Reviews of the 2023 Pura Belpré YA Award Winners


Burn Down, Rise UpBurn Down, Rise Up
by Vincent Tirado
High School    Sourcebooks Fire    352 pp.    g
5/22    978-1-7282-4600-0    $18.99

In this horror novel grounded in a real-world setting, sixteen-year-old Raquel’s life is upended when her friend disappears — part of a pattern of unexplained ­disappearances — and her mother is hospitalized due to a mysterious illness. Raquel is ­tormented by apparitions that lead her to understand that an evil force, “the Slumlord,” is holding and “­warping” many of the things she holds dear in a suspended state of reality that can be accessed only through a viral online challenge. As Raquel tries to save her mom, she and her friends risk everything to find answers. Along the way, she begins to understand who she is as a young queer woman and as part of a lineage of ­Dominicans who have stood up to injustice. Tirado’s inventive imagination provides a heart-rending parable (­including scenes of violence and trauma) that utilizes fantasy and spiritualism to cultivate a deeper understanding of systemic disenfranchisement of Dominican and other ­Afro-Latine immigrant communities. The author (a nonbinary Afro-Latine Bronx native) has personal ­connections that inform the thoughtful, creative depiction of lived experiences that many readers will find relatable. The sounds, smells, spirits, and shadows of the Bronx are vividly portrayed with lively language, making the fantastical seem totally ­possible. NICHOLAS A. BROWN

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.


Honor Books

High Spirits
by Camille Gomera-Tavarez
High School    Levine Querido    224 pp.
4/22    9781646141296    $18.99








The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School
by Sonora Reyes
High School    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins*    400 pp.
5/22    9780063060234    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780063060272    $10.99


*HarperCollins Union members (UAW Local 2110) continue to be on strike.





Breathe and Count Back from TenBreathe and Count Back from Ten
by Natalia Sylvester
High School    Clarion/HarperCollins*    352 pp.    g
5/22    978-0-358-53686-4    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-0-358-53678-9    $9.99

In this powerful story set in the fictitious Florida city of Mermaid Cove, Sylvester blends the compelling struggle of a young woman trying to find her voice with the effects of living with a serious medical condition. When Verónica swims in her apartment-complex pool, everything else disappears; the water blurs the pain and the scars of her many hip surgeries and helps her forget that doctors, nurses, and others seemingly have more control of her body than she does herself. The water is as much her home as it is for the mermaid performers she admires in Mermaid Cove’s tourist attraction. But her Peruvian immigrant parents are ­serious only about work, academics, and being model citizens, and they insist that mermaid tales are a childish obsession she needs to forget. When a lucky opportunity presents itself, Verónica will have to decide what — and who — defines her. Peruvian folklore and facts about Florida are seamlessly integrated into the skillful first-person narration, and each chapter begins with a term’s dictionary ­definition followed by Verónica’s definition. An appended author’s note tells more about the real town on which Mermaid Cove was based, the condition of hip ­dysplasia, and the Peruvian legend of Huacachina. ALICIA K. LONG

From the September/October 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

*HarperCollins Union members (UAW Local 2110) continue to be on strike.


Read reviews of the 2023 Pura Belpré Author Awards here and of the 2023 Pura Belpré Illustrator Awards here. For more, click on the tag ALA LibLearnX 2023.

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