Reviews of the 2021 Pura Belpré YA Award Winners


by Yamile Saied Méndez
High School    Algonquin    368 pp.    g
9/20    9781616209919    $17.95








Honor Books

Never Look Back
by Lilliam Rivera
High School    Bloomsbury    320 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-5476-0373-2    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5476-0374-9    $13.29

Pheus is an Afro-Dominican, bachata-singing teen whose Bronx world is upended when he meets Eury, a Puerto Rican girl visiting New York after she is forced from her home in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Suddenly, instead of spending his time charming girls and going to the beach, Pheus feels driven to allay the trauma that follows Eury. Eury is hoping the evil spirit Ato, who has haunted her life since childhood, won’t follow her to New York, and meeting Pheus distracts her temporarily from her troubles. But eventually, when she is attacked and falls into a coma, Ato finds her and takes her to el Inframundo (the Underworld), and Pheus follows on a quest to save her. This detailed reimagining of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice mixes contemporary realism with fantasy, starting with the backbone of the Greek myth and adding elements of Caribbean mythology alongside realistic issues of identity and trauma, as Eury’s loved ones debate the best way to help her in her struggles with anxiety. Though one could enjoy this story without prior knowledge of the myth, knowing the original will likely give readers a unique appreciation for this version’s updates. CHRISTINA L. DOBBS

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


We Are Not from Here
by Jenny Torres Sanchez
High School    Philomel    349 pp.    g
5/20    978-1-9848-1226-1    $17.99

Inseparable teens Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña live in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, where the politicians are as corrupt as the gang leaders. When Pulga and Chico witness the death of Don Feliciano, murdered by the same gang member who raped Pequeña and left her pregnant, the trio decides to brave the harrowing journey to the United States on La Bestia, a train on the dangerous real-life network of trains that many migrants chase and board. But that’s only the beginning of the brutal trials they encounter. Their profound friendship and hope for a better future keep them moving in this timely thriller. Narrated by Pulga and Pequeña, the prose offers insight into the thoughts and feelings of the people who have to make this often-fatal trip. The short chapters, candid writing, and strong character development should appeal to even the most reluctant of readers as suspense about whether the characters will survive the journey builds in one heart-rending scene after another. SHELLEY M. DIAZ

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Read reviews of the 2021 Pura Belpré Author Awards here and of the 2021 Pura Belpré Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2021.

Horn Book
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