Hello, I hope you’re all taking care of yourselves and each other. Connecting with people these days can be rough, but we’re thankful to technology being as advanced as it is these days to be able to stay in touch with those we love. As a way to send positive vibes and to unite under one front, earlier this year, I’d contacted some Latinx bookish content creators (book bloggers, bookstagrammers, booktubers) to share the books they most wished everyone would read. Since we’re kind of all either self-isolating or social distancing, a lot of people are turning to books as a means to cope with the external pressures that come as side-effects of a global pandemic. I thought it would make sense to publish this now so you don’t feel alone, and maybe help guide your reading experience during these times. (All book covers are affiliate links to Indiebound, as we should do our best to support local indie bookstores and creatives; the titles after each bookish content creator’s info link to Goodreads.)
The Hall of Famers (or, books that multiple people said they loved)
It’s mid-2019, which means we need to take stock of how we’ve been doing in terms of reading (I know that it’s already August, let me live). I’d challenged myself to read 50 books this year, same as last year, and I’ve been doing pretty well so far with a total of 45 books read (by the time this was drafted; I’m glad to say I’ve surpassed my goal by now!)
I wanted to take this moment to shout-out some noteworthy ones so far:
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (look for TWs because they’re forcibly outed, plus there’s a lot of valid criticism from PoC talking about the treatment of characters of color in this book)
What did y’all think? I thought about writing what I thought about each of them but honestly I don’t have time for that! Go to my Goodreads account to see my Thoughts on the books. Or, y’know, ask me! I love talking about my books!
I’ll give you all stats at the end of the year of what genres I ended up reading most (it’s probably picture books but we’ll see).
My name is Adriana M. Martínez Figueroa, also known as boricuareads on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. On May 27th last year, the first of my posts promoting upcoming book releases from Latinx authors was uploaded to my tumblr page. Even though it still didn’t have the #ReadLatinx tag in it, it was the beginning of my advocacy online to see more books by Latinx authors be actively promoted. I began these posts because I was tired of seeing book lists and recommendation posts that didn’t even mention a single book by a Latinx author. As a recent college graduate, I wanted to apply my knowledge of Latinx Studies as well as Women and Gender Studies into something that I wanted to give freely to others: the opportunity for Latinx readers to find themselves in literature made by people like them.
On June 1st, 2018, I started using the #readlatinx tag on a post promoting my own designs on Redbubble, wherein one of the designs told people to Read Latinx books. From that point forward, I started using the #ReadLatinx hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to promote new releases from Latinx authors. I used the hashtag to promote book announcements from Latinx authors, to congratulate authors, because indeed people needed to Read Latinx authors and books. I welcomed others to use it, and after months of promoting the hashtag and creating graphics and lists, librarians, authors, and booksellers began using the hashtag as well. It’s been more than a year, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. Indeed, the hashtag was a community effort, because the more people use it, the more books by Latinx we get to see and read.
During this time I’ve also been searching for a job. It could be part-time or full-time, but I needed a job, especially as my grace period to be able to find a job in order to pay off my loans was looming around the corner. One of the jobs I applied to during this time was for Latinx in Publishing’s Internship position for Summer/Fall of 2018. I didn’t get the job, but I didn’t hold it against you all. In fact, the rejection made me want to continue promoting books by Latinx even harder, because I still respect your organization and what it does for Latinx working in the publishing industry.
In March of this year, I had to stop doing the weekly announcements of Latinx releases because making the graphics and then posting them on my social media accounts was getting to be too much, especially since it was all being done for free. This was exacerbated by the fact that Latinx in Publishing had used my hashtag in their own account without even crediting me (see Twitter screenshot from 3/26/2019 attached in image gallery at the end).
This week, Latinx in Publishing announced they were going to be launching a pre-order campaign for tote bags in their website, I assume to raise money for the non-profit organization which I support. However, one of the designs said “Keep Calm and Read Latinx” (see image attached in gallery, taken from Latinx in Publishing’s Facebook account).
Latinx in Publishing purposefully used the hashtag I created and still use online without even trying to contact its creator that they were going to use it to raise funds for the organization. It’s incredibly hurtful for an organization I respect as much as I do to not even verify if its creator would permit the usage of a phrase/slogan in their own merchandise. This move especially hurts when I’ve been unemployed for almost two years all while giving free labor online. I would’ve said yes to using it if Latinx in Publishing even once credited me for my labor, which they’ve not done.
I know what my work is worth. I do not wish for my labor to be erased. I wish for my work to be respected in the same way I’ve respected your organization and its efforts.
(Content Warning: this post will talk about sexual assault, more specifically CSA, trauma, and pedophilia)
Earlier this week, some readers on social media brought to attention some highly questionable content of All Of Us With Wings by Michelle Ruiz Keil. In their (incredibly valid) criticism, they talked about the fact that the Love Interest of the book is a 28-year-old man, while the main character is a 17-year-old girl of Mexican descent.
I highly encourage you to seek those posts out, as well as Gabi’s post about her experience reading it. I think Gabi talked about it in a great manner and brought in context that some folks might’ve needed. I especially urge you to read the words of readers of color who’ve been talking in depth about the issues of pedophilia and child sexual assault (CSA) that are in the book.
I wanted to take a moment to talk about my own hand in the discussion of the book. I received an ARC from someone else who’d already read it and they’d loved it, and then SOHO Teen sent me an ARC that I forwarded to another queer Latinx teen reader.
I hadn’t had time to really read my copy until recently for various reasons, but mostly it was because I’d read around Goodreads about the fact that the love interest was older than the main character and that turned me off. I’ve probably read about two chapters of it, and though it contains a lot of things that should be talked about more in YA (trauma, recreational drug use, drinking, casual bisexuality), the fact that a grown man was gonna be pursuing an underage girl made me distance myself from the book.
As someone who, at fifteen years old, was pursued by a man in his late-twenties (even though I had a boyfriend at the time), and had friends who were pursued by older men while we were in middle school, I cannot condone this kind of narrative. Unless you’re using it to directly negate and criticize this type of behavior from men, I don’t want to read and re-experience what I, and people I know, went through.
Gabi’s post delves into how there are bystanders who victim-blame the main character and don’t really condemn the relationship and how, though the characters end their relationship, the book’s ending leaves the relationship as a sort of open-ended narrative.
I believe we can talk about teen girls and how they deal with trauma without having them be groomed by older men, especially when the character had gone through CSA and had been assaulted by a father figure beforehand.
If I’d actually known that the characters get into a relationship, instead of what I’d originally thought would happen (that the main character gets fixated on an older man but gets rebuffed by the man– as should happen if men were actually shit and took responsibility for their actions), I wouldn’t have helped boost the book online. I wouldn’t have taken pretty pictures of it or told people to buy the book.
Even though I want to promote more Latinx voices, I don’t think I did this responsibly. I want to bring to the forefront the writings of Latinx, especially Latinx who live within the margins, but if it comes at the cost of re-traumatizing readers I will not continue promoting that. I also believe we have a responsibility to critique our own community when we do something wrong, and in this case we did something wrong. I respect Michelle and I think she writes with a beautiful prose. However, I want to make it clear that I can’t continue promoting her book in good conscience.
I also can’t keep quiet about this situation. Doing so means ignoring valid criticism coming from QPoC, especially Queer Teens of Color, of the book, and it means siding and condoning these narratives.I might value uplifting Latinx voices, but I won’t do so at the cost of turning my back on people affected by a book. One of my missions when I started #ReadLatinx was to bring more Latinx voices in publishing to the forefront, but that also means being able to critique and be able to create discourse around books by Latinx, be it positive or negative. Most importantly, my goal was about Latinx readers finding themselves in literature, and that meant having accurate representation that we can latch onto.
It deeply saddens me when adults who are committed to uplifting Latinx voices and helping Latinx audiences find themselves prefer to remain neutral in a situation such as this. If you’re not able to separate yourself from the relationships we have, I don’t know what to say. I think, in the spirit of unity, one thing we should be able to do is reach out to our friends and colleagues when they’ve misstepped and done something wrong from a place of wishing to grow. We can’t say we’re against bigotry and the issues that affect our communities (such as the oversexualization of Latinx girls, especially Queer and Trans Latinx, at the hands of a cisheteropatriarchy) and still remain silent.
All of this to say that, we have to remain critical and not become biased in regards to our own community. We can’t overlook these issues. Doing so is how situations of anti-Blackness slip through the cracks, how we help foment transphobia or ableism. Every time we raise our voices we are doing a radical act, and we have to take a look at our actions and decide whether being complicit in our community’s own oppressive structures is good enough.
I apologize for ever promoting this book. My posts will remain up because I believe in learning from your actions, but know that I do not condone the contents of the book. I will not be complicit in the re-traumatizing of readers. Will you?
At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme. On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?
Rating: 5/5 stars
We Set the Dark on Fire (WSTDOF) was added to my To-Read list on February 2018. Adding books to my To-Read list on Goodreads is something of a second nature to me; I know I’m never gonna read the thousands of books in that list, but I love the encouragement of knowing that these books are there if I want to read them. Sometime after adding it to the list, I read Tehlor Kay Mejia’s story in All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages, making me fall in love with her writing style and subject matter (queer latinas caring for and loving each other in a historical setting– MY BRAND). In October, I posted on Twitter that it seemed quite interesting that not many queer Latinas were getting ARCs to WSTDOF, essentially bypassing the target audience in favor of white and straight reviewers. Bookseller and overall amazing person Cecilia Cackley sent me an extra copy she had on hand.
Now we’re here! After finishing the book and staring at the ceiling for a whole hour, going to sleep, and then waking up only thinking about the book, I’m ready to talk about the masterpiece that is Mejia’s debut novel.
A story of political intrigue and suspense that will leave you sweating with its fast pace, Mejia’s fantasy is one that’s rooted in reality. It’s a story about what happens when you marginalize and oppress someone from birth and what they’d do in order to break the system that has long broken you and those you love.
In WSTDOF, we see the world of Medio divided by a wall that separates those chosen by the Sun God (the “right” side) and those chosen by the Salt God (the “wrong” side); the closer to the capital, the more conservative and exclusive the world. In Medio, the elite men hold all the power, even in their marriages as they follow in the footsteps of the Sun God who had two wives: one wife, the Primera, will be the man’s right hand and in charge of the machinations of the family; the other, the Segunda, will be there to love the husband and provide offspring. This tradition has been passed down for generations until we find Daniela Vargas, who’s on the cusp of graduation from the Medio School for Girls, which prepares future Primeras and Segundas for the highest ranking government officials.
Dani, a girl raised in the outskirts of what Medio deems “civilization,” is forced to make the biggest decision of her life: to spy on her new husband for the radical resistance group La Voz, or be exposed as an “illegal” citizen of Medio and potentially face death. Dani is forced into many masks, none of which ever allow her to be herself (not that she’s had much time to contemplate this). “A hundred shades of a girl,” is how her contact with the rebel group describes her, and she takes that descriptor in stride.
The way Dani flits between identities and melts into whatever role she needs to play at a moment’s notice is not unlike someone who’s been forced to assimilate into a society that would shun her otherwise. She code-switches between a strict Primera living under the thumb of an egomaniac, a harsh and effective informant of the comings and goings of the Garcia household, an immigrant forced to forget her roots and family, a socialite, and a confidante living with her childhood tormentor-turned-co-wife. Dani is naturally curious and often gets her way due to the practiced ease with which she can slip into certain roles. She melds into the background when necessary, yet isn’t afraid of making her voice heard; after all, she was taught to be a Primera, a partner for her husband through all things.
Seeing her evolution from bystander to forced-actor to active participant was magical in itself, all without needing a magic system in a fantasy. The text reads like fantasy, but doubles as a realistic metaphor for class division, questions of citizenship (who gets to be the “right” kind of citizen and the “wrong” kind), sexuality in fictional settings, power dynamics, the cost of revolution and radical groups, religion (only slightly), a civilization’s mythos and how it can carry over in the shaping of a society and its shared generational trauma, and familial relations among Latinx people. I could write like 50 different essays on this book.
It’s a testament to Tehlor’s writing that it leaves you not just wanting more, but wanting to do more. Do more about the politics of our world, about gender dynamics, about the literary canon… (Speaking of, why is the book being promoted as something for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale? Because of the topics of patriarchal ownership of and power over women’s bodies? The context is very different, especially within that of Latinx families.) Tangent over… for now. I want to hug Dani and tell her to keep fighting for what’s right, to not let her moral compass be corrupted by those in power, or even by those whom she loves.
And Dani does love fiercely. She hides it underneath all the masks, but she loves her estranged family, loves having a purpose, and loves Carmen. Wait, who is Carmen and why am I just mentioning her now?
Carmen is the Segunda to Dani’s Primera, both of them married to Mateo Garcia, both of them with dimensions of differences and history. Dani and Carmen came up to the Medio School for Girls at the same time, but grew apart as Carmen assimilated faster into the school’s elitism. Their rivalry grew at the same time they did, but they had to learn to put those rivalries to rest if they were to work together to please their husband. However, by putting their differences aside, they discover that their relationship is growing more in friendship, and perhaps in something more. There’s something to be said about two women finding each other in the most precarious of circumstances, it’s the enemies-to-lovers trope I love so dearly but developed correctly. Some reviewers have said they didn’t like how it was developed, and at times I agree; one apology does not make a good relationship. However, I looked at their relationship in the way Latinx families deal with their own relationships. We rarely ever apologize to each other verbally, there are other ways we communicate regret, and I think that comes across quite well between Carmen and Dani. They have each other’s backs in the face of a government hell-bent in keeping them and their families in the sidelines. This is especially true whenever they must face Mateo and his very powerful family.
Another early reviewer said that Mateo was “pantomime-villain evil,” which completely negates the fact that this story is supposed to showcase the cruelty of men and their obsession with expressing how much power they have over women. He denies Dani a foothold in his life, preferring to do backdoor and seedy dealings by himself, which erases her power. At one point, he uses his body as a weapon against Dani, threatening her physically and verbally. It’s the classic makings of an abuser, not of a fantasy villain. It goes to show how much Mejia injects her fantasy with realism. Mateo doesn’t have superpowers or magic, unless you count the fact that he was born privileged and wouldn’t get reprimanded in the same way someone from a lower caste or of a different gender would. It’s classic Latinx machismo. Mateo isn’t an evil villain, he’s a regular man raised to be someone in a position of power over those he oppresses, which is a realistic kind of evil.
There are so many complex and important details that make WSTDOF such an incredible book. This doesn’t even cover the poignant narration from Dani’s perspective. Dani’s a narrator who keeps her emotions pretty much close to her chest, so when she divulges them to the audience it steals your breath away. By the end of the book, she’s changed so much from the rigid girl wishing away her powerlessness. It proves to be hard, but she continues despite many setbacks. She’s a fighter, not in the kickass, The Hunger Games!Katniss Everdeen way; she’s a fighter in the way Laia in An Ember in the Ashes is, or like Katniss circa Mockingjay; she’s emotionally resourceful, playing out all the possible outcomes before sticking to one, which allows her to think on her feet when faced with a twist she didn’t see coming.
And there are twists in the story that you won’t see coming either. There isn’t much left for me to say that won’t seem like I’m repeating myself at this point or end up spoiling the book, but trust me, you’ll want to read this book. Then, you can join me in the torture of having to wait for the next installment of this duology.