This month (Sept. 15–Oct. 15) is Latinx Heritage Month so I wanted to write about some of my favorite books by Latinx authors, both to share these with others and to motivate myself to read more! Admittedly this list is not as long as it should be and some authors are represented here twice. Although two of my favorite writers (Carmen Maria Machado and Elizabeth Acevedo) are Latinx, overall I haven’t read as many books by Latinx authors as I would like to. If you have any recommendations, please please please leave a comment below! Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is high on my list, but I’d love to learn about books that aren’t as mainstream too.
Also, I highly recommend checking out this post from @libros.con.coffee on Bookstagram about the tokenization of Latinx books and authors during Latinx Heritage Month and why we should be reading books by Latinx writers all the time, not just when it fits a theme or trend.
Mouthful of Birds
Mouthful of Birds by Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin is such a dark, disturbing collection of short stories and it’s amazing. She takes what seem like completely ordinary situations and make them weird and perverse, which makes you go into every story thinking it all seems very normal until something seems a little off, and eventually, very off. I found “Butterflies,” “Mouthful of Birds,” “Toward Happy Civilization,” and “On the Steppe” especially creepy—the images they left in my mind are haunting and I still find myself thinking about them months later. The stories play on themes of family, romantic relationships and gender roles, and loneliness. It’s definitely one of my favorite short story collections.
Her Body and Other Parties
Ok, speaking of favorite short story collections, this one might be at the very top of my list. Carmen Maria Machado is one of my favorite writers and this book (her first) is all it took to seal the deal for me. Much like Mouthful of Birds, Her Body and Other Parties is also creepy and strange as well as all too realistic despite its themes of fantasy and sci-fi. The stories explore gender roles, sexuality, and womanhood through stories that feel like fairy tales and cautionary tales. There’s also a story inspired by Law and Order: SVU, but to be honest, that one confused me. Overall, though, the collection is beautiful and very queer and Machado is an excellent writer.
The Book of Unknown Americans
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez is a novel about a family who moves from Mexico to the U.S. after their teenage daughter sustains a traumatic brain injury. As the Riveras settle into their new home, they struggle to make ends meet, adjust to the culture, and find resources for their daughter, Maribel. Their worries about Maribel intensify when a boy in their building takes an interest in her and the two start spending all their time together. The building they live in is occupied by other immigrant families, most of whom are also from Latin American countries, including Panama, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Puerto Rico. As the Rivera family gets to know the other people in their building, we as the reader get to know them too through short chapters interspersed throughout the book.
I read this book a few years ago and really enjoyed the main story as well as the stories of the other residents mixed in. The stories show how the immigrant experience varies for everyone and how Latinx people are not a monolith. I also really loved the character of Maribel and watching her figure out who she is now that her life has been significantly altered, both from her injury and from leaving her home country.
The Poet X
Ugh, this book. It’s SO good! The Poet X is a young adult novel by the incredible Elizabeth Acevedo and it’s written entirely in poetry. Ok, if that sounds as scary to you as it did to me, I promise you it’s easy to understand. You don’t need to have a degree in poetry or literary analysis to comprehend this book. The poetry is very free-flowing and tells the story much like a novel would, just more lyrical.
The Poet X is about Xiomara Batista, a teenage girl whose very strict mother doesn’t approve of her poetry since what she writes is so expressive and rebellious and goes against the rules of their church. When Xiomara meets a guy she likes at school, her poetry isn’t the only thing she needs to keep secret. Feeling caged, both by her mom and society at large, she is fueled to write more and more as a way to get out her anger and frustration. When she finally gets the chance to perform her work, Xiomara has to decide whether to follow her passion and disappoint her family or stay quiet and hide who she is.
Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse
While the title of this book makes it sound like it could have been written about the hellscape that is 2020, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse is a collection of essays about life in your twenties. I stumbled across this book without looking for it right after I graduated college, aka exactly when I needed it. Alida Nugent is a funny, sarcastic writer and this book is the perfect combination of ridiculous and relatable. In it she writes about being plunged into the real world and trying to find an apartment while also paying bills and eating the cheapest, saddest meals imaginable. Nugent is self-deprecating, but also honest and vulnerable, and as someone whose early (and mid and late, let’s be real) twenties were a confusing mess, I really appreciated what she had to say.
In the Dream House
Hello again, Carmen Maria Machado. Of course both her books are on this list—they’re amazing! In the Dream House is a memoir about Machado being in an abusive relationship while in grad school and the trauma it created inside her. This book is doubly taboo because not only does it talk about intimate partner violence, but it’s about abuse in a queer relationship. This book is so honest and sheds a light on something most people would rather pretend doesn’t exist.
The book, which is beautifully written, is structured as a series of vignettes and short chapters that look at the relationship through the lens of different narrative tropes. For example, chapters are titled, “Dream House as Star-Crossed Lovers,” “Dream House as Déjà Vu,” and “Dream House as Choose Your Own Adventure,” as examples. The structure, I think, reflects the chaotic, repetitive nature of abusive relationships while also showing all the various aspects of the relationship and how it came to be so violent. This book is one of my all-time favorites.
With the Fire on High
If you’ve been around here awhile you already know how much I love Elizabeth Acevedo, so of course she’s on this list twice. If you didn’t already know that, check out my full review of With the Fire on High here. This book is one of my favorites I’ve read this year because it’s just so joyous and uplifting, which is really what we all need right now. It’s about a teen mother, Emoni, who is trying to balance her senior year, her love life, and her passion for cooking all while raising her young daughter. This book bucks all stereotypes about teen mothers (and teen mothers of color, especially) and shows how hard-working, strong, and driven Emoni is. She has a life outside of being a mother and is supported by amazing teachers, family, and friends while going after her dreams. She is never shamed or belittled for being a teen mother and she has no insecurities about it, which I really loved. Emoni knows who she is, but she also recognizes how much she still has to learn and grow.
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