Every year on August 9, readers around the world celebrate Book Lovers Day, a day for all of us to turn off our smartphones and other devices, pick up a book, and celebrate the joy of reading. As we know, Latinx writers continue to be underrepresented in publishing, but thankfully, that’s slowly changing. While today’s kids have a list of Latinx-written and Latinx-led stories to choose from, I didn’t read my first book with a Latina character until I was twelve years old, which meant I spent the majority of my childhood feeling like my voice, stories, and heritage didn’t matter. Since then, I’ve been grateful to the books that spoke for and to me, that featured characters that looked and spoke like me and my family, and that made me feel seen in radical ways. Authors like Sandra Cisneros, Erika L. Sanchez, and Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez have published books that made many Latinas feel seen by shining a light on our truths and struggles.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but a curated one to feature the best of what Latinx literature has offered me so far. From novels to poetry collections, young adult to memoir, these books center Latina voices with tenderness, vulnerability, and power. Read on to learn more about 12 books by Latinx authors that made me feel seen, heard, and loved, and that will hopefully make you feel the same way.
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is arguably her most well-known work, and definitely one of my favorites for how it pioneered the start of Latinx literature in the 80s. But if that book shows the power of her short vignettes, her second novel, Caramelo, reveals the sheer breadth and width of her writing. Spanning one hundred years of Mexican history and several perspectives, this story follows Lala, the youngest of seven brothers, as she and her family travel to Mexico from Chicago as they do every summer. Only this year, she finally learns the history behind the woman she calls “The Awful Grandmother”, and subsequently, all the rest of her relatives as they tell the stories of how they came to be. I love this novel for how it reminds me of my own family, especially the women, and the nostalgia and beauty it associates with Mexico, which we hardly ever see in media. Every time I read it, I want to go back to my family on the other side of the border and show more understanding and empathy to the people i love.
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes
The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by nonbinary writer Sonora Reyes is the story of Yamilet Flores, a queer Mexican American girl who trades her old school for an all-white Catholic school after she’s outed by her former best friend. Along the way, she encounters racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, but also new friends, new strength and confidence, and a potential new love interest. While reading, I saw my queer brown self in Yamilet, from her eyeliner, to the hoops she wore every day, to the jewelry she made. I loved that we shared so many interests, though I was nowhere near as self-assured about my sexuality when I was her age. I loved her spunk and resistance, as well as her kindness, humor, and empathetic nature, and was grateful for positive queer representation that for once didn’t come from a white lead.
Mujer de Color(es) by Alejandra Jimenez
Mujer de Color(es) by Alejandra Jimenez is easily one of the most visually beautiful poetry collections I’ve seen in a long time. A multi-genre book of photos, poems, lyric essays, and prayers in both English and Spanish, the book explores the classic themes of the Latina experience: identity, belonging, language, love, culture, colonialism, ancestors, femininity, and the power and magic of brown beauty. By also exploring her lesbian identity and the ties between queerness and Latinidad, Jimenez made me feel powerful and validated while reading, that my experience was unique but also shared among many in our community. It was amazing to see beautiful Latinas being uplifted through photos as well to go alongside the poems, elevating the entire experience into something almost spiritual.
No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado
Crystal Maldonado’s second novel No Filter and Other Lies tells the story of Kat Sanchez, a shy fat brown girl with a love for photography and social media. Only she has no following, no striking beauty (or so she thinks), and no clout—but all that changes when she creates an account posing as her co-worker after she photographed her. Over the course of the novel, Kat falls for a girl for the first time, grows out of her shell, and learns the true price of catfishing online and betraying a friend’s trust. While I myself haven’t done half the things Kat does in the books, I still resonated with her love for photography, the questioning of her sexuality, the expression of her Puerto Rican culture, and the complicated relationship she has with her family. It was also important to that Kat wasn’t perfect and made mistakes, because characters of color shouldn’t have to be portrayed that way in order to receive empathy or understanding. I saw myself in the flawed but earnest Kat, and appreciated her—and myself—for all that she was.
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Olivia
Melissa Lozada Olivia’s novel-in-verse Dreaming of You is the most beautiful love letter to Selena fans all over the world. The story follows a fictional version of Melissa as she brings Selena back to life with witchcraft, a USB drive, string, period blood, several sprays of Fabuloso, and other cultural references as ingredients. From there, the reincarnated Selena slowly learns to speak again, make music, and live on her own, all told with chaos and humor. This book was so special for me to read because I saw myself so clearly in Melissa’s character, especially for having all the same thoughts I’ve had over the years: what would’ve happened if Selena had never been murdered, what she would’ve looked like and been like in old age, and what her songs would’ve sounded like in today’s music landscape. I’m always keeping Selena alive by listening to her music but this book gave me a special kind of wish fulfillment and representation that I didn’t even know I needed.
Funeral for Flaca by Emilly Prado
Funeral for Flaca by Emilly Prado is an award-winning, coming-of-age memoir told in essays, all following Prado’s childhood, adolescence, and early years of adulthood. This book was literally made for Chicana readers but is also achingly universal, exploring what it means to be a brown girl in Anglo-American culture and the age of neoliberal wokeness, especially the punk scene. As Prado’s family is from Mexico, just like mine, it wasn’t hard to relate to her stories of cultural assimilation and searching for identity and belonging, even with the age gap between us. It goes to show how little has changed for us women in the Latinx community and how much work is left to be done towards representation and acceptance. But that thought was comforting too, knowing that someone else has gone through experiences similar to my own and that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. If you’ve never felt heard or seen by a book before, this is the read for you.
For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez
For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez was one of my favorite reads from last year, and since I finished it, I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Covering everything from colorism to the patriarchy, all through a brown lens, this is THE guidebook for Latinas who identify as brown girls, who are looking for validation of their cultural identities. Who want assurance that how they move through an Anglo-American world is important but doesn’t have to erase who they are. I loved learning about the history behind certain societal institutions and systems, as well as ways to combat and resist them instead of blending in or submitting. I felt so seen and validating while reading this book, and would even go so far to say that this is required reading for every brown girl.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia
Gabriela Garcia is one of my favorite new and emerging Latina authors all because of her debut Of Women and Salt from 2021. The story follows Jeannette, a struggling addict and daughter of a Cuban immigrant mother who takes in a neighbor’s child after they were detained by ICE. But over the course of the novel, the perspective opens up to include Jeannette’s mother, grandmother, and women of her family all the way back to the 19th century, from cigar factories to detention centers, from Cuba to Mexico. I loved how this was clearly a story of daughters, mothers, and women, with the male characters silent and sidelined the way women have been treated in literature for centuries. Much like Sandra Cisneros’s Caramelo, the story is interested in the intimate, interior lives of women. Though I couldn’t relate to the specific situations the women faced, I still saw pieces of myself in them or wanted to reflect them more, like their strength, determination, and fearlessness, and felt incredibly seen and understood.
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
Now the author of two books including the newly released Crying in the Bathroom, Erika L. Sánchez first kicked off her career with her best-selling YA debut I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (soon to be a feature film directed by America Ferrera!). I remember seeing the book cover in a bookstore when it first released, almost crying from happiness, and buying it immediately without even reading the synopsis—that’s the power of representation. The book follows Julia, whose entire family is broken after tragedy strikes and her older sister Olga ends up dead. While everyone thought she was the perfect daughter, Julia discovers that the truth is much more complicated than the myth, changing the dynamic of her family forever. For me, one of the most relatable things about the novel is her romantic relationship with a white boy named Connor, who is well-meaning but fails to understand basic cultural nuances, language, and references. I’d never felt more seen than when Julia is explaining things to him that are obvious to Latinx readers, which made for a unique and funny reading experience, despite the tragic element.
Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie
Ophelia After All by Raquel Marie is the perfect ode to queer Latinas like me. Following Cuban American teen Ophelia Rojas, the book kicks off seeing her as a boy-crazy girl with a love for rose-gardening, her family’s cultural food, and her best friends, to the point that her endless stream of boy crushes is a running joke in her circle of loved ones. But everything changes when she gets a crush on Talia Sanchez (a girl!), forcing her to question her sexuality and everything she ever knew about herself. I came to understand my queerness a little later in life than Ophelia does in the book, but I still resonated strongly with her gay panic, confusion, and ultimately, acceptance and celebration. The road to coming out is never easy but through books like this one, the journey becomes a little more bearable because it’s been done on the page, and can be done in real-life, too. This is the perfect, positive, and uplifting book that every young queer Latina needs to pick up.
You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce
Similar to For Brown Girls With Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez, You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce is essential reading for Latinas combating the expectations of Anglo-American society. Throughout the book, she tears apart the myth that assimilation leads to success and happiness, that suppression is worth sacrificing your family’s first language, roots, cultural expression, and accent. She argues that the white gaze is designed to keep Black and brown people in check, and that only by rejecting it can we reclaim our own power and take up space in our workplace and other public spaces without apology. Reading this book, I realized these messages were exactly what I’ve been needing to hear for years. I felt not only seen, but also emboldened and empowered while reading, and highly recommend it if you know that Arce’s argument is what you need to hear, too.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster
Naima Coster is now the author of two novels, with a third on the way, but nothing has spoken to me the way What’s Mine and Yours has. Reflecting on her Afro-Latina heritage, Coster writes about two American families in North Carolina, one Black and one Latinx. Through an unexpected connection, the parents and children are forced together, inciting misunderstanding, microaggressions, and conflict. This is obviously a book about family, but also about self- and societal identity, assimilation, racism, and belonging. I appreciated Coster’s exploration of the complexity of Latinidad, how a white mother who marries a Latino man can deny her children are Latinx while those very children identify in different ways, depending on how they’re perceived by others. In that family, I saw my own, how we come in all different skin tones and races, and subsequently claim different identities, all within a single family. That aspect of Latinidad had finally been given a voice, and I was grateful to Coster for taking that leap to do so.