Latinx-centered science fiction and fantasy

During National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15–October 15), check out these recent YA sci-fi/fantasy titles centering strong, capable, and creative Latinx protagonists. See also our Five Questions for Aiden Thomas about Cemetery Boys. Find much more to celebrate in our May/June 2021 Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: The Pura Belpré Award at 25.

Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything
by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
High School    Simon Pulse    432 pp.    g
8/20    978-1-5344-4863-6    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-4865-0    $10.99

Two years ago, seventeen-year-old Sia Martinez’s mother perished in the Sonoran Desert, attempting to return home to (fictional) Caraway, Arizona, after being cruelly deported to Mexico. Sia’s loving father and her loyal best friend, Rose, help support her through grief, even as the sadistic sheriff’s son torments her at school (to his detriment; Sia is no slouch in the self-defense department). When a handsome new guy shows up and starts flirting, Sia is cautiously intrigued. Rose is suspicious (it has to do with the sheriff), but she’s distracted by her own love interest, causing jealous Sia to ignore the warning signs. The first quarter of the book is realistic and engaging contemporary YA — and then Something Happens, and we’re launched into sci-fi. Very short chapters — there are 224 of them — keep the pace snappy, and a cliffhanger ending, plus deliberate loose ends, point to more adventures to come. There’s a content warning at the start (“Sexual Assault, PTSD, Physical Abuse, Parental Death, Racist Violence”), and those issues are addressed head-on. Through Sia’s wry first-person narration, however, the tone remains mostly light: “Aliens, government conspiracies, secret experiments. That’s all unbelievable enough as it is. No need to add meddling dead abuelas to the mix.” ELISSA GERSHOWITZ

The Last Cuentista
by Donna Barba Higuera
Middle School    Levine Querido    336 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-64614-089-3    $17.99

When a solar flare knocks Halley’s Comet off course and sends it hurtling toward Earth, a small group of citizens is selected to leave the planet and colonize a new one to ensure humanity’s survival. Once onboard, the citizens are put in suspended animation for the four-century journey to the new planet, Sagan. When twelve-year-old Petra Peña wakes up, however, she learns that a cult-like group, The Collective, has taken over the ship, “purging” citizens who fail to comply and erasing all memory of Earth and its diverse inhabitants. As an aspiring storyteller and one of the only people who remembers life before The Collective, Petra must rely on her Mexican storytelling heritage to protect the remaining humans from the fate of living life as Collective drones. She follows in her grandmother’s footsteps to become a cuentista, using storytelling to save humanity and remind her companions of the histories that were taken from them. Through The Collective, Higuera chillingly foregrounds seemingly benign attempts to eliminate violence and war via the homogenization of humanity. Through Petra, she effectively showcases how cultural memory, familial bonds, and story are essential to the progression of society, and how cultural difference is indispensable now and in the future. S. R. TOLIVER

The Mirror Season
by Anna-Marie McLemore
High School    Feiwel    320 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-250-62412-3    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-1-250-62413-0    $10.99

In this story that blends realism and fairy tale, McLemore (Blanca & Roja, rev. 11/18) introduces readers to a sweet, warm young woman making her way through trauma. Ciela is La Bruja de los Pasteles, the pastry witch, who through her “don,” the gift inherited from her great-grandmother, “knows what kind of pan dulce you want before you do.” After she is sexually assaulted at a party, a shard of mirrored glass enters her eye, and Ciela loses her don. She also becomes inextricably tied to a new boy in town, Lock, another survivor of the same night. Only through friendship, honesty, and courage does Ciela begin to uncover the truth of what really happened. Themes of violation and consent are present throughout; Ciela’s trauma is conveyed through cutting imagery, with comforting (if sometimes repetitive) descriptions of confections providing narrative reprieve. This story, which centers Mexican and Mexican American traditions and lore, includes a diverse array of gender identities, expressions, and relationships. The author’s note tells more about “The Snow Queen /La Reina de las Nieves” (the novel’s source) and reveals the personal nature of Ciela’s journey, with insight into the often-overlooked experiences of women of color, boys, and queer and trans survivors of sexual assault. GABI K. HUESCA

by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher
High School    Putnam    320 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-9848-1571-2    $17.99

In this near-future dystopian novel by Women’s March co-founder Mendoza and author/performer Sher, it’s 2032 in a U.S. with frightening echoes of the one seen in recent years. The news is full of xenophobic hysteria about immigration, and the government has an armed force to deport undocumented people in the country — but everything is more extreme, including computer chips in each person’s arm to prove their citizenship. In the book’s chilling opening scene, Vali and her mother and brother, undocumented immigrants from Colombia who have paid for counterfeit chips and are living relatively peacefully in Vermont, see a broadcast on the government-controlled news that shows a teen girl killed by a landmine while she attempts to cross the border from Mexico into California. Suddenly, everything changes: California secedes from the U.S., Vali’s mother witnesses a Deportation Force raid on her farm workplace, and it becomes clear that Vali and her family must leave home to seek sanctuary in the new California. Along the difficult and harrowing trek, Vali and her brother are separated from their mother, and they witness up-close the cruelty of a country ruled by hatred and fear. This fast-paced drama depicts the trauma of Vali’s journey in an unflinching, heart-wrenching way that can feel all too real and timely. CHRISTINA L. DOBBS

From the September 2021 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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