Reading Roundup: Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA Literature

Vamos a Leer | Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA LiteratureBuenos días a todas y todos,

Happy fall!  I hope this finds you each doing well and enjoying the changing of seasons.

Fall, my favorite time of year!  For me, it is characterized not only by the falling leaves, the crisp air, and the distinct scents that come with the changing temperature, but also with a gentle nostalgia, heightened reflection, and sense of calm.  In accordance with our theme for this month, we’re honoring this moment of reflection by pulling together a Reading Roundup that highlights strong protagonists who have experienced some form of loss and resolution in their lives. We hope that this will also be good preparation for teachers who are looking for resources that can help bring these difficult topics into the classroom.

For those of you familiar with the blog, you might notice that many of the titles in this month’s Reading Roundup look similar. All are drawn from our list of featured titles, which means that they’re all YA titles with accompanying educator’s guides.

For those seeking titles on this theme for younger readers, be sure to check out Alice’s ¡Mira, Look! posts throughout the month.

Despite the ever-growing TBR list that you surely have, I hope that you get to check out one or more of the books mentioned today.  As is inherit in the themes of loss and resolution, the books are often heavy and deal with challenging subject matter, but all are excellently written and absolutely vale la pena.

Let us know what you think!

Mis saludos,
Colleen

Caminar
Written by Skila Brown
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6515-6
Age level: Age 10 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Carlos knows that when the soldiers arrive with warnings about the Communist rebels, it is time to be a man and defend the village, keep everyone safe. But Mama tells him not yet — he’s still her quiet moonfaced boy. The soldiers laugh at the villagers, and before they move on, a neighbor is found dangling from a tree, a sign on his neck: Communist. Mama tells Carlos to run and hide, then try to find her. . . . Numb and alone, he must join a band of guerillas as they trek to the top of the mountain where Carlos’s abuela lives. Will he be in time, and brave enough, to warn them about the soldiers? What will he do then? A novel in verse inspired by actual events during Guatemala’s civil war, Caminar is the moving story of a boy who loses nearly everything before discovering who he really is.

My thoughts:

In contrast to many of the other books on this list that focus on individual loss, Caminar, written by Skila Brown, focuses on the collective.  This novel in verse is both beautiful and crushing.  Set amidst the Guatemala civil war, we get to know many of the people living in Carlos’ village, and we too suffer the collective loss taking place.  For those of us familiar with the horrors that took place during this time, there may be pause on this book.  However, it is a coming of age story and contains within it an innate redemptive element.  This award winning work also provides a tremendous opportunity to discuss a wide range of themes and serves as a great introduction to poetry.  Katrina has some great suggestions for topics to explore and ways to discuss this book in the classroom

The Farming of Bones
Written by Edwidge Danticat
Published by Soho Press, Inc. 1998
ISBN: 978-1-61695-349-2
Age level:  High school to adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Farming of Bones begins in 1937 in a village on the Dominican side of the river that separates the country from Haiti. Amabelle Desir, Haitian-born and a faithful maidservant to the Dominican family that took her in when she was orphaned, and her lover Sebastien, an itinerant sugarcane cutter, decide they will marry and return to Haiti at the end of the cane season. However, hostilities toward Haitian laborers find a vitriolic spokesman in the ultra-nationalist Generalissimo Trujillo who calls for an ethnic cleansing of his Spanish-speaking country. As rumors of Haitian persecution become fact, as anxiety turns to terror, Amabelle and Sebastien’s dreams are leveled to the most basic human desire: to endure. Based on a little-known historical event, this extraordinarily moving novel memorializes the forgotten victims of nationalist madness and the deeply felt passion and grief of its survivors.

My thoughts:

Edwidge Danticat’s book, The Farming of Bones, is a power narrative about the persistence of memory and the determination to carry on.  Beautifully composed, the novel is characterized well in Publisher’s Weekly review: “Danticat gives us fully realized characters who endure their lives with dignity, a sensuously atmospheric setting and a perfectly paced narrative written in prose that is lushly poetic and erotic, specifically detailed.”  Like other books on this list, The Farming of Bones may present a challenge for teacher’s trying to use this book in their classrooms.   And like the other books, Vamos believes that it is well worth the effort.  As there is not yet an Educator’s Guide for Danticat’s novel, we invite those of you in the Albuquerque area to join in the educator’s book group in reading The Farming of Bones on December 12, 2016.  We’d love to see you there!  *A little side note: this book does contain some sexual imagery.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces
Written by Isabel Quintero
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2014
ISBN: 1935955950
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

My thoughts:

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Isabel Ouintero’s debut coming of age novel, and it is good!  Like some of the other novels in this month’s list, Gabi’s loss is both striking and subtle.  Written as a diary, this book is genuine and bold, honest and powerful, jarring and hilarious.  Katrina’s review highlights some of the complexities of the book and also gives meaningful ways to discuss these very real and difficult topics; check it out.  Because of the book’s accessibility, ease of reading, and its confrontation of taboo subjects, my bet is that many high school aged youth will find it enticing.  I know that this book would have greatly appealed to me in my high school years.

In Darkness
Written by Nick Lake
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-61963-122-9
Age level: Ages 14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

In darkness I count my blessings like Manman taught me. One: I am alive. Two: there is no two. In the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake a boy is trapped beneath the rubble of a ruined hospital: thirsty, terrified and alone. ‘Shorty’ is a child of the slums, a teenage boy who has seen enough violence to last a lifetime, and who has been inexorably drawn into the world of the gangsters who rule Site Soleil: men who dole out money with one hand and death with the other. But Shorty has a secret: a flame of revenge that blazes inside him and a burning wish to find the twin sister he lost five years ago. And he is marked. Marked in a way that links him with Toussaint l’Ouverture, the Haitian rebel who two-hundred years ago led the slave revolt and faced down Napoleon to force the French out of Haiti. As he grows weaker, Shorty relives the journey that took him to the hospital, a bullet wound in his arm. In his visions and memories he hopes to find the strength to survive, and perhaps then Toussaint can find a way to be free…

My thoughts:

Nick Lake’s YA novel, In Darkness, has won several awards including the Américas Award Commended Title (2013) and the Michael L. Printz Award (2013).  From these accolades alone, we can surmise that this is an important book; however, what prompted this selection for the list is the way it deals with the themes of death and loss.  Un aviso, this can be a challenging book to read, both because of the difficult (and often harsh) subject matter as well as for the structure.  The book oscillates between the characters of l’Ouverture and Shorty, with the latter written in what reads like his stream-of-consciousness.

The other motivation for choosing this book is because it introduces the often ignored historical figure, Toussaint l’Ouverture.  Katrina has written a thoughtful review of In Darkness and also discusses the value of incorporating a cast of characters such as these, both real and fiction, into the classroom.  And if there is any lingering doubt about how to process this book with your students, please see the educator’s guide.

The Meaning of Consuelo
Written by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Published by Beacon Press, 2003
ISBN: 978-0-8070-8387-1
Age level:  Young Adult

Description (from Goodreads):

The Signe family is blessed with two daughters. Consuelo, the elder, is thought of as pensive and book-loving, the serious child-la niña seria-while Mili, her younger sister, is seen as vivacious, a ray of tropical sunshine. Two daughters: one dark, one light; one to offer comfort and consolation, the other to charm and delight. But, for all the joy both girls should bring, something is not right in this Puerto Rican family; a tragedia is developing, like a tumor, at its core.

In this fierce, funny, and sometimes startling novel, we follow a young woman’s quest to negotiate her own terms of survival within the confines of her culture and her family.

My thoughts:

By the end of the first page, I was hooked.   The story is compelling and without a doubt, it effortlessly jams the reader into the difficult experiences that families can face.  The Meaning of Consuelo is much more than the trajedia that we learn of, as it also encapsulates the “loss” of self that many of us experience as we begin to grow away from we are expected to be.  Alternatively, this book allows for a regrowth into who we are.  Ortiz Cofer’s writing style makes this book easily accessible and sets a quick pace for the novel.  Both simple and complex, this compelling novel should be introduced to young readers.  Katrina has written a wonderful review on The Meaning of Consuelo and also articulates the wealth of themes that can be explored.

Out of Darkness
Written by Ashley Hope Pérez
Published by Carolrhoda Lab, 2015
ISBN: 1467742023
Age level: Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

“This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them.

“No Negroes, Mexicans, or dogs.”

They know the people who enforce them.

“They all decided they’d ride out in their sheets and pay Blue a visit.”

But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

“More than grief, more than anger, there is a need. Someone to blame. Someone to make pay.”

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

My thoughts:

Ashley Hope Pérez’s latest YA novel, Out of Darkness, is stunning.  And I use “stunning” in its most literal form – you may very well be left stunned!  As SLJ writes, “… [It] is wide-eyed testimony to the undeniable best and unrelenting worst of humanity; turning away (or turning off) is never an option.”  Despite this being a longer book, the chapters read quickly with each focusing on one of the main characters.  Perez’s uncompromising exploration of race, love, and the “forbidden” may leave one feeling devastated, but still, it is worth the read.  If you’re in the Albuquerque area and wondering if this would be a good fit for your classroom, or if you simply want to soak in another good read, please join the LAII’s Book Group on October 10 to experience this book for yourself!

The Queen of Water
Written by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango
Published by Ember, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-85936-2
Age level:  14 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Born in an Andean village in Ecuador, Virginia lives with her large family in a small, earthen-walled dwelling. In her village of indígenas, it is not uncommon to work in the fields all day, even as a child, or to be called a longa tonta—stupid Indian—by members of the ruling class of mestizos, or Spanish descendants. When seven-year-old Virginia is taken from her village to be a servant to a mestizo couple, she has no idea what the future holds.

In this poignant novel based on a true story, acclaimed author Laura Resau has collaborated with María Virginia Farinango to recount one girl’s unforgettable journey to self-discovery. Virginia’s story will speak to anyone who has ever struggled to find his or her place in the world. It will make you laugh and cry, and ultimately, it will fill you with hope.

My thoughts:

Within the first chapter of The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and María Virginia Farinango, it is clear how this award winning novel fits into this month’s theme; the loss is immediately present, but rest assured, resolution comes.  While this is technically simple to read and moves at a relatively quick pace, its content makes it a difficult book to swallow.  It is made more moving when one realizes that this is based on a true story and takes place in the 1980s.  Katrina great review on this book and discusses different ways that it can be used in the classroom and is also accompanied with an educator’s guide to support the process.

Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood
Written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Cinco Puntos Press, 2004
ISBN: 978-1-933693-99-6
Age level: Grade 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

The Hollywood where Sammy Santos lives is not one of glitz and glitter, but a barrio at the edge of a small New Mexico town. In the summer before his senior year, Sammy falls in love with the beautiful, independent, and intensely vulnerable Juliana. Sammy’s chronicle of his senior year is both a love story and a litany of loss, the tale of his love not only for Juliana but for their friends, a generation from a barrio: tough, innocent, humorous, and determined to survive

My thoughts:

Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s first YA novel, Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood, is hard-hitting, raw, and potent.  Unabashedly, it explores a teenager’s confrontation with issues of race, poverty, family, love and loss.  While this is an excellent piece of YA literature that I believe is extremely valuable read for young people to read, it can be a complicated one to introduce into the classroom.  For a better sense of the book’s complexities and how to discuss the subject matter with students, please read Katrina’s review from 2012 and its accompanying educator’s guide.  This will undoubtedly help clear up (if any) doubts or concerns related to the book.  It is well worth the read!

Shadowshaper
Written by Daniel José Older
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-545-59161-4
Age level:  Grades 9 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

My thoughts:

This selection may initially feel far from the theme, however, it was chosen for its unique perspective on loss. Although the protagonist, Sierra, loses her grandmother before the story ever opens, the loss leaves lingering effects and reminds us that losing a loved one can impact a family in many ways. In the case of Shadowshaper, written by Daniel José Older, the loss experienced is that of history, space, and community.  This all too common occurrence may be something we or our students have experienced.   But thankfully, this book gives us Sierra, who models how to overcome such loss through both real and magical connections to her past!

I will also add that this book has been featured multiple times on Vamos.  Be sure to check out how the all the ways that this book can be used by reading Katrina’s review, Kalyn’s Reading Roundup, and Alice’s ¡Mira Look! Author’s Corner posts.

Under the Mesquite
Written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781600604294
Age level: Grades 4 and up

Description (from Goodreads):

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother’s battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse.

When Lupita learns Mami has cancer, she is terrified by the possibility of losing her mother, the anchor of her close-knit family. Suddenly, being a high school student, starring in a play, and dealing with friends who don’t always understand, become less important than doing whatever she can to save Mami’s life.

While her father cares for Mami at an out-of-town clinic, Lupita takes charge of her seven younger siblings. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Told with honest emotion in evocative free verse, Lupita’s journey toward hope is captured in moments that are alternately warm and poignant. Under the Mesquite is an empowering story about testing family bonds and the strength of a young woman navigating pain and hardship with surprising resilience

My thoughts:

Garcia McCall’s book, Under the Mesquite, is a beautiful representation of our ability to thrive despite life’s unpredictable and sometimes painful occurrences.  This YA novel in verse is skillfully written; its language, while simple and accessible, invites readers to experience a complex range of emotions.  We become a part of Lupita’s world, traversing through the challenges of friendship, family, culture, and self-discovery.  It is clear by having won the Pura Belpré Author Medal (2012), the William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist (2012) and most recently, the Tomás Rivera Children’s Book Award (2013), that Garcia McCall’s first novel is one to read!  For more comprehensive thoughts about Under the Mesquite, check out Katrina’s excellent review.  And for the teachers among us, please see our educator’s guide for tips on using the book in the classroom.

2 thoughts on “Reading Roundup: Loss and Resolution in Latinx YA Literature

  1. It is through this blog that I became familiar with The Queen of Water. It is a wonderful read and actually enlightened me on a world that I did not think still exists.

    I have three copies in my class library, and they are all checked out. I can’t wait to see what my students think of this amazing book.

    • Hi Claud James,

      I’m so happy you came across The Queen of Water through our blog. It is indeed an excellent book. Please let us know what your students think about it. We’d love to hear!

      Best,
      Colleen

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