Latine/x YA: Not alone

Here are five books about Latine/x young adults who forge connections with others across oceans, centuries, and planes of existence. September 15–October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Latine/x Heritage Month. Find additional books, articles, interviews, and more from the Horn Book here

by Julio Anta; illus. by Jacoby Salcedo 
Middle School, High School    HarperAlley/HarperCollins    240 pp. 
7/23    9780063054950    $26.99 
Paper ed.  9780063054943    $18.99 
e-book ed.  9780063054967    $11.99 

In this graphic novel with supernatural elements, high-achieving teenager Mateo has grown up in Phoenix, Arizona, and only learned recently that his family was undocumented. After the family’s deportation to Mexico, Mateo’s parents arrange for him to attempt a border crossing through the Sonoran Desert so he can finish high school in the U.S. and achieve his goal of going to college. Mateo’s stubbornness leads him to trek out alone, disregarding the warnings of the guide hired to help him cross. A ghost who died on his own crossing, a jaguar, and a Tohono O’odham nurse help Mateo to have a chance of survival. His experience provides a powerful glimpse into the physical and emotional burdens some young people carry with regard to legal status and their sense of home. Armstrong crafts sympathetic characters whose stories (which include candid depictions of the violence of border crossings) thoughtfully introduce readers to the complexities and inequities surrounding immigration. Salcedo’s propulsive sequential art sets the scene for Mateo’s dangerous voyage, combining with the text to convey the range of perils that migrants face from the elements, border patrol, and vigilantes. Mateo finds strength by helping others and honoring the sacrifices of the millions of migrants who trod the sand before him. NICHOLAS A. BROWN 

The Making of Yolanda la Bruja 
by Lorraine Avila 
High School    Levine Querido    384 pp. 
4/23    9781646142439    $19.99 

Yolanda Alvarez, just turned sixteen, is coming into her own as a bright student and a budding bruja. Having learned Afro-Dominican ancestral spiritual practices from her grandmother, she follows the guidance of her tarot cards and her Bruja Diosas as she navigates life in the Bronx. In the midst of everyday teenage worries (including not wanting to be “treated like the pretty smart-and-basically-deaf girl”), Yolanda finds herself grappling with uneasy feelings about a mysterious and wealthy new white student as a vision makes her aware that he is dangerous. A gripping plot drives this deftly written novel that straddles the known and unknown worlds; Avila skillfully depicts the reality of growing up as a Black Latinx teen in the midst of racial violence and social upheaval. While ­outsiders in the story may see Yolanda’s family, neighborhood, and school in a negative light, Avila carefully demonstrates the tremendous strength in Yolanda’s community and the deep roots of her spiritual life, which keep her grounded as she steps into her full power. MONIQUE HARRIS 

Secret of the Moon Conch 
by David Bowles and Guadalupe García McCall 
High School    Bloomsbury    464 pp. 
6/23    9781547609895    $19.99 
e-book ed.  9781547609901    $13.99 

In 2019, the night before she plans to flee Mexico for the U.S. seeking safety and her father, Sitlali discovers a conch in ocean waves. Five centuries earlier, in 1521, Calizto, who is under threat from Spanish invaders in the Aztec Empire, finds the same sacred conch, associated with the goddess of the moon. Magically connected, at first through thoughts and then with physical senses increasing with the moon’s waxing, the two teens separated by time form a friendship that blossoms into a smoldering, centuries-defying romance. The fantastical elements of the conch and Sitlali’s ability to see spirits enhance the deeply human experiences of love and perseverance through strife but do not alleviate the historical and present-day horrors wrought on the teens by colonialism and its effects, via conquistadors and ICE. The novel’s in-depth battle scenes, war strategizing, and world-building will appeal to fans of fantasy and action (though other readers may find them too numerous). Modern-day teens will recognize the trials in Sitlali’s life as she tries to battle systemic injustice and to forge a relationship with the father who abandoned her years earlier. Acts of violation and brutality are excruciatingly captured, but so are scenes of tenderness and transcendence. By turns heartfelt and heart-pounding, this story will grip readers to the final pages. Front matter includes a glossary of Nahuatl terms and information on gods and legendary and historical figures. AMANDA R. TOLEDO 

Wings in the Wild 
by Margarita Engle 
High School    Atheneum    224 pp. 
4/23    9781665926362    $18.99 
e-book ed.  9781665926386    $10.99 

Can a “tocororo-girl” and a “song-boy” find love in the mountains of Costa Rica? In this novel set in 2018, two teens from vastly different worlds tell their stories in free verse poems, alternating points of view. Soleida, a talented painter, must leave Cuba after a catastrophic hurricane destroys her home and her parents are imprisoned when the “art police” discover their unsanctioned sculptures. Her journey is harrowing and mirrors the plight of many present-day “climate migrants.” In California, Dariel, a gifted guitarist, flees the mansion he shares with his telenovela-star parents when wildfires destroy it. He accompanies his Cuban American abuelo to Costa Rica. The teens meet and begin to share their gifts of music and art. Dariel slowly uncovers Soleida’s horrific story, and she begins to heal and feel empowered to search for her parents and help a cousin with a local reforestation project. Engle (Your Heart, My Sky, rev. 3/21) weaves a compelling love story balanced with an invitation to readers to consider the impact of climate change and the necessity for action now. She populates her poetry with vivid descriptions of many colorful bird species alongside lyrical references to musicians and poets giving us “something magical and scientific / at the same time.” An author’s note details the story’s real-life inspirations. SYLVIA VARDELL 

I Am Not Alone 
by Francisco X. Stork 
High School    Scholastic    320 pp. 
7/23    9781338736267    $19.99 

Eighteen-year-old Alberto lives with his sister, Lupe, and her baby, Chato, in Brooklyn. While studying for his high-school equivalency, he’s working painting houses for Lupe’s sketchy boyfriend and expressing himself creatively at the neighborhood ceramics studio. On a job, he meets Grace, whose parents are going through a messy divorce. The two quickly bond and form a friendship, maybe more; but Alberto is troubled by a voice in his head (which he calls “Captain America”) that espouses violence. Then a wealthy woman is murdered while Alberto is painting her apartment, and he becomes the only suspect. Grace harbors him, believes in him, and wants to clear his name — but he’s not so sure he’s innocent. Stork’s (Illegal, rev. 7/20) latest propulsive psychological thriller again features a multidimensional cast of primary and secondary characters facing heightened situations (suspension of disbelief recommended). Issues of socioeconomic inequities, immigration, domestic violence, addiction, and antisemitism are well-threaded throughout the narrative; but most memorable and indelible is Alberto’s struggle with mental illness: his efforts to stand up to Captain America, his uncertainty, and, by the end, comfort in being “not alone.” A closing note describes Stork’s own experiences with auditory hallucinations, and Mental Health and Crisis Resources are appended. ELISSA GERSHOWITZ 

From the September 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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