Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Latine Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond between September 15 – October 15, where we invite Latine authors to celebrate being Latine and Latine books! Find the introduction post for Latine Heritage Month here.
September flew right by and October is here – which means that we’re also halfway through Latine Heritage Month at the Pond! I hope all of you have been reading the most wonderful Latine books – I’ve read many, some of which will be in today’s book recommendation post!
In the past week, I’ve shared my book reviews of the enchanting The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Cordova and feel-good romance Like a Love Song by Gabriela Martins. We also had the privilege of having Raquel Vasquez Gilliland visit us again this year, and we discussed her splendid book, How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe (one of my favourite books of this year).
This weekend, I’m going to be recommending Latine contemporary books and coming-of-age stories! Before we share today’s recommendations, be sure to check out last year’s book recommendation posts, and also stop by our Latine SFF and Magical Realism and Latine Romance and Stories about Love recommendations!
Without further ado, here are our book recommendations for Latine contemporary books and coming-of–age stories!
Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud
Simone Thibodeaux’s life is sealed in a boy-proof container.
Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously).
Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up — especially since she’s crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn’t approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven’t had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah — choosing your own prom date.
But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She’ll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak.
CW: Simone Breaks All the Rules was an utter joy to read, and I loved this warm and relatable book with my whole heart. If you’ve ever had strict parents and felt alone in that experience, this book is for you.
- I just loved the heart of this book: about Simone who, alongside two other teens who live under their parents’ strict rules and household, decide to take back their senior year and freedom and decide to make a list so that they can have fun! And gosh, the book is so much fun and the friendships in this were so heart-warming.
- I felt like this was a love letter to all the teens and people who had strict parents. I related to this book so much; how lonely and alienating that experience can be, how paranoid and careful you have to be – this book really gets it, and I loved how the story turns it around and the girls find joy in their freedom.
- The relationships in this are fantastic. A complex yet compelling mother-daughter relationship, gorgeous female friendships that make your heart warm, and also a cute romance, where the love interest is a Haitian teen activist.
FURIA BY YAMILE SAIED MÉNDEZ
In Rosario, Argentina, Camila Hassan lives a double life.
At home, she is a careful daughter, living within her mother’s narrow expectations, in her rising-soccer-star brother’s shadow, and under the abusive rule of her short-tempered father.
On the field, she is La Furia, a powerhouse of skill and talent. When her team qualifies for the South American tournament, Camila gets the chance to see just how far those talents can take her. In her wildest dreams, she’d get an athletic scholarship to a North American university.
But the path ahead isn’t easy. Her parents don’t know about her passion. They wouldn’t allow a girl to play fútbol—and she needs their permission to go any farther. And the boy she once loved is back in town. Since he left, Diego has become an international star, playing in Italy for the renowned team Juventus. Camila doesn’t have time to be distracted by her feelings for him. Things aren’t the same as when he left: she has her own passions and ambitions now, and La Furia cannot be denied. As her life becomes more complicated, Camila is forced to face her secrets and make her way in a world with no place for the dreams and ambition of a girl like her.
Furia is a stunning and gorgeous read that highlights the strength of young girls and women, set in the backdrop of Argentina and one girl’s passion for fútbol.
- Set in Argentina, the story deftly balances so many different parts of Camila’s life – the ups and downs of first love, machismo, parental abuse, following your dreams, and Camila’s love and passion for fútbol.
- The story explores feminism within Argentina, where several young girls have been missing or found dead. It speaks to the anger of young girls, who don’t want to be the next victim or statistic, and it’s about how doing what you love without permission is a form of resistance.
- The romance in this was at times soft, at times heartbreaking; the story is less about love, more about how love for someone and doing what you love can be at odds, and how putting yourself first and loving yourself can be challenging but also worth it.
The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.
But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?
A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.
CW: Last year, Anna Meriano recommended this book to me and – guess what? Anna was absolutely on the money because The Moon Within was gorgeous. A stunning middle-grade story told in verse for young kids coming into themselves and their bodies.
- The story explores so many important things – puberty, first periods and how these experiences intertwine with culture and community, and friendship.
- I loved the way that this book honours, rather than shames or creates fear, about our bodies; it was such a beautiful, heartfelt, and positive depiction about something that can be scary for any young person with their first period.
- Celi’s story follows in tandem with her best friend, Marco, who comes out as genderfluid, or xochiuah. I loved that the story offers a lens from a Mexica perspective on Marco’s gender, and how affirming it was.
The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold
It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.
Skye: This was a fun magical realism-esque middle grade! The book’s voice errs a little more on the light-hearted, younger side of MG, but the lessons it teaches about the danger of blind assimilation and the importance of diversity are earnest and heartfelt. I suspect that its themes are going to hit hard for a lot of young diaspora readers: the feeling that you have to disown parts of your culture in order to fit in, the desperate longing to belong somewhere. The ending is also very warm and true to its themes, and may or may not have caused some tears.
When We Make It by Elisabet Velasquez
Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican eighth grader who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. Sarai questions the society around her, her Boricua identity, and the life she lives with determination and an open heart, learning to celebrate herself in a way that she has been denied.
CW: This stunning coming-of-age debut told entirely in verse. I found myself bookmarking and highlighting so many chapters because of the sheer power of its words. I’m in awe of this book, friends.
- When We Make It explores so many aspects of Nuyorican (New York Puerto Rican) Sarai’s life with so much rawness and emotion and boiling frustration. The poems are magnificent and powerful.
- It explores living in poverty, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and all the challenges that come with them. It navigates the stories we tell ourselves and the stories told to poor people, and the system that plays a hand in perpetuating and dehumanising poor people.
- At its heart, the story is about a young teen who doesn’t believe she will “make it” out of her situation, but also hopes that she can make it.
Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera
Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.
Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.
CW: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance was such a delight! It was funny, warm, empathetic (middle school is hard!), and, goodness, Lupe was just such a cool character. I just wanted to meet her and tell her how cool she was.
- The humour is great and will be a hit with younger readers – I found myself smiling a bit too. I also loved Lupe’s strong will and stubbornness – she stands up for what she believes in, and she strongly believes that she shouldn’t square dance.
- It’s also a great story about friendship and realising that, sometimes, we act selfishly when we become too engrossed in something. It’s about how friendship is compromise, being honest, and opening yourself up to the fact that people aren’t always right or perfect.
- It’s also about how traditions can sometimes have bad and harmful history and be important to people, but it can be reclaimed and celebrated by changing it so it can be more inclusive.
The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe
Norris Kaplan is clever, cynical, and quite possibly too smart for his own good. A black French Canadian, he knows from watching American sitcoms that those three things don’t bode well when you are moving to Austin, Texas. Plunked into a new high school and sweating a ridiculous amount from the oppressive Texas heat, Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.
Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans.
But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.
CW: The Field Guide to Being a North American Teenager is so clever and charming. The story has so much self-awareness and great humour, and I love how it takes these common YA tropes that we don’t think about and turns them on it’s head in the best way possible.
- If you love your typical unlikeable and flawed protagonist (who is actually unlikeable!), then you’ll love this book. And if you’re a little tired of unlikeable protagonists who are unlikeable for no reason, then you’ll definitely love this.
- You know the YA stories about high school cliques? And you’re kind of tired about the stereotypes with no depth? I loved that this book subverts that in the best and most humanising way.
- The relationships – especially romantic and friendships – are so good; I liked that this book shows how we fall in love with the idea of people and that there’s always more to a person behind first impressions.
Home and Away by Candice Montgomery
Tasia Quirk is young, Black, and fabulous. She’s a senior, she’s got great friends, and a supportive and wealthy family. She even plays football as the only girl on her private high school’s team.
But when she catches her mamma trying to stuff a mysterious box in the closet, her identity is suddenly called into question. Now Tasia’s determined to unravel the lies that have overtaken her life. Along the way, she discovers what family and forgiveness really mean, and that her answers don’t come without a fee. An artsy bisexual boy from the Valley could help her find them—but only if she stops fighting who she is, beyond the color of her skin.
CW: Home and Away is nothing I expected – rather, it ended up being so much more. I thought that this was one of the most complicated books; a book that may challenge you with its torrential story, but ultimately a brilliant book with an incredible and unforgettable voice.
- The book explores identity and asks: What if everything you knew about yourself – who you are, your identity, your family – was based on a lie? What do you do if everything you knew was wrong; what do you do?
- I loved that the characters and everything about this book feels real. It provides so much room for complexity and imperfection and raw emotion. In a story that tackles something so life-altering and complex, it’s what this book deserves.
- At its heart, it’s a story about figuring out who you are – all over again – and the challenging but hopeful act of forgiveness.