Latinidad is not a monolith. While there are some key issues that impact many in our communities – such as immigration, racism, xenophobia, poverty or criminalization – part of the joy of being Latino is the huge variety and diversity of expression and experiences. Reflecting on the books published in 2019, the differences and similarities that make up Latino multiculturalism is evident.
From serious memoirs that deal with violence and mental health to sweet romances that’ll distract you from the world to essays and poems that imagine a new way forward, the Latino- and Latin American-authored books in 2019 offer a little something for everyone. Here are some of our favorite titles of the year.
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz
Jaquira Díaz’s childhood was filled with tumult and violence. In Ordinary Girls, the Puerto Rico-born, Miami Beach-raised writer shares a memoir about growing up with a father who was an activist and drug dealer and a mother with undiagnosed schizophrenia. As an adolescent, Díaz dealt with abuse, addiction, depression and suicidal ideation but found her sense of self when she discovered her tribe: the “ordinary girls.” “We were the wild girls who loved music and dancing. Girls who were black and brown and poor and queer. Girls who loved each other,” she writes.
Be Recorder by Carmen Gimenez Smith
A finalist for this year’s National Book Awards in Poetry, Be Recorder does just that: it records. It catalogs border walls, motherhood, queerness and xenophobic violence. In doing so, it reaffirms Carmen Gimenez Smith as a chronicler of our times, a voice to be heard and as herself, completely and utterly. These are poems of figuring things out, but they’re also about standing firm and claiming space – with just the right mix of uncertainty and assurance to get you ready for 2020.
My Time Among the Whites by Jennine Capó Crucet
Jennine Capó Crucet has written two books around various aspects of her life. How to Leave Hialeah is a collection of short stories based on the Cuban Miami-Dade she grew up in, and Make Your Home Among Strangers is a novel about a girl leaving South Florida for a prestigious college. Her latest title, My Time Among the Whites, is not fiction but rather an essay collection that examines whiteness as it operates in places like Miami as well as fancy college towns. It also looks at how Capó Crucet herself fits into these spaces. Back in October, the book made national headlines after white students at Georgia Southern University who were offended by a talk Capó Crucet gave at the institution burned copies on campus.
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
Just as The Poet X used spoken word poetry to give its protagonist a voice and shape her story, With the Fire on High’s Emoni finds her voice through a nearly magical connection to the food she prepares for others. Elizabeth Acevedo tells us a story about a single teen mom who is trying to balance living with her ‘buela, navigating high school and figuring out how to raise a daughter while also chasing her own big dreams.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
Just like Carmen Maria Machado’s first book, Her Body and Other Parties, was made up of fairy tales and Law & Order: SVU references told slant, In the Dream House is a memoir of a psychologically abusive relationship shared through ever-shifting lenses of genres. However, the book also asks some more meta questions of its writer, and its reader, by the use of second-person narration: How can you write the story of an abusive queer relationship if you’ve never read anything about it before? How can you even recognize such a relationship, even as you’re in it, if you don’t have the language? Machado’s book is a brilliant axe to the silence.
Dark Constellations by Pola Oloixarac and translated by Roy Kesey
Pola Oloixarac’s Dark Constellations proceeds along three tracks: a historical fiction account of a Victorian scientist researching a hallucinogen; a contemporary coming-of-age in the internet era; and a near-future speculative fiction about the creation of Argentina’s Ministry of Genetics, a project to track each one of its citizens. The novel asks questions about exploration and colonization, about big data and the curve of an individual life, all while being weird and ambitious.
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
After Sal’s mother dies, he comes to realize he has a new power: He can make things materialize – or rather, he can pull things and people from one universe into this one. Among them is his Mami Muerta, as Sal calls her. It’s a talent that’s both useful and problematic. After Sal meets Gabi, the school newspaper editor, in the principal’s office after one such alt-universe shenanigan, they set out to make people’s lives better with Sal’s powers. However, what they don’t realize is that Sal’s ability may actually be making things worse by weakening the boundaries between multiverses. All in all, Carlos Hernandez’s Sal & Gabi Break the Universe is a really fun middle school-level read.
Space Invaders by Nona Fernández
A novella constructed around the events of Nona Fernández’s real-life childhood, Space Invaders takes the story of one girl, Estrella Gonzales Jepsen, and tells it fragmented, like the clusters of pixels in an ‘80s game. Similar to those pixels, the book coalesces into a picture of the Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile and the ways in which history and violence creep into childhood memories.
Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Angie Cruz’s Dominicana tells the story of Ana, who in 1964, at just 15 years old, is married to 32-year-old Juan. It’s not a marriage based on love but instead on promise: the assurance of helping her whole family immigrate to the U.S. from an increasingly unstable Dominican Republic. When Ana arrives in New York with her new husband, her life doesn’t expand. Instead, it shrinks to the size of the apartment she shares with her abusive spouse. But when Juan returns to the Caribbean island to protect family investments after the fall of former dictator Rafael Trujillo, Ana’s world is again allowed to grow: She learns English from the nuns across the street and explores New York with her younger, more free-spirited brother-in-law. The whole novel is a beautiful unfolding of possibilities in Ana’s life and an inevitable return to the difficult choices that immigration forces on women and girls.
House of the Pain of Others: Chronicle of a Small Genocide by Julián Herbert
Over the course of three days in 1911, 300 men, women and children of Chinese descent were murdered in Torreon, Mexico. House of the Pain of Others, written by Julián Herbert, is a cronica of an often-papered-over event of the Mexican Revolution and a larger story about xenophobia, immigrant communities and the ways that history is made and remembered. The story slides around different genres: journalism, memoir and history, which turns out to be the ideal form for a story so slippery that it continues to have repercussions to this day.
From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys and Imaginings from a Native Xicanx Writer by Luis J. Rodriguez
Luis J. Rodriguez has had a long career as a writer, activist and politician, mostly in California. His latest book, From Our Land to Our Land, is an essay collection that responds to the division and xenophobia of our times with his experiences and identities as a Raramuri descendant, former gang member, father and Xicanx activist. His book proposes a new way forward: grounded in the earth and reliant on the myths of our ancestors to imagine a future where healing is possible.
Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
A National Book Award finalist in Fiction, Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine is a short story collection that follows the two women of the title, who are cousins, and the women of their community. The book deals with the challenges of, and the fierce love among, Latina women of Indigenous descent in Colorado. In Fajardo-Anstine’s beautiful literary debut, an abiding love for the landscape sings through its pages.
The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez
With The Friend Zone, Abby Jimenez delivers a fun and sweet romance that deals with issues of reproductive rights and women’s health in a way that is sensitive and serious. When Kristen meets firefighter Josh, she’s almost instantly smitten. However, her uterine fibroids, benign tumors that originate in the uterus, keep her from getting serious with Josh, who dreams of a big family. Kristen knows she needs to keep him in the friend zone, no matter how into her he might be or how much she might like him right back. It’s a sweet, slow-burn romance.
The Truth Is by NoNieqa Ramos
In NoNieqa Ramos’ The Truth Is, her protagonist Verdad De La Reyna is unmoored. Her best friend has died in a white supremacist shooting that Verdad witnessed, and she’s dealing with pressure from her mother and the absence of her father. Amid this backdrop arrives Danny, a cute transgender guy that she falls for. As Verdad works with her grief and examines her own internalized queerphobia and transphobia, she deals with her mother’s disapproval of her relationship with Danny and must figure out what the truth is.
Lima : Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico
“A la lima y al limón / tu no tienes quien te quiera / a la lima y al limón / te vas a quedar soltera,” Natalie Scenters-Zapico writes in Lima :: Limon. The poetry book takes an old form, the sonnet, and repurposes it for the writer’s own uses: contemplations of machismo, femicide, xenophobia and more. Woven throughout the text, the sonnets provide a centering force from which other poems and other meditations spin out. It’s a book of uneasy comparisons and, like the title indicates, analogies that are more complicated than they first appear.