Tehlor Kay Mejia’s YA fantasy debut is one of the buzziest books of the season. We Set the Dark on Fire takes place on an island where women’s are trained for a future of serving their husbands. Daniela Vargas, the book’s queer Latinx heroine, is a young bride who finds herself at a crossroads when she learns of an underground rebellion. Mejia knows how vital representation is, and here she’s rounded up six Latinx YA novels that readers should pick up in 2019.
Not that long ago, we were lucky to get a small handful of books about the Latinx experience each year. These books were mostly issue-driven, contemporary books that explored the struggle of being who we are. If we were lucky, one or two of them would be written by Latinx authors, and amid the struggle we’d get little bites of joy. Those books, we held close and read again and again even if they weren’t written in the genres we traditionally enjoyed. Even if the experiences represented didn’t align with our own nationalities or intersections.
In this respect, we still have a long way to go. Stories about us are still prioritized over stories by us. There’s still the sense of scarcity, like there’s only room for so many of those stories, even though the spectrum of Latinidad is as wide and varied as the cultures, nationalities, and languages that make it up. Intersections are still largely ignored in favor of the single story, the palatable story.
But through all of this, and though we continue to fight every day for a door more of us will be allowed to walk through, 2019 is the best year yet for Latinx lit. We have fluffy, fun romances, we have dark fantasies, we have dystopian futures. We have stories with heart and stories with magic and stories that reflect the beautiful, diverse, intersectional tapestry of who we are.
And that’s worth celebrating, even as we push for more inclusion. So without further ado, here are six Latinx YA titles coming out in 2019 that you won’t want to miss!
I was completely obsessed with The Education of Margot Sánchez, so when I found out its author, the incredibly talented Lilliam Rivera, was tackling a speculative story, I was over the moon. Dealing in Dreams has everything I love about dystopian fantasy. It’s high-stakes, fast-paced, and has a badass heroine you’ll be rooting for from page one, but from a personal standpoint—seeing these things tackled by a Latina author, and with so much love and care for her cultural inspiration, made this one a home run for me.
By now, The Poet X is a household name. I mean, who among us didn’t tear up when Elizabeth Acevedo won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature last year? But the author, who got her start in poetry, isn’t coasting on her accolades. She’s back to hit us in the feels yet again with her new book, a story of a teen mom with big dreams and a little magic on her side. You’ll fall in love with Emoni and her determination, her practical, realistic view of her world that leaves room for the impossible.
I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this book. It has some of my favorite elements: An ambitious, type-A Latina with a complicated family history and concerns about her future. A sleepy tourist town. A cute boy with a boat a la Pacey Witter. All intermingled with the bittersweet love story of a diaspora girl finding her own way to love and honor her culture? The worst thing about Don’t Date Rosa Santos is that it doesn’t come out until May.
I haven’t gotten a chance to read this one yet, but with the absurdly beautiful cover and the fascinating premise I’m counting down the days until it is released. A hauntingly contemporary premise that mirrors so much of the collective trauma and fear permeating our communities today, The Grief Keeper weaves in a speculative element and features a queer main character! Plus, again, that cover.
The first time I read All of Us with Wings, I cried. Xochi was a girl with a past, coping with trauma, making decisions that seemed right in the moment on her journey to healing. She was searching for connection, family, culture, love. She was me, in a nutshell, and it was the first time I’d ever seen myself reflected so accurately on the pages of a book. There’s so much more to this incredible debut than just Xochi, though. There are ancient creatures with a vendetta, dreamy performances by a band that leap off the page, and a beautiful exploration about how the families we find can change the course of our stories.
One of my favorite things about 2019 is that we’re getting books that explore the diaspora experience, and all the complications that come with being raised one place while still connecting with the country you came from. In Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, this is on full display, as Alaine travels back to Haiti after an incident at school to work at her family’s non-profit. Spending time with her mom, discovering Haiti for the first time, and what sounds like an adorable romance with an intern at the company? Sign me up!
Tehlor Kay Mejia is an author and Oregon native in love with the alpine meadows and evergreen forests of her home state, where she lives with her daughter. We Set the Dark on Fire is her debut fantasy novel. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. Her short fiction appears in the All Out and Toil & Trouble anthologies from Inkyard Press, and her middle grade fantasy debut, Paola Santiago and the Drowned Palace, is forthcoming from Rick Riordan Presents/Disney Hyperion. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.