Category Archives: Young Adult Books

In the news: New books by Cisneros; book festivals; and tons of links about Junot Díaz

(Note: This post was updated to include the Junot Díaz award from the MacArthur Foundation.)

It’s October, and that means news books, book festival season and Dias de los Muertos. Find out more below:

Already out: Sesame Street actress Sonia Manzano’s young adult novel The Revolution of Everlyn Serrano depicts a Puerto Rican teen growing up in Spanish Harlem in the turbulent 1960s. Manzano talked to the TBD website about the book.

• Oct. 1: Guadalupe García McCall, author of the Pura Belpre winning book Under the Mesquite, releases Summer of the Mariposas, a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey through the eyes of five sisters.

Oct. 2: Sandra Cisneros writes about her missing cat in the illustrated book, Have You Seen Marie?

Oct. 9: In the young adult novel A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Díaz Gonzalez, a 12-year-old girl is caught up in spying during the Spanish Civil War.

Oct. 16: Benjamin Alire Saenz releases a collection of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. In The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Cesar Aira, a doctor discovers he has superhuman powers.

Junot Díaz alert:

Junot Díaz was awarded the prestigious MacArthur “Genius Award” on Oct. 1. The honor is given by the MacArthur Foundation to outstanding individuals in the arts, humanities and sciences.

Need a Junot Díaz fix? Lots of people do since his collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her, was released last month. Nearly a thousand fans crammed into a New York City Barnes and Noble, causing a near riot, according to the ColorLines website. He chatted with The New York Times Magazine’s recent “Inspiration” issue about what has influenced his writing, and a nice slideshow is included. He talked about the main character’s game to NPR; his Dominican background to NBC Latino; genre fiction to Capital New York; and the perceived sexism in his book to The Atlantic. He also went bar-hopping with Grantland. But wait, here’s more articles from Latina magazine, the NPR radio show Latino USA, Huffington Post, the Good Reads website and CNN. Here’s some podcasts from The New York Timesand the Brooklyn Vol. 1 website, where Díaz discusses his passion for comic books. He talked about his love for the Hernandez brothers (of Love and Rockets fame) to the NPR radio program Latino USA. Still can’t get enough of Díaz? Check out his Facebook feed or the new fan website, Junot Díaz Daily.

Book Festivals:

Oct. 1-6: The San Diego City College Int’l Book Fair will include Reyna Grande (left), Gustavo Arellano, Rudy Acuña, Matt de la Peña and Herbert Sigüenza.

Oct. 13 – The Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will feature Victor Villaseñor and Luis J. Rodriguez.

Oct. 27: The Boston Book Festival will feature Junot Díaz and Justin Torres, right.

Oct. 27-28: The Texas Book Festival in Austin will feature Gustavo Arellano, Nora de Hoyos Comstock, Junot Díaz, Reyna Grande, Diana López, Domingo Martinez, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, René Saldaña Jr., Esmeralda Santiago, Ilan Stavans, Duncan Tonatiuh, Juan Pablo Villalobos, Ray Villareal and Gwendolyn Zepeda.

Literary magazines:

Aztlan Libre Press has released the book Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology of Poetry, which was influenced by Cecilio Garcia-Camarillo, Caracol and Nahualliandoing.

• Here’s an interesting article from Ploughshares literary magazine from Jennifer De Leon (no relation) about whether to italicize foreign phrases in literary works, with a mention of Junot Díaz (him again!).

Events:

• Las Comadres Para Las Americas will host a writer’s workshop Oct. 6 in New York City. Speakers include  Sonia Manzano, Lyn DiIorio, and Caridad Pineiro.

• The Festival de la Palabra, which includes discussions and readings from from Rosa Beltrán, Ángel Antonio Ruiz Laboy and Charlie Vásquez, takes place Oct. 9-11 in New York City.

Other news:

• The Southern California public radio station KPCC covered a reading of Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Chicano Literature, written in response to the state of Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies.

• Poet Lupe Mendez was named one of the Houston Press’s top 100 creative people.

Héctor Tobar’s 2011 novel The Barbarian Nurseries may be adapted into a movie, according to ComingSoon.net.

• The film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima premiered in El Paso, according to the El Paso Times.

• A new film based on Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America is being released.

Justin Torres, author of 2011’s We the Animals, was named to the National Book Founationa’s 5 under 35 list of emerging authors.

Also this month:

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturias, right, on Oct. 19.

• The Nobel Prizes will be announced this month, and Book Riot has its predictions. (It’s not likely a Latino or an American will win this year.) Here’s a look at Latinos who’ve won the award.

• Looking for some books for Dias de los Muertos? Here’s The Hispanic Reader’s round-up from last year.

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Labor Day literature: The farmworkers movement in print

Americans will celebrate workers this Labor Day weekend. Two of the Latino community’s most prominent figures – César Chávez and Dolores Huerta – led the farmworkers movement in the 1960s, demanding better conditions for the workers who picked grapes in California. The movement not only had an impact on workers’ rights, but on Latino literature as well.

Here’s a look at some books about Chávez and Huerta, a couple of novels that portray the life of farmworkers, and the story of how the movement gave birth to one of the Hispanic community’s most prominent theaters:

For children: Children can learn about the movement in Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and César Chávez by Monica Brown, Harvesting Hope: The Story of César Chávez by Kathleen Krull and Dolores Huerta: A Hero to Migrant Workers, by Sarah Warren.

For adults: The Words of César Chávez is a book of Chávez’s speeches and writings. It was included in the Library of Congress exhibit, The Books That Shaped America. Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike, by John Gregory Dunne and Ilan Stavans, is a comprehensive look at the strike, while Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques Levy focuses on Chávez. (A film of Chávez’s life is being made into a movie starring Diego Luna, according to The Los Angeles Times.) The Fight in the Fields by Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval is the companion to the 1997 PBS documentary of the same title.

Fiction: Two of Latino literature’s most acclaimed novels focus on the plight of farmworkers. The 2000 young adult novel Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan depicts a teenager working the fields in the 1920s. The 1996 novel Under the Feet of Jesus by Helena Maria Viramontes tells the story of California farmworkers through the eyes of a 13-year-old worker.

Theater: During the Delano Grape Strike, Luis Valdez began presenting plays on flatbed trucks and union halls. He eventually founded El Teatro Campensino, and went on to write the play and the movie Zoot Suit and the movie La Bamba. He recently talked about his theater’s roots to AARP VIVA radio. (The program is in Spanish.)

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Classic book review: Pam Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising”

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s 2000 book, Esperanza Rising, is a young adult novel set in the 1920s, but readers of all ages will enjoy reading this story with its themes and issues that resonate today.

Esperanza Ortega is about to celebrate her 13th birthday on her family’s luxurious ranch when her family faces a series of tragic circumstances. As the revolution rages in Mexico, her mother decides they must go to the United States and work the fields. Esperanza quickly learns she must adjust to a new life, which includes living in a cramped two-room home with five other people and working the fields with workers who want to strike for better working conditions.

Muñoz Ryan writes beautifully with great descriptions of the land, but the novel’s greatest strength is its way of introducing relevant social issues – such as racism and immigration – to young people.

For example, Esperanza and her family go out of their way to a Japanese merchant because he treats them well, even stocking up cow’s intestines for menudo.

As her friend Miguel says:

“Americans see us as one big, brown group who are good for only manual labor. At this market, no one stares at us or treats us like outsiders or call us ‘dirty greasers.’ My father says that Mr. Yakota is a very smart businessman. He is getting rich on other people’s bad manners.”

As Esperanza accepts her new life, she also thinks about other people – such as the way workers were treated during a raid by immigration officials.

“Some of these people did not deserve their fate today. How was it that the United States could send people to Mexico who had never even lived there?”

Esperanza Rising won the Pura Belpré Medal – which honors works for youth by Latino authors – and it deserved it. It’s a great book with a strong character that young adults will identify with.

More about Pam Muñoz Ryan:

Pam Muñoz Ryan was inspired to write Esperanza Rising for her grandmother, also name Esperanza Ortega, who came from Mexico to the United States to pick the fields. The California native also has written Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León and The Dreamer, as well as numerous picture books.

Source: I checked this book out of the library.

Note: This book is part of the series of classic books by Latina authors. Next up: Esmeralda Santiago’s When I Was Puerto Rican.

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When you’re fifteen …: A look at quinceañeras in literature

The recently released Quince Clash by Malín Alegría is the latest book in the Border Town series for young adults, and it’s latest book that has featured quinceañeras – the elaborate celebration for Latinas on their 15th birthday – as a major plot point. Here’s a look at some other books that cover the unique Hispanic tradition.

Alegría knows quinceañeras well. In her 2007 novel, Estrella’s Quinceañera, the title character is almost embarrassed to have the celebration, especially since she is  attending an elite private school. According to this NPR story, the book is considered a classic among Latino youth and Alegría shows up at book readings in a ruffled quinceañera dress and tiara.

Quinceañera Means Fifteen, by Veronica Chambers, is part of a series featuring Marisol and Magdalena, two Panamanian best friends who live in Brooklyn. In this 2001 book, Marisol and Magdalena find their friendship strained as they plan their parties. The celebration is also featured in Chambers’ Amigas series – in Fifteen Candles and Lights Cameras Quince.

Belinda Acosta provides an adult perspective in her Quinceanera Club series. The main characters in 2009’s Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and 2010’s Sisters Strangers and Starting Over are organizing quinceañeras for reluctant teenagers. Acosta cited Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and other Quinceanera Stories, a book of essays edited by Adriana V. Lopez, as a great resource.

For a non-fiction take on the big event, try Julia Alvarez’s 2007 Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. She visited several quinceañeras as research for the book, which covers the tradition’s history and its financial costs. Ilan Stavans examines the religious, gender and class aspects in the 2010 anthology of essays he edited, Quinceañera (The Ilan Stavans Library of Latino Civilization).

Other books about quinceañeras include (with a hat tip to Louisville Free Public Library): the Pura Belpré Award-winning The Tequila Worm by Viola Canales; Sister Chicas by Lisa Alvarado, Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston Coralin; and Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa. And check out Sweet Fifteen by Diane Gonzales Bertrand.

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Book review: Diana López’s “Choke”

Windy Soto is an average eighth grade student when she gets to hang out with the popular crowd for the first time in her life. It’s an opportunity that puts her life in danger.

In Diana López’s young adult novel Choke (Scholastic Press), Windy becomes intrigued by Nina Díaz, the new girl who stands up to the cool kids – and acts nice to Windy. Windy even neglects her dorky best friend, Elena. But Windy soon learns that Nina has her friends play “the choking game,” in which teens choke each other until they pass out.

Choke is an easy-to-read book, although the exposition takes a little too long. López, a former middle school teacher who wrote the book after seeing her own students play the game, captures teenage angst well, especially in the opening paragraphs of the book:

“My middle school has the ‘in-crowd,’ the ‘out-crowd, and the ‘GP.’ ‘GP’ stands for ‘general public,’ just like the movie rating. The in-crowd works hard to stay out of the GP, while the out-crowd works hard to get in. I’m definitely GP, general public in every way. … Sometimes I like being GP because not one expects me to run for student council or compete in the academic decathlon. Being GP means being invisible … Being invisible has its benefits, but it can be boring, too. … I want to be part of the in-crowd. I want the keys to their golden lockers, the ones that decorated with streamers and ribbons on Spirit Day. The ones with mirrors on the inside door, mirrors reflecting beautiful faces and surrounded by pictures of beautiful BFFs.”

The novel, which takes place in San Antonio, features mostly Hispanic characters and the occasional nod to Latino life – such as barbacoa meals – but it should appeal to all middle school students. This book could even save a few lives.

More about Diana López:

Diana López, who grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, is the editor of the Huizache literary magazine and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Houston at Victoria. She also wrote Sofia’s Saints and the young adult novel Confetti Girl

Source: I received a review copy of the book from the publisher.

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A look at LGBT Latino writers

June is Gay Pride Month. Here’s a look at some Latino writers who have written about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered experience:

• Poet Francisco X. Alarcón, right, is best known for his Pura Belpré Honor Award-winning book Laughing Tomatoes and Other Spring Poems/Jitomates Risuenos y Otros Poemas de Primavera, but he has written about the gay experience in his numerous poems and is working on an anthology of gay Latino poetry.

Jeanne Córdova, left, was on the forefront of the gay rights and women’s movement in the 1970s. Her most recent book, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love & Revolution, was partly written in Mexico. The book recently won the Lesbian Memoir/Biography prize from the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards.

• The late Manuel Puig, right, wrote one of Latino literature’s most famous works – the 1976 novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, about a gay man and a revolutionary who are trapped in prison together – which became a play, a popular 1985 movie and Broadway musical. He also wrote 1968’s Betrayed by Rita Hayworth and 1973’s The Buenos Aires Affair.

Charles Rice-Gonzalez, left, wrote the 2011 book Chulito, about a young gay man growing up in the Bronx, and co-edited the book From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction with Charlie Vázquez. Vásquez is active in promoting gay Latino poetry, and has created poetry readings for gay Latino writers in the East Village in New York City.

Alex Sanchez, right, has won numerous awards for his young adult novels about being gay. His books include Rainbow Boys and Boyfriends with Girlfriends. His website offers resources and other book selections for LGBT teens.

Anybody I miss? Let me know in the comments.

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Book review: Malín Alegría’s “Border Town: Crossing the Line”

Malín Alegría provides something the book world badly needed – a great young adult novel depicting Latino life.

Border Town: Crossing the Line (Point/Scholastic) is the first in a series of books modeled after the popular 1980s series Sweet Valley High, which followed the lives of two high school sisters living in California. Border Town features Fabiola Garza and her sister, Alexis, as they attend high school in the small (and fictional) town of Dos Rios in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Even though Alegría lives in California, she perfectly captures the Valley beyond the characters’ meals of menudo and pan dulce. Here’s a line when Fabiola runs into her old Sunday school teacher while she’s buying personal items: “This was exactly why she hated living in the Valley. You couldn’t do anything without running into someone you knew!” (I used to live in the Valley, and that line is so accurate, I laughed out loud.) Fabiola yearns to escape small town life – seeing nearby McAllen as the oasis of cosmopolitan life. “This was how civilized people should live, Fabi though as she grinned to herself – with movie theaters, a mall, art galleries.”

The plot covers typical adolescent angst. Alexis begins attending Fabiola’s high school and runs with the cool kids. Fabiola gets jealous, and accuses one of Alexis’ new friends of committing a crime. The ending is a bit Nancy Drew-ish and unrealistic. The book also is a bit innocent in portraying high school life. While the girls attend a party where they can smell marijuana, sex isn’t mentioned at all.

But Border Town is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book that Latino teenagers will enjoy to read – mostly because they will see themselves in the pages.

More about Malín Alegría: Alegría also wrote Sofi Mendoza’s Guide to Getting Lost in Mexico and Estrella’s Quinceañera. Quince Clash, which comes out in July, is the next book in the series.

Source: I bought this book at Barnes and Noble.

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Book review: Meg Medina’s “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind”

The lead character in The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind (Candlewick Press), by Meg Medina, has an unique problem.

Sonia Ocampo was born during a terrible storm in the poor village of Tres Campos. Villagers considered it a miracle that they and Sonia all survived – and they began asking her to pray for their troubles. She wears a shawl that is weighed down – literally and figuratively – by the amulets they give her. As she tells her aunt:

“I can’t do what everyone wants. I can’t stop bad times from finding us. I can’t control things any more than they can. … Do you know what it’s like to live as I do? To be asked to make rain in the dry season? To cure coughs? … And why am I cursed this way? Because I was born on the wrong night, that’s all. It’s all been a silly lie.”

Her aunt offers to help her escape her situation by finding her a job as a maid for a rich family in the capital. But she has trouble learning new skills and adjusting to her unfriendly co-workers. And her troubles surmount when she finds out her brother Rafael has disappeared.

This novel had an old-fashioned quality to it that reminded me of a Latino version of Little House in the Prairie. The time period is never mentioned – although there are cars, there aren’t gadgets such as iPhones or TV. But the issues Sonia and the characters face – such as finding a place in society and searching for a better life – parallels issues people face today.

Medina writes in descriptive, beautiful prose that never drags the story. The ending is somewhat unexpected because it doesn’t end happily. But young girls will enjoy reading this story.

More about Meg Medina:

Meg Medina, who grew up in Queens, New York, and lives in Richmond, Virginia, is the author of  Milagros: Girl from Away and Aunt Isa Wants a New Car, which won the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award and earned a spot on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer List.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Meet novelist Meg Medina, author of “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind”

Meg Medina began telling stories at a young age. Now she’s won awards and devoted audiences for those stories.

The Cuban-American writer released her new young adult novel, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind, (Candlewick Press) earlier this week.

This follows 2008’s Milagros: Girl from Away and 2011’s Aunt Isa Wants a New Car. Aunt Isa, which is also available in Spanish, earned Medina the 2012 Ezra Jack Keats New Writers Award, given to a new author and new artist of picture books for children nine and younger, as well as a spot on the 2012 Amelia Bloomer List for feminist literature for readers from birth to age 18.

Medina, who grew up in Queens, New York, and lives in Richmond, Virginia, talked to The Hispanic Reader as part of her blog tour for The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. Click to watch the trailer and learn more about the book.

Q: Tell me about your book The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind. What inspired the story?

The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is my first young adult novel. It is the story of 17-year-old Sonia Ocampo who, due to the strange circumstances of her birth, is mistakenly believed to be an angel sent to her mining village. With each passing year, her neighbors have pinned all their hopes and dreams on her shoulders (literally), a burden she can no longer bear. With the help of her clever aunt, Tia Neli, Sonia secures a job as a domestic in the capital, and for a while she believes she has escaped her burdens. Unfortunately, trouble isn’t far. Her brother has left for the north, too, and has not been heard from in weeks. Naturally, everyone turns to Sonia to secure his safety. With only her wits – and the help of a lovesick taxiboy – Sonia has to untangle lies and secrets that have plagued her since her birth.

The novel is written in magical realism, but it touches on contemporary issues: migration and legality; true love vs. predatory relationships; defining yourself despite how others define you; young people’s dreams and having the right to follow them.

Q: What influenced you to become a writer?

I have to believe that it was inevitable. I come from a large Cuban family that loves to tell stories. The act of retelling events was part of my life from a very young age – and I’m thankful to my aunts, my mother, and my grandmother for that gift. Even today, when my elders are in their eighties, I enjoy hearing their stories of Cuba. The stories connected me to my imagination and to my culture. I use my writing in much the same way.

Q: You write mostly for children and young adults about overcoming tough circumstances. What appealed to you about this audience?

I think that writing for children is an honor. I don’t think you can find an adult who truly loves to read, who can’t name his favorite book as a child. There’s something magical about that time in our lives, and I love that my work lives there, where real life and stories hold hands. It’s such a treat to write for an audience that operates that way. As for writing about tough circumstances, I say that it’s important to give children – especially bicultural children – a way to see themselves, their struggles, and their families in books and stories.

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Book review: Francisco X. Stork’s “Irises”

In Francisco X. Stork’s young adult novel Irises (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic), the Romero sisters lived a life so strict that one of them had never been to the mall. Their father, a pastor, “literally thought the devil was going to sneak in the house through the Internet cable.” No wonder that Kate, 18, dreams of escaping her hometown of El Paso for Stanford University, and Mary, 16, paints to escape her world.

But life soon changes for the sisters. Their father dies suddenly, leaving the young women to take care of their mother, who has been in a vegetative state for two years after a car accident. The sisters must decide how to take care of themselves financially, with their own personal dreams at stake.

As Kate thinks, “What she wanted most of all was a more meaningful life, a life where she was useful to others, a life that in her mind could only be obtained someplace other than El Paso.”

Stork’s writing is easy to read, but the book is startlingly different from many of the edgy young adult books that deal with romance or have paranormal or dystopian scenarios. The book has one mention of sex, and a mild one at that. But Irises – named for the flowers Mary likes to paint – is deeper, digging into themes of faith and the purpose of life.

The characters go to church to seek peace, not just to attend service. Characters discuss their faith. One chapter is devoted to a pastor’s sermon. And Stork writes this in a matter-of-act manner, avoiding overtly religious language that may turn some readers off.

When the sisters have to make tough decisions, they discuss what they want from life. “God wants us to live,” Kate says. “He wants to give us abundant life. He wants to give us light and He wants us to be a light unto others.”

Irises is a thoughtful book that will appeal to teenage girls – and, hopefully, a few adults as well.

More about Francisco X. Stork:

Stork, who was born in Mexico and grew up in El Paso, is best known for his books Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors. He studied literature under Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz at Harvard and earned a law degree. He works as an attorney in Boston.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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