So the big news in the book world this week is all about American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, which was released this week. On the one hand, it’s being lauded as “the next Grapes of Wrath” and was announced this week as a selection for Oprah’s Book Club. On the other, there has been a significant amount of outcry from Latinx readers that the book is harmful and perpetuates racist stereotypes about Mexican people and immigrants. For more fulsome information about the issues, we highly recommend this post by Latinx author Myriam Gurba or this Buzzfeed post summarizing the issues.
At the beginning of this post, Haley and I want to make clear that we have not read American Dirt and that neither of us are Latina. That said, we believe ownvoice readers when they say that content that purports to portray their cultures is problematic. In response, we want to share ownvoice books we love by Latinx authors and will also be linking to a bunch of recommendations from Latinx readers.
OwnVoice Latinx Books We LoveWe Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1) by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on February 26, 2019
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.
On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?
We love this book for so many reasons — the feminist storyline, the gorgeous LGBT love story, the strong Latina lead characters, and the Latin American-based fantasy setting. It’s gorgeously written and we both love it so dang much.I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on October 17, 2017
Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first kiss, first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?
This is one of those books I love and also hate a little bit (in the best way). It can be hard to read, because the portrayal of mental illness and what it’s like to live with a parent with untreated issues. It addresses the cultural differences between a child of immigrants and her parents in a pitch perfect way and I just really think everyone should read this one.The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by HarperTeen on March 6, 2018
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.
Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.
But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.
So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.
Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.
I love the Poet X! It was one of my last reads of 2019 and I finished it in one sitting. It is one of the books that even though I’m not Latina there were aspects of Xiomara’s experience that touched me so deeply I had to stop reading for a while to process my emotions. It’s a fantastic debut and both this novel and her sophomore novel: With the Fire On High were mentioned by ownvoice Latinx readers.The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on June 11, 2019
This stunning YA debut is a timely and heartfelt speculative narrative about healing, faith, and freedom.
Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American, learning what Americans and the US are like from television and Mrs. Rosen, an elderly expat who had employed Marisol's mother as a maid. When she pictured an American life for herself, she dreamed of a life like Aimee and Amber's, the title characters of her favorite American TV show. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as "an illegal", but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi's, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, Pablo might still be alive, her mother wouldn't be in hiding and she and Gabi wouldn't have been caught crossing the border.
But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She's asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It's a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything. She just never imagined one of the risks would be falling in love, a love that may even be powerful enough to finally help her face her own crushing grief.
The Grief Keeper is a tender tale that explores the heartbreak and consequences of when both love and human beings are branded illegal.
I have seen this one in a few lists but not very many. If you want an emotional immigrant story that tackes important social issues this is a fantastic, heartwrenching read where Marisol agrees to be a “grief keeper”- an individual who voluntarily takes on the grief of a suffering American- so that she and her little sister can seek asylum in the US. This book is difficult, raw and emotional but is extremely important and a fantastic alternative to American Dirt.
Latinx Books Recommended by Latinx Readers
- This amazing Twitter thread of novels of all kinds by Latinx authors, started by Latino author Angel Luis Colon on his Twitter @GoshDarnMyLife.
- This gorgeous stack of books recommended by author Myriam Gurba on her Twitter @lesbrains.
- This collection of Mexican-authored reads recommended by @lupita.reads on Instagram. .
What About You?
Are there any other Latinx authors you think should be included in this list? Have you read any of our picks? We love hearing from you so share your thoughts in the comments!