tsunami hits the Pacific Ocean.

Mi_Familia_CalacaNov. 19: In the children’s book Mi Familia Calaca/My Skeleton Family by Cynthia Weil and illustrated by Jesus Canseco Zárate, the artwork of Oaxaca, Mexico is used to illustrate the diversity of family structures. Richard Blanco describes the process of writing the poem for President Obama’s inauguration in the book For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey.

• Dec. 3 – Spaniard Antonio Muñoz Molina depicts life during the Spanish Civil War in the novel In the Night of Time.

OscarHijuelosRemembering Oscar Hijuelos: Oscar Hijuelos, the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, died at age 62 last month. Here is his obituary from The New York Times. His friend Gustavo Perez Firmat remembered him in this NPR interview.

Other features:

Daniel AlarconDaniel Alarcón, left, talked about his new book, At Night We Walk in Circles, to Latino USA, Guernica and Vogue magazines, the LA Review of Books and NPR.

Sarah Cortez discussed her life as a poet and a police officer to Voice of America.

Junot Díaz and illustrator Jaime Hernandez spoke to The Washington Post and Complex.com about the making of the deluxe edition of This is How You Lose Her. Huffington Post featured several of the images.

PatriciaEngel-Photo1Patricia Engel, right, author of It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, was profiled by SouthFlorida.com.

Reyna Grande talked about her memoir The Distance Between Us in an interview with KPBS.

• NBC Latino featured Tim Z. Hernandez, author of Mañana Means Heaven, and Nicolás Kanellos, the founder of Arté Publico Press.

• Poet Charlie Vázquez announced the introduction of Editorial Trance, which will publish ebooks by Latino writers.

• This is awesome: The Shortlist website compiled “30 Pieces of Wisdom from Gabriel García Márquez Novels.”

• Great story: Public Radio International traveled to Peru and discovered its writers are spreading their stories through Lucha Libro writing.

• Read the writings of 16 emerging Cuban writers compiled by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo. (Hat tip to The Millions website.)

• Here is coverage from the Latino Information Network at Rutgers of the Las Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference writers’ workshop that took place in October in Brooklyn. The School Library Journal also reported on the event.

• The Scholastic Book Box Daily Blog featured a great profile on Pura Belpré, the New York Public Library’s first Latina librarian and the woman whose name appears on the American Library Association awards for young readers’ literature aimed at Hispanics. The Pura Belpré Awards will be announced in January.

Latinas for Latino Lit has a great package for families with young children — reading kits featuring a book (on Belpré, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and Celia Cruz), along with a booklet and pencils.

• In an article for The Texas Observer, San Antonio writer Gregg Barrios discussed the lack of Latino writers at the Texas Book Festival that took place last month. Officials from the organization responded by saying they were late with the invites and some authors declined to attend.

• Seven books that were banned by the Tucson school district — including Occupied America by Rudolfo K. Acuña, can now be read by students in the classroom, reports the Huffington Post.

• Publishing Perspectives took a look at the children’s book market in Brazil.

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Meet novelist Marta Acosta, author of “The She-Hulk Diaries”

Marta Acosta Marta Acosta brings otherworldly creatures to reality.

The California native is the author of the recently released The She-Hulk Diaries, about the cousin of the Incredible Hulk. Her young adult gothic novel Dark Companion, a homage to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre with a multiracial narrator, is now out in paperback. She also is the author of the Casa Dracula series of books featuring a female vampire.

she-hulk-diariesQ: Tell me about your latest book, The She-Hulk Diaries. How did you become involved in the project?

Hi, Jessica, thanks for having me at The Hispanic Reader! My agent heard about the project for a contemporary romantic comedy featuring Jennifer Walters, a top attorney, and her superhuman alter-ego, She-Hulk, and pitched me to Hyperion, which partnered with Marvel. She knew that I love writing first-person romantic comedy with supernatural elements. I was thrilled to be able to write this character from a woman’s perspective.

Q: Your books, including the Casa Dracula books and the novel Dark Companion, feature plots in which the characters deal with otherworldly characters or themes. What appealed to you about that type of genre?

I wrote Happy Hour at Casa Dracula on impulse, because I’d been watching some science fiction movie and I was ranting, “Why don’t we ever see Latinos in outer space? Why don’t we see Latinos in speculative fiction?” I spoofed the genre stereotypes and used vampires as a metaphor for “other” in society, and my protagonist, the bright irrepressible Milagro De Los Santos, is “other.” She describes herself as a square peg in a round world. When she’s infected with “vampirism,” she must hide out with a pack of high-achieving vampires at their country estate. They think she’s a tacky gold-digger; she thinks they’re terrible snobs. I used the humorous situation to address issues of class, race/ethnicity and gender.

My editor asked me for a series. I added in the supernatural element to Dark Companion, a homage to Jane Eyre and classic gothics, because the supernatural is a gothic trope. I’ve always enjoyed placing characters in a situation where the ordinary rules don’t apply.

Q. What inspired you to become a writer? What Latino/a authors influenced your work?

I just wrote as soon as I learned how. I wrote compulsively and to entertain myself. As a native English speaker, I was influenced by British and American writers, including humorists like Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut. I love the absurdist comedy in Mario Vargas Llosa’s brilliant Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, a book I’ve bought at least a dozen times because I’m always giving it away to friends. While I’ve only published silly poetry in my novels, I’ve written more serious poetry, inspired by Pablo Neruda’s beautiful poetry.

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In the news: New releases by Arana, Rodriguez, García

May brings out plenty of books, ranging from historical biographies and fiction to new novels from Linda Rodriguez and Cristina García.

Bolivar-1003Already out: Bolivar: American Liberator by Marie Arana, author of American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, explores the life of one of South America’s most iconic figures. Arana talked about the book to NPR and The Huffington Post.

• In the novel The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell, Carlos Rojas imagines the Spanish poet in hell.

AutobiographyofmyHungersMay 6: Rigoberto González explores his life in a series of essays in Autobiography of My Hungers.

May 7: Pura Belpré Award-winning author Duncan Tonatiuh uses immigration as an allegory for his children’s picture book, Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant’s Tale. The book was featured in US News and World Report.

every+broken+trust• Linda Rodriguez is back with detective Skeet Bannion, who is solving a series of murders and her own personal problems in Every Broken Trust.

• In Amy Tintera’s young adult novel Reboot, Texas teenagers are forced to be slaves. Here’s the trailer, which was posted on Entertainment Weekly, and an interview in Latina magazine.

IAmVenusMay 16: Spanish painter Diego Velázquez becomes intrigued with one of his subjects in Barbara Mujica‘s novel I Am Venus.

May 21: In the Cristina García novel King of Cuba, a Cuban exile living in Florida is determined to get rid of a Fidel Castro-like figure.

MidnightinMexicoMay 30: Journalist Alfredo Corchado describes life in his native country in Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness.

June 4: Three pre-teens go back to the time of the Mayans in the Matt de la Pena book Infinity Ring: Curse of the Ancients, part of the Infinity Ring series.

Awards:

The nominees for the 2013 International Latino Book Awards have been announced. Nominated authors include Joy Castro, Leila Cobo, Reyna Grande, Linda Rodriguez and Gwendolyn Zepeda, as well as the anthology Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhood and Fierce Friendships.

Junot Díazs This Is How You Lose Her is up for the American Library Association’s Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. The winner will be announced in June.

Events:

• The Spanish language LeaLA book fair will take place May 17-20, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Other features:

The remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda are being examined to see if he was poisoned, according to The Daily Beast.

Rosemary Catacalos has been named the first Latina Texas State Poet Laureate, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Gwendolyn Zepeda was named the city of Houston’s first poet laureate.

Isabel Allende, author of the newly released Maya’s Notebook, shared her reading habits with The New York Times and the five books that most influenced her to The Daily Beast.

Alex Espinoza, author of The Five Acts of Diego León, talked to NPR about how Tomas Rivera’s book … And The Earth Did Not Devour Him influenced him. He also discussed his book to the Los Angeles Times.

• Also in the Times, Dagoberto Gilb talked to Héctor Tobar about his literary magazine, Huizache, and the Latino Lit scene.

Manuel Ramos discussed his novel, Desperado: A Mile High Noir, to the Denver newspaper Westword.

Alisa Valdes is releasing a chapter a day of her book Puta.

• Eight Latino poets shared their favorite poems to NBC Latino.

• NPR covered the popularity of Venezuelan novels and visited the Ciudad Juarez club that inspired Benjamin Alire Saenz’s award-winning book, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club.

The New Yorker published a short story by the late Roberto Bolaño.

• Here’s a few interesting podcasts: Junot Díaz and Francisco Goldman at a Radio Ambulante podcast in February and a few events from the Lorca in New York festivities.

• California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera gave his playlist to alt.latino website on NPR.

• Got an ereader? Now you can download Sandra Cisneros’ books on there, according to Publishers Weekly.

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Happy birthday, Gary Soto!

gary_sotoGary Soto was born April 12, 1952 in Fresno, Calif. The California-based novelist and poet is best known for his gritty portrayal of the lives of Mexican-Americans.

Soto grew up working the fields and living in the barrio, and he used those experiences in his poems – including his first book of poetry, 1977’s The Elements of San Joaquin and his collection New and Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the 1995 National Book Award.

His young adult books depict teenagers in tough situations. The  1996 novel Jesse takes place during the Vietnam War and the 2006 novel Buried Onions shows life in a gang.

He also has a more whimsical side, as seen in his picture books, chapter books, short stories and poetry for children.

Read his poems on the Academy of American Poets and Poetry Foundation websites. You also can find out more about him by visiting the Gary Soto Literary Museum in Fresno, Calif.

Sources: Gary Soto website, Wikipedia, Amazon.com, Poetry Foundation

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Book review: Meg Medina’s “Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass”

YaquiDelgadoYaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Candlewick) has one of the best titles of the year so far. And the young adult novel by Meg Medina boasts a story as compelling as its title.

Piddy Sanchez is a half-Cuban, half-Dominican teenager living in Queens who has started attending a new high school. One day, she is told that Yaqui Delgado, a classmate she doesn’t know, is after her. As another student tells her:

“‘You’re stuck-up for somebody who just showed up out of nowhere. Oh! And she wants to know who the hell you think you are, shaking your ass the way you do.’ … Interesting, I’ve only has an ass for about six months, and now it seems to have a mind of its own.”

Piddy is on the lookout for Yaqui. And her fear leads her to skip classes and neglect her studies. To add to her stress, she becomes involved with a boy from a troubled family, and she starts questioning her mother about the whereabouts of her father, whom she’s never met.

Delgado is a fast-paced, easy to read novel that accurately conveys the fear of bullying and the angst of being an adolescent, that awful time in life when nothing you do is right.

Take this scene where Piddy is hanging out with her mother’s best friend:

“I don’t say anything else as the sputtering radio fills the room. Lila wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be hated. Everyone loves her; everyone wants to talk to her at a party. … I don’t know that secret charm – at least not at (school), where I’ve become a loser just like that.”

While YouTube is mentioned, I would have liked to have seen the presence of more cyberbullying since it’s so rampant today – although I understand that the characters come from low-income families whose parents don’t own computers or smartphones.

But that’s a minor complaint. Overall, Yaqui Delgado is a excellent novel for teens, who will relate to the main character and her troubles. The book kicks ass.

Meg_MedinaMore about Meg Medina:

Virginia-based Medina is the author of the 2012 young adult novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and the 2011 picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car, which won the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Classic book review: Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street”

HouseonMangoStreetSandra Cisneros’ 1984 novel The House on Mango Street (Vintage) is just 110 pages long. It doesn’t have a sweeping plot. It’s a collection of interlinking stories about a young girl, Esperanza, her family and her neighbors. It’s the little details about everyday life that have made the book the classic that it is today.

I first read Mango Street more than 15 years ago, and I distinctly remember one line from the book, from the chapter called “My Name”: “In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters.”

I’ve missed Cisneros’ work. It has been 10 years since her last novel, Caramelo, was released. Last year, I read Women Hollering Creek, a collection of short stories from 1992, and just as I reread Mango Street, I remembered why Cisneros is such a beautiful writer. The conversations sound like she has been eavesdropping on your family and she makes commonplace objects sound extraordinary, almost poetic. Take this passage from the chapter “Hairs”:

“Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. … But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she make room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring.”

Or this line from “Hips”:

“One day your wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?”

Many of the stories deal with universal adolescence angst. But several of the stories – including a thread about Sally, a beautiful girl who ends up married before eighth grade – show a gritty reality that is part of Esperanza’s tough Chicago neighborhood.

Mango Street is easy to read and relate to – there’s little wonder that it’s now part of the high school literary canon. It’s the only Latino book on the PBS’ The American Novel series and NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.

Cisneros released a book Have You Seen Marie? last year, but it was much too brief. Here’s hoping that a new Cisneros book will be published soon.

scisnerosMore about Sandra Cisneros:

Sandra Cisneros grew up in Chicago. She has won fellowships from the National Endowment of Arts and the MacArthur Foundation. She also founded The Macondo Foundation writer’s group.

Source: I purchased this book.

This book is the latest in my series of classic Latino novels. Up next: The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.

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