There’s no better gift for our loved ones or ourselves than a good book. I asked a few of my favorite Latino writers to share with me what recent titles they’re excited about and why they’re worthy additions to anyone’s shopping list.
You might have come across some of these suggestions already, like a much talked-about novel by Dominican American writer Angie Cruz. Others promise to be pleasant surprises, like a poetry collection by Los Angeles poet Rocío Carlos, who made this list twice. And what about a touching picture book or an absorbing young adult novel? Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find something for every taste through the following recommendations.
1. "Mi Papi Has a Motorcycle" by Isabel Quintero (author), Zeke Peña (illustrator)
I love giving picture books as gifts to adults. They can be as transformative and powerful as any novel. My pick this year is Isabel Quintero’s love letter to a changing city, Mi Papi Has a Motorcycle — beautifully illustrated by Zeke Peña. Quintero’s gorgeous, poetic words alongside Zeke’s vivid illustrations capture the hardworking class while subtly showcasing the loss caused by gentrification. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Daisy and the people and places that shape her young life.
2. "Love War Stories" by Ivelisse Rodríguez
"Love War Stories" was a finalist for the prestigious PEN/Faulkner award in 2018 and introduces readers to the heartbreaking and illuminating stories of Puerto Rican girls and women.
An important collection, both funny and poignant, Ivelisse Rodríguez's book is guaranteed to keep you turning pages.
3. "Native Country of the Heart" by Cherríe Moraga
Cherríe Moraga is a seminal figure in the history of queer literature, feminist literature, Chicana literature, and just plain good literature, and she's long been someone I admire, so I scooped up "Native Country of the Heart" as soon as possible. It is, ostensibly, a memoir of her own mother's life and death, but along the way Moraga connects this very personal story to the story of the borderlands themselves, to history, identity, and belonging — in the largest sense.
Moraga's memoir is the perfect book for anyone whose mother looms large over their psyche, which is to say: It's perfect for anyone who's ever had a mother.
4. "Don’t Date Rosa Santos" by Nina Moreno
My recommendation for this holiday season is the young adult novel "Don’t Date Rosa Santos" by Nina Moreno. But don’t let the fact that it was written for teens keep you from giving it to the adults on your list.
This Cuban-American novel has all the best aspects of a rom-com: humor, misunderstandings, romance with an attractive tattooed boy. And Moreno combines those with important themes like family, grief and loss — all wrapped in rich Latinx culture and a magical South Florida setting.
The feeling of hope it leaves you with makes it the perfect holiday read.
5. "Retablos: Stories from a Life Lived Along the Border" by Octavio Solis
I am definitely gifting Octavio Solis's "Retablos," a series of gorgeously written vignettes about the events, moments, traumas and transformations that filled Solis's childhood in the east side of El Paso.
The Chicano playwright has a gift for shaping these “holy memories” to bring to life a spare, evocative existence of the working class. Bravo!
6. "Ordinary Girls: A Memoir" by Jaquira Diaz
It takes courage to write about your deepest, most brutally painful truths, to expose your family’s history of violence and substance abuse, dysfunction and mental illness, but Diaz takes us on her journey. Through the darkness of her girlhood to the bright promise of her womanhood, Diaz shows us what is possible and what we are capable of surviving.
I couldn’t settle on one so I have three recommendations
Helena María Viramontes
7. "My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education" by Jennine Capó Crucet
Capó Crucet's talents and intellect hold up her biting humor and crushing critiques. She's a genuine truth teller and this collection of essays should be on every serious reader’s bookshelf.
8. "Dominicana: A Novel" by Angie Cruz
Finally, we get to read a searing first-hand account of a Dominican woman who is not only imprisoned in the patriarchy of culture but also in the inequality of the capitalist U.S. in the 1960s.
9. "Your Healing is Killing Me" by Virginia Grise
This small book is a performance manifesto on our present-day health systems. It is also highly instructive in self-care as self-defense.
Recommended by Helena María Viramontes, author of "Their Dogs Came with Them" and "Under the Feet of Jesus," who noted: "I couldn’t settle on one so I have three recommendations — I loved all of these books."
10. "(the other house)" by Rocío Carlos
The sequence asks us to consider how family, culture, place, desire and language rend and redeem the self. “[A]nd what is true?” Carlos writes, “[W]hat I said, or what my body said?” As the questioning becomes more haunted and beautiful, the sequence refuses to provide answers. Carlos reminds us lyrical thinking suffices.
11. "In the Dream House: A Memoir" by Carmen Maria Machado
This is easily one of the best memoirs of 2019, if not the best. Machado’s subversive storytelling takes center stage as she examines her descent, as a queer woman, into an abusive relationship. Most memorably — along with her threading of popular culture and folklore — is Machado's exploration of the gray areas of abuse, the signs of intimate partner violence that are often unseen, but which are felt. I read it in one night: highly recommend.
12. "Fiebre Tropical: A Novel" by Juliana Delgado Lopera
Juliana Delgado Lopera — remember that name — is an irreverent, shameless and disarming new novelist. She is a merciless satirist in control of a pitch-perfect voice that makes an indisputable case for Spanglish as the perfect vehicle to express what we are really like right now.
Delgado Lopera is like a baby dyke Joan Rivers; but she also has more than a touch of the poet. And there’s no denying that her desire to smash the clichés of our culture is driven by a big and broken-yet-hopeful heart. May a large audience be fortunate enough to catch this Fiebre Tropical. Delgado Lopera is the perfect antidote for the Age of Yahoos in which we live.
13. "There Should Be Flowers" by Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Without a doubt, I recommend gifting "(the other house)" by Rocío Carlos and "There Should Be Flowers" by Jennifer Espinoza. These collections present the familiar tropes of the body as queer sources of force and complicated beauty.
Carlos writes, “where is my country / it is a body.”
Espinoza writes, “All the new bodies I’ve made. / All the things I’ve said. / All the women I’ve been.”
For a loved one journeying through life, these collections offer readers direction with a sentimentality we often deny ourselves when we are learning. These books are gentle and complete. Consider them maps for each step we take in life, through our own bodies, through the ghosts they are sometimes made of.
14. "Barely Missing Everything" by Matt Mendez
Matt Mendez published a truly phenomenal YA novel, "Barely Missing Everything." Set in El Paso, the novel gives us the tale of two good friends, JD and Juan, each of them lit within by big ideas of breaking past the cycle of poverty and family disintegration they face.
Reaching for dreams that others find grossly unrealistic (from making films to playing basketball one day) is part of the heartbreak in following these two, especially when the book asks us to think about how the honesty of our families — our parents, most of all — shapes our lives. But tenacity is here, too, all in a community many of us recognize but hardly ever get to see represented this well. It's a wonderful outing from one of our shining stars — and slated for Spanish translation come springtime.
Looking for more book recommendations?
- Coming-of-age books by and about Latinas — and why you should read them
- Hispanic Heritage Month is over and these 15 books by Latinos are still great
- What we're reading: The best books for fall 2019