Latinx Book Bingo, a reading challenge hosted by @Mancerelle @alliembooks and @SofiainBookland on Twitter, was announced in September in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The hosts provided a bingo board with prompts, such as “f/f relationship” and “magical realism,” and invited everyone to join in. When I saw the board, I knew I had to participate.
At first, I viewed the challenge as a chance to make a dent in my to-be-read pile and give attention to books I’ve been wanting to read for a while and hadn’t yet found the time for. But as I began reading through my list, I quickly realized the experience would give me so much more.
First, some background. When I was a kid, I owned a total of three books that included Puerto Rican culture: one was a novel about a frog (a coquí, native to the island), one was a picture book about a Taino myth, and one was a chapter book about a pair of orphans (that I later realized perpetuates the white savior narrative). That was it for representation on my shelf.
(To be fair, my mother owned a ton of books about Puerto Rican culture, but they weren’t things I was looking to read at the time.)
As I got older, I despaired of ever finding books that made me feel seen, and eventually gave it up as a lost cause. In recent years, thanks to We Need Diverse Books and the rise of indie, the publishing world has changed. My TBR has amassed many books by and about Latinx people and culture, more than I can possibly read and still keep up with my own writing deadlines.
Latinx Book Bingo provided the perfect opportunity to focus on these books. I resolved to not only hit BINGO, but to do it using only print and audiobook formats (I mostly stuck to this) and a range of genres. By the end of the challenge, I didn’t just reach bingo once, I filled almost the entire score card. Here’s a quick look at what I read:
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (audiobook)
A YA novel told in verse and performed by the author. Stifled by an overly strict mother and forced into confirmation classes, Xiomara finds her voice through poetry and spoken word.
Complexity by Harper Miller (print):
An m/m erotic romance novella. What starts as a hookup turns into more, but Manny feels blocked by his partner’s fame and his own walls when it comes to his family.
Power and Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology edited by Joamette Gil (print):
A black-and-white illustrated anthology of comic vignettes, featuring magic, queerness, and diverse characters. In Te Perdi, an Afro-Latinx woman tries everything to save the woman she loves, including challenging an orisha.
American Chavez Vol 1 by Gabby Rivera (ebook):
A graphic novel. America is a superhero with kickass powers, but she’ll face new challenges—and meet new friends—when she begins Sotomayor University after a breakup with her girlfriend.
In The Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (audiobook)
A memoir read by the author, who stars in Orange Is The New Black and Jane the Virgin. Diane’s compelling memoir of growing up in Boston, even after her parents’ deportation when she was fourteen, is by turns touching, funny, sad, and eye-opening. (CW*)
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (audiobook):
A YA fantasy novel about coming-of-age as a bruja in Brooklyn. When Alex makes a wish on her death day, life as she knows it is thrown into chaos. She must travel to another realm to save her family, with the help of the most adorable love triangle ever.
Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (audiobook):
A contemporary friends-to-lovers romance. Weary with grief, good-girl Rosa decides she’s going to loosen up for once, and the consequences teach her that having the “perfect” plan isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (audiobook):
A coming of age YA novel and National Book Award Finalist. When Julia’s “perfect” older sister dies in an accident, Julia is left to unravel her family’s secrets, while also untangling the emotional knot of who she is and who she wants to be. (CW*)
Julían is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (print):
A picture book. Julián is a little boy who loves mermaids. Luckily, he has an abuela who supports his interests.
The Infamous Miss Rodriguez by Lydia San Andres (ebook):
A historical romance set in the Caribbean. Determined to break her engagement to a wealthy but condescending bachelor, Graciela is even willing to team up with the man her aunt has hired to ensure the wedding goes off without a hitch.
An important thing to remember is that Latinx people are not a monolith. We come from different countries and cultures, bound by a language and a shared history as a colonized region. But for this generation of Latinx people growing up in America, there are areas of common ground, and those were prevalent in this sample of books. For example, three featured heroines who wrote poetry. Many explored the ultra-complicated dynamic between Latina mothers and their children. Other common themes were religion, mental illness, immigration and deportation, connection to homeland, guilt/grief, and family/community expectations. Another unexpected bonus: hearing many of these stories in the authors’ own voices, or at least read by audiobook narrators who were also native Spanish speakers.
What stood out to me was how familiar each story felt. Even though the stories in these books weren’t exactly like my own, I could still see myself in them. (Or in the case of the YA stories, the teenage girl I used to be.) Representation matters. While we often read to explore new worlds, we also read to better understand ourselves. Latinx Book Bingo did that for me, and I’m so grateful to the organizers for starting this challenge, and to the authors for telling their stories.
[*CW for In the Country We Love and I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter: self harm and attempted suicide]