Latino Lit: 5 Things to Read This Summer That Are Not 50 Shades of Grey

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Twitter: @AndreaGompf

You know that thing where you’re reading 50 Shades of Grey on the subway and you’re all caught up in a passage about the carnal longing turning Anastasia into a “moist, quivering mess,” and you glance up from the book to calm down but accidentally make awkward eye contact with an 8-year-old sitting across from you? Me neither. That’s totally never happened to me. But, if you were hypothetically still haunted by the judgment in that 8-year-old’s eyes, we at Remezcla understand. That’s why we asked Aurora Anaya-Cerda, of the East Harlem bookstore La Casa Azul, to send us a list of great books you won’t be embarrassed to be seen reading in public this summer. Check out some of the bestsellers in El Barrio below:


Ocotillo Dreams by Melinda Palacio

Melinda Palacio’s debut novel puts a human face on one of the nation’s biggest political and social issues: immigration. Set in Chandler, Arizona, during the 1997 immigration sweeps conducted by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the novel weaves together different viewpoints to bring to life the diverse complexities facing Latinos due to border policy and economic inequality. Connecting these threads is the story of Isola, a young woman who inherits her mother’s home in Chandler, and gets to know her family history from the clues left behind. Eerily parallel to the events taking place in Arizona right now in the wake of SB 1070, the novel was recently awarded the Mariposa Award for the Best First Book at the 14th Annual Latino Book Awards 2012.

Chulito by Charles Rice Gonzalez

This novel tells the coming-out, coming-of-age love story of Chulito, a 16-year-old high school drop-out in the South Bronx. Torn between the macho values of his community and his budding feelings for Carlos, a childhood friend, Chulito depicts New York’s queer Latino sub-culture in all its contradictions. Vivid, funny and heart-breaking, Gonzalez’s novel explores what happens when Chulito’s ideas of what it means to be a man and to be in love collide.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Okay, you’ve all heard of this one. Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel has been topping reading lists since it was published in 2007. Diaz weaves together the coming-of-age story of Oscar, a self-proclaimed “ghetto nerd” from New Jersey, with the multi-generational story of the curse that plagues his family, taking his readers on a journey from Trujillo-era Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey and back. The plot is engrossing, but it’s Diaz’s playful, textured prose that makes an indelible impression.

A Wedding in Haiti by Julia Alvarez

Famous for her 1991 novel “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents,” Julia Alvarez has since come to be regarded as one of the foremost Latina writers. She is known for exploring cultural collisions, and her latest offering does just that. It tells the story of two adventure-filled trips to Haiti: the first, to attend the wedding of Piti, a young Haitian farmer she befriended in the Dominican Republic, and the second, after the 2010 earthquake, to take Piti and his family back to Haiti for the first time since the wedding. Exploring the collision of poverty and wealth, the past and the present, and cross-cultural friendships, this story is a poignant testament to human resilience.

Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas

The harsh language and explicit scenes in this seminal memoir caused a stir in 1967 when it was first published, but this book is now a regular on high school and college reading lists. Piri Thomas’ lyrical, brutally honest portrayal of the first few decades of his life – in which he grappled with his race, gangs, heroin addiction, crime and, eventually, incarceration – is often compared to “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Groundbreaking in its depiction of Nuyorican life in the 1960s, this is an important read.