Hello, friends! I read a lot of books during Latinx Heritage Month and have so have many reviews for you. This week I am sharing a review of a book I read before LHM and my first read for LHM. Both were amazing reads and introduced me to authors I know I will be reading for years to come.
Title: Lupe Wong Won't Dance
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Publisher: Levine Querido
Release Date: September 8th 2020
TW: racism, bullying, grief
"Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She's also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.
Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who's Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she's not gonna let that slide."
Donna Barba Higuera’s Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is one of the most amusing middle grade novels I’ve ever picked up. Seventh grader, Lupe Wong, is determined to meet her favorite baseball player, Fu Li Hernandez. In order to do so, she has to get A’s in all her classes including P.E., which for Lupe ought to be a cinch, but this year is different. Her teacher is forcing her students to learn how to square dance! Lupe doesn’t think dancing should be considered a sport and makes it her mission to get her teacher to change her mind. Lupe is a great character. She is stubborn, smart, and endearingly precocious. Unfortunately, every plan she makes backfires. I loved seeing Lupe with both sides of her family. She is Mexican and Chinese and is blessed with being a part of both cultures. Her father passed away two years ago, but with the help of her mother and his grandparents, his memory is still kept alive. Her love for baseball is tied to her father and sometimes it’s hard for her to work through her feelings of grief. Lupe also learns important lessons in this one including how to be a better listener to her friends. Donna Barba Higuera’s Lupe Wong Won’t Dance was a true joy that had me laughing aloud from start to finish.
★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5)
Title: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
Author: Crystal Maldonado
Publisher: Holiday House
Release Date: February 2nd 2021
TW: fatphobia, mentions of racism
"Coming of age as a Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb is hard.
Harder when your whole life is on fire, though.
Charlie Vega is a lot of things. Smart. Funny. Artistic. Ambitious. Fat.
People sometimes have a problem with that last one. Especially her mom. Charlie wants a good relationship with her body, but it's hard, and her mom leaving a billion weight loss shakes on her dresser doesn't help. The world and everyone in it have ideas about what she should look like: thinner, lighter, slimmer-faced, straighter-haired. Be smaller. Be whiter. Be quieter.
But there's one person who's always in Charlie's corner: her best friend Amelia. Slim. Popular. Athletic. Totally dope. So when Charlie starts a tentative relationship with cute classmate Brian, the first worthwhile guy to notice her, everything is perfect until she learns one thing--he asked Amelia out first. So is she his second choice or what? Does he even really see her? UGHHH. Everything is now officially a MESS.
A sensitive, funny, and painful coming-of-age story with a wry voice and tons of chisme, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega tackles our relationships to our parents, our bodies, our cultures, and ourselves."
It was impossible not to fall in love with the lead character in Crystal Maldanado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega. Charlie is a romantic, who spends far too much time imagining what her first kiss will be like. She’s used to being a spectator even in her own life. Her mother is constantly reminding her that she’s too fat and often prefers the company of Charlie’s best friend to her own daughter. It’s hard for Charlie not to compare herself to her best friend. Amelia, who seems to have it all, including the unflinching support of her parents. Charlie wants to be able to love herself even when the world tells her otherwise, but this can sometimes be hard. I loved how vulnerable and genuine Charlie’s voice was. Charlie feels like a real person who struggles with insecurities and who is prone to jealousy. I appreciated how realistic Vega portrayed Charlie’s relationship with her mother. Some mother-daughter relationships aren’t healthy and like life, don’t have a neat resolution to them. Charlie’s relationship with her best friend Amelia also has its ups and downs. Charlie has always felt like she was living in her friend’s shadow, but doesn’t realize holding her friend up on a pedestal is also unfair to her. The romance in the novel is super sweet and I loved that Charlie’s confidence was boosted by her love interest, but was never dependent on him. Fat Chance, Charlie Vega is perfect for readers who love love and endearing lead characters.
I have a super-sized mini-review post for you today. I typically keep these posts two-reviews long, but when I was formatting this post, I remembered that I had written a review for Counting Down With You over the summer that I never got around to posting. It’s perfect because all three of these are contemporaries and I felt more or less the same about all of them. I enjoyed them and though there were certain elements that really stood out to me, I wasn’t completely blown away by them. I would still recommend all of these, so if there are things in my review that appeal to you, definitely pick these up.
Title: Counting Down With You
Author: Tashie Bhuiyan
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: May 4th 2021
TW: brief mention of forced outing and death of a child, anxiety attacks
"A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy.
How do you make one month last a lifetime?
Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything.
Karina is my girlfriend.
Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back.
T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?"
Tashi Bhuiyan’s Counting Down with You is perfect for contemporary fans looking for stories with complicated family dynamics and page-turning romance. Karina Ahmed is a Bangeldashi-American teen on the fast track to med school. Nothing could make her parents prouder. The problem? Karina wants to study English, but admitting this to her parents would break their hearts, something she isn’t prepared to do. When her parents travel to Bangladesh for a month-long trip, Karina can’t help but feel a sense of relief. When her English teacher asks her to tutor Ace Clyde, her school’s resident bad boy, Karina can’t think of a worst idea. When he asks her to be his fake girlfriend, all her plans to have a drama-free month without her parents go out the window. The more time she spends with Ace, the more she starts to want the things she hasn’t allowed herself to really want. Counting Down with You does a really good job of showing the many facets of Karina’s life. We see her with her immediate family, her extended family, her friend group, and with Ace. All of these relationships require Karina to be a different version of herself and at the end of the novel, she has to choose whether or not to reconcile these parts of herself or continue to only to show part of who she is to those closest to her. I really enjoyed the evolution of Karina’s relationship with Ace. Aside from all the flirtation, they are great influences on each other. In many ways they are polar opposites, but both struggle to reconcile who they are with how their families see them. By far my favorite relationship was the bond Karina had with her grandmother. There is so much love and support here and I loved that it wasn’t her friends or her love interest who she truly needs in her corner, but it’s her grandmother. Counting Down with You will win the hearts of readers with its likeable protagonist and nuanced take on familial expectations.
★ ★ ★ (3/5)
Title: Simone Breaks All the Rules
Author: Debbie Rigaud
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: June 1st 2021
"Late bloomers unite! This fresh and funny #ownvoices novel from rising star Debbie Rigaud is perfect for fans of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Booksmart.
Simone Thibodeaux's life is sealed in a boy-proof container.
Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously).
Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up -- especially since she's crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn't approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven't had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah -- choosing your own prom date.
But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She'll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak."
Debbie Rigaud’s Simone Breaks All the Rules is a fast-paced contemporary novel about learning to advocate for yourself. Haitian-American teen, Simone Thibodeaux, is tired of doing everything according to her parents’ rules. In an effort to take back control of her life, Simone and two classmates make a to-do list in hopes of breaking free from their parents’ overprotective natures. Simone calls herself a late bloomer, not because she didn’t want to date or go out partying but because her parents always had certain expectations of her and she acquiesced. As seventeen; however, she is thinking about adulthood: what she wants and what compromises she is now unwilling to make. She finds it difficult to find the words to tell her parents she doesn’t want to live at home when she goes to college. This bucket list for her senior year becomes a small way where she can rebel and declare independence. It also gives Simone the confidence she needs to finally tell her parents what she wants. Simone Breaks All the Rules is perfect for fans of contemporary books with an emphasis on family and friendship.
★ ★ ★ (3/5)
Title: Rent a Boyfriend
Author: Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 10th 2021
TW: fatphobia, slut-shaming
"To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.
Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.
Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.
When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.
But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?"
Chloe Wang would like nothing more than for her parents to stop insisting she get marry to the most unsuitable guy imaginable. In an effort to get them to finally back off, Chloe enlists the help of Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company that provides the perfect fake boyfriend to fool even the most hard to impress parents. Drew has been working for Rent for Your ‘Rents as a way to support himself after his parents cut him off for pursuing his dream of becoming an artist. Chloe is just one client on a long list of young women looking for help in dealing with difficult parents. Being her fake boyfriend shouldn’t be too hard, except the more time he spends with Chloe, the more the line between fake and real begins to blur. I really liked the opposites-attract aspect to Chloe and Drew’s relationship because of how knowing the other helps them overcome some of their biggest personal obstacles. Sometimes Chloe finds it hard to be herself in front of her parents. She wants to make them happy, but this often comes at the expense of her own happiness. Drew is terrified of sharing his work with others because if he fails, his decision to drop out of college and consequently, lose his family, wasn’t worth it after all. Chloe and Drew encourage each other not by taking on the other person’s problems but by supporting who they are and giving each other the space to take control of their own lives. Gloria Chao’s Rent a Boyfriend has an undeniably sweet romantic plot, but it is the complicated and fraught familial relationships that really stood out.
I have so many reviews in my drafts and since I am going to go on hiatus very soon, I am going to do my best to get as many as I can out before then. This week I am bringing you reviews of two of the hardest books I’ve ever read. Both deal with heavy subject matter and I literally had to take breaks while reading them. Both were incredible reads, but definitely approach these titles with a bit of caution. Take note of the trigger warnings before diving in and always take care of yourself.
Title: One of the Good Ones
Author: Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: January 5th 2021
TW: death of a sibling, police brutality, racism, assault, homophobia, lynching
"The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine.
ISN'T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH?
When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic.
One of the good ones.
Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there's a twist to Kezi's story that no one could've ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.
Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite’s sophomore novel, One of the Good Ones, gives an unforgettable look at how victims of police brutality are stripped of their humanity, held up as saints or criminals under media scrutiny and deemed worthy or unworthy of being mourned as a result. Kezi has her whole life ahead of her. Passionate about history and social justice, Kezi has made a name for herself online with her YouTube channel. But her life is cut short after she attends a protest and is taken into police custody. One of the Good Ones for the most part alternates between Kezi’s POV before her arrest and present day from her sister Happi’s perspective. Kezi is dealing with internet fame, falling in love for the first time, and hiding the fact that she is gay from her very religious parents. After her death, her family is thrust into the spotlight and while her parents and older sister have adapted to this, her younger sister Happi struggles to deal with their grief constantly being put on display for public consumption. I loved reading about the different dynamics between the three Smith sisters: Happi, Kezi, and Genny. They are all very different people and don’t always have seamless sisterly interactions. It was both heartbreaking to read about how much Happi regretted not knowing her sister as well as she should have before her passing, but there is also a sense of hope as she begins to learn more about who Kezi was. I won’t spoil the book, but there is a POV in the novel that felt so pertinent as the book explores who and who isn’t publicly mourned when it comes to police brutality. The book also features letters and narrative non-fiction, the latter of which really stood out to me. Like their debut Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite utilize different mediums in One of the Good Ones, crafting a unique and unforgettable story that will undoubtedly stun readers.
★ ★ ★ ★ (4/5)
Title: The Mirror Season
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel Friends
Release Date: March 16th 2021
TW: sexual assault (on-page), drugging, PTSD, panphobia, assault
"When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family's possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore's The Mirror Season...
Graciela Cristales's whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned.
But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela's school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened."
Anna-Marie McLemore’s delivers their most emotionally-charged novel with The Mirror Season. Ciela is known as La Reina de las Nievas, gifted with the ability to read customers and know exactly what kind of pan dulce they need at her family’s pastelería. After she is sexually assaulted at a party, Ciela would like nothing more than to forget that night, but when the boy who was assaulted at the same party shows up at her school with only a vague memory of what happened, she is forced to relive events. The Mirror Season can be overwhelming at times as it recounts the aftermath of Ciela’s sexual assault, the continued trauma of seeing her perpetrators at school, and the turmoil of keeping the truth of what happened a secret. Her relationship with Lock becomes a double-edged sword. Their connection allows Ciela to talk about her sexual assault for the first time with someone who understands, but she is unable for Lock’s sake as well as her own to be entirely truthful. Ciela spends a lot of time lying to herself as a coping mechanism, dealing with misplaced guilt, and struggling to reconcile the person she was before the assault with the person she has become. Though her journey is heartbreaking, The Mirror Season is also about Ciela rediscovering the parts of herself she thought were lost for good, reclaiming these parts as her own, and standing up to her assailants. The Mirror Season is a difficult novel to get through, at times it will hurt, shock, infuriate you to read, but like Anna-Marie McLemore’s previous novels, the characters in this story are more than their trauma and their path to empowerment though not smooth still feels hopeful even in the midst of the wounds they endure.
Title: Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun Author: Jonny Garza Villa Series: N/A Pages: 341 Publisher: Skyscape Release Date: June 8th 2021
TW: physical abuse, homophobia including slurs, forced outing, suicidal thoughts
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**
“A poignant, funny, openhearted novel about coming out, first love, and being your one and only best and true self. Julián Luna has a plan for his life: Graduate. Get into UCLA. And have the chance to move away from Corpus Christi, Texas, and the suffocating expectations of others that have forced Jules into an inauthentic life. Then in one reckless moment, with one impulsive tweet, his plans for a low-key nine months are thrown—literally—out the closet. The downside: the whole world knows, and Jules has to prepare for rejection. The upside: Jules now has the opportunity to be his real self. Then Mat, a cute, empathetic Twitter crush from Los Angeles, slides into Jules’s DMs. Jules can tell him anything. Mat makes the world seem conquerable. But when Jules’s fears about coming out come true, the person he needs most is fifteen hundred miles away. Jules has to face them alone. Jules accidentally propelled himself into the life he’s always dreamed of. And now that he’s in control of it, what he does next is up to him.”
Julián – Julián is an easy character to like and root for. He knows he can’t come out because of the hostility his father has always shown about the very idea that he could be gay. The only thing that gets him through is imagining life after high school, of going to college in another state where he’d be free to be himself and finally be happy. When he accidentally comes out on social media, he has to deal with the inevitable falling out, but there is also this new idea that he doesn’t have to wait to be happy, that if he embraces himself and puts himself out there, he has a chance to experience good things in the now.
Friend group – I really enjoyed Julián’s friend group. They are all different people, but they balance each other out so well. When they are together, it is chaotic and fun. They are there for Jules in different ways and it was so nice to see this support system. I especially loved Jules’s relationship with Jordan. They are so supportive of one another and effortlessly affectionate. It’s the kind of relationship between two male characters that I would like to see more often.
Discussion of homophobia in Latinx communities – There is a clear juxtaposition between Jules’s friends’ reaction versus his father’s. Jules’s has kept a part of himself hidden for fear of how his father would react, especially because he’s been abusive in the past. It isn’t unusual to encounter homophobia in Latinx communities and Jules’s father isn’t the only Latinx character who is homophobic in this book. It’s a stifling environment to grow up in and unfortunately creates a lot of self-hate. And it’s ever more heartbreaking when these derogatory comments come from people you love.
Familial relationships – Jules’s older sister, Xo, and his grandfather became the family he deserves. They are the ones who embrace him when his father rejects him and do not expect anything from him other than the opportunity to love him. Friends are one thing, but I think it was really important for Jules to have the support of family as well.
Mat – Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun doesn’t shy away from addressing heavy issues, but it also provides plenty of smiles. Most notably is Jules’s relationship with Mat, a boy he meets online and one of the first people who supports him after he comes out. Their interactions are flirtatious and butterflies-in-your-stomach inducing. There are so many sweet moments between the two, but the real world is always there to remind them that they live so far away from one another. They have to figure out if what they have is real, if their relationship is plausible, and what happens after they graduate if they don’t end up in the same place.
Nothing to note.
Jonny Garza Villa’s Fifteen Hundred Miles From the Sun is an addicting, swoon-worthy read about coming out and finding that happiness can exist at the end of even the darkest tunnel.