latinx 2023

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Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez is a dark, twisted tale of a cult in Argentina called the Order that sacrifices humans to an occult entity known as the Darkness. Mediums possess a natural ability to channel this figure into reality. Juan has served the Order as a medium for his entire life, but as the story begins, he attempts to sever ties with the cult to protect his son, Gaspar, from its clutches.

Our Share of Night follows Juan’s first-person viewpoint for several hundred pages, then jumps to Gaspar’s perspective, then goes 30 years into the past to tell the story of Juan’s wife, Rosario. Enriquez creates a sense of mystery with every aspect of her prose, even down to the way speech is written. Dialogue is sometimes in quotes, sometimes not; sometimes it necessitates the start of a new paragraph, sometimes it doesn’t. Enriquez uses these structural elements to reveal details when the reader least expects it. When Juan channels the Darkness for the first time, his hands lengthen and his nails turn into golden claws, but the explanation for why mediums are affected by channeling in this way is not revealed until another storyteller has taken over.

Even with such an unpredictable writing style, Enriquez perfectly paces solutions to the novel’s various mysteries, enticing readers through her chaotic dreamscape with answers that are as intriguing as they are frightening. Spooky and atmospheric, Our Share of Night is a constantly surprising and bloody ride.

Spooky and atmospheric, Our Share of Night is a constantly surprising and bloody ride.

As COVID-19 swept across the United States in 2020, health care professionals and patients quickly learned about the flaws in the public health system. Questions arose about equitable access to health care, the role of insurance and the quality of care in public hospitals serving uninsured people versus private hospitals serving people with private insurance. Taking the public Ben Taub Hospital—Houston’s “largest hospital for the poor . . . who cannot afford medical care”—as an example, medical researcher and practicing physician Ricardo Nuila explores these issues in The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in American Medicine.

Nuila has been an attending physician at Ben Taub for over 10 years, and he has discovered that “good care comes from connecting with your patients in whatever way you’re able.” Using the stories of five patients, Nuila weaves an intricate web of questions about the shortcomings of insurance and corporate medicine and reveals how Ben Taub has succeeded in providing access to health care for people who are medically and financially vulnerable.

For example, there’s Christian, a patient with chronic kidney disease who developed mysterious, debilitating knee pain. Because he was uninsured and had to pay out of pocket for his diagnosis and treatment, he traveled to a clinic in Mexico where he hoped his money would go further. A few weeks into his therapy, his knee pain diminished, and he moved back to Houston—but within weeks, he found himself facing the same medical issues again. When his kidneys started to fail and the insurance company denied him coverage, his mother admitted him to Ben Taub, where he started receiving hemodialysis on a regular basis and eventually left the hospital with hope.

Readers also meet Ebonie, who was 19 weeks into her pregnancy and experiencing dangerous levels of obstetric bleeding. After bouncing from hospital to hospital, she eventually landed at Ben Taub, where Nuila and another doctor developed a plan to deal with bleeding in the future and made sure she would be admitted to Ben Taub when it happened. Ben Taub also helped Ebonie apply for Medicaid so she would have an insurance safety net. Through his own experiences, and those of his patients and fellow health care professionals, Nuila paints a picture of a world where “people find healthcare and revere it like treasure.”

The People’s Hospital is an inspiring book that raises crucial questions about the future of American health care. Nuila illustrates that hospitals that make holistic decisions about care provide more effective and equitable treatment than those that ask simply about the ability of patients to cover expenses, reminding readers that the most effective health care systems always elevate humans and their needs over monetary gain.

Using the stories of five patients, physician Ricardo Nuila reveals how a public hospital in Houston has succeeded in providing health care to people who are the most vulnerable.
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Promises of Gold (5.5 hours), written and narrated by José Olivarez, delivers slice-of-life poetry about growing up in Chicago with Mexican parents and finding love of every kind: familial love, easy romantic love and unspoken love from buddies who will never let you down. 

A portion of the audiobook is performed in front of a live audience, which is such a smart choice for a collection of poetry. The audience’s reactions and laughter lend a sense of community you can only get from a live reading, and Olivarez feeds off this energy, delivering a strong performance. His disarming sense of humor clears a path for him to address heavier subjects including class inequality, alcoholism and where we go when we die. He has a clear love of language but keeps his word choices simple, making this collection an accessible entry point to modern poetry. The second half of the audiobook contains a Spanish translation by David Ruano, making Promises of Gold a rewarding experience for Spanish and English speakers alike.

Also in BookPage: Read our starred review of the print edition of Promises of Gold.

A portion of the Promises of Gold audiobook is performed in front of a live audience, which is such a smart choice for a collection of poetry.
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What is Latino? Or, for that matter, what is Latina, or Latine, or Latinx? In Our Migrant Souls: A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and Myths of “Latino,” journalist and author Héctor Tobar (The Last Great Road Bum) tries to explain. Though maybe explain isn’t the right word. Through this book, readers won’t get an explanation of this broad, ancient, vital culture—this “alliance among peoples,” as Tobar calls it—but rather an experience of it. Using both his own personal narrative and testimonies from a rainbow of people of color (not just Latinx folks), Tobar manages to capture the breadth of Latinidad (i.e., the diaspora of Latinx peoples) in the United States and beyond. With moving passages about triumph in the face of adversity, tragic stories of those lost to brutality and a scathing critique of U.S. immigration policy, this book is a call to action, the first step in a redefinition of that elusive word, Latino, and an important piece in a more complete picture of humanity.

Read our interview with Héctor Tobar, author of ‘Our Migrant Souls.’

Readers, no matter their identities, will see themselves in this panorama of life experiences. The book is split into two parts. First is “Our Country,” in which Tobar takes a long, hard look at the state of the Latinx community today. This includes a careful, illuminating examination of empire and its history, analysis of the continual pillaging of Latin America by the United States, and a parsing of the idea of identity itself. What is an identity? Why does identity feel so important in today’s divided social media-centric society? Tobar uses poignant examples, such as Latina icon Frida Kahlo, to show how we construct our identities with the materials of our lives. Tobar also creates a narrative from his own place in history: From his parents’ migration from Guatemala to Los Angeles, to his childhood living next-door to the white supremacist who killed Martin Luther King Jr., Tobar’s experiences have fortified his understanding of the vital role race has played in his life. In the book’s second part, “Our Journeys Home,” Tobar takes a road trip across the United States, retelling the stories of the people he meets and showing how, no matter where we come from or what we have been through, we are all united in our humanity.

Ultimately, Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Tobar’s blend of philosophy, narrative and history puts him on the same level as literary giants such as Eduardo Galeano and James Baldwin. Turning the last page of this book, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders—yet it is an uplifting experience.

Our Migrant Souls is one of the most important pieces of Latino nonfiction in several decades. Turning the last page, you will feel the weight of history on your shoulders.
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Does it matter that your happily ever after is built on a lie? D.L. Soria’s Thief Liar Lady has a clear answer: of course not, especially if the lie will protect the ones you love. According to the stories, Ash Vincent—Lady Aislinn to her husband-to-be, Prince Everett of Solis—defied her stepmother, went to a ball, lost her shoe and snagged the prince. But the stories are to reality as a kitten is to a lion. The complete opposite of a damsel in distress, Ash orchestrated her meet cute with the help of her supposedly dastardly stepmother and a healthy dose of illegal magic. If she can marry Everett, she can use her new position as his wife to improve the lot of her family and to help free the people of the conquered nation of Eloria. 

There’s only one problem: Prince Verance, aka Rance, the hostage prince of Eloria and Everett’s best friend. Rance is arrogant, lazy and nosy, a combination that both attracts and distracts Ash even as it threatens her mission. To save her family, Eloria and her own hide, Ash must stay the course, even if it brings her closer to Rance than is strictly comfortable. 

Some reimaginings of Cinderella critique the titular character’s meekness and seeming lack of agency. But Thief Liar Lady takes a different tack, portraying femininity and its perceived weaknesses as weapons sharper than steel and just as deadly. Soria’s cunning protagonist wields her fake backstory to affect political change and personal gain, all while appearing wholly unthreatening. This combination of savvy and dedication makes Ash easy to love, even when her methods are neither pure nor kind. 

Thief Liar Lady has a compelling plot, but its real beauty is the depth of its characters. Everett is both an idealist and a colonizer whose biases often stand in the way of justice. Rance is neither as lazy nor as heartless as he seems, and members of the Elorian resistance can’t always be trusted to do the right thing.

Soria’s snappy prose and Ash’s quick wit lighten what could have been, in other hands, a rather dark tale. Less “Game of Thrones” and more Throne of Glass, Thief Liar Lady is comforting in its familiarity even as it adds new dimensions to an old tale. Instead of surprising the reader or subverting tropes, Soria instead relies on flawless execution, timing each turn of her tale to perfectly capture the tensions—romantic and otherwise—of Ash’s journey.

Happily ever after is no more than a grift in D.L. Soria’s highly entertaining Thief Liar Lady, which transforms Cinderella into a cunning political operator.
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In Ana Menéndez’s fifth work of fiction, The Apartment, Miami is not just a luxurious playground for spring breakers but also a colorful tableau with an intricately wrought history. 

The Helena is an apartment complex in South Miami Beach that has stood for over 70 years, bearing witness to changes in landscape, climate and population. On the second floor of the Helena, apartment 2B anchors our story as characters and circumstances flow by like currents. Sometimes these currents are calm and deep, but Menéndez focuses on the rougher ones, showing us Miami during World War II and immediately after 9/11. By the time readers meet the mysterious Lana in 2012, we already have a rich historical memory of 2B and the Helena, creating a unique intimacy that challenges the limitations of time and space. 

The novel begins in 1942, when a woman named Sophie moves with her husband, Jack, to Miami for his military service. She soon finds that between the war and Jack’s increasingly abusive behavior, Miami is not the tropical paradise of her dreams. The next resident of 2B, Eugenio, a concert pianist and Cuban refugee in 1963, is trying to start his life over again. As he reflects on his career while playing piano at a nursing home, he comes to acknowledge the importance of generational memory. 

A primary concern of the book is the capacity and limitations of marriage; in addition to Sophie’s story, we meet Marilyn, a disaffected wife in 1994 who grows bored and disgusted with her husband’s miserly ways. But the highlight of this thematic exploration, and of the book as a whole, are the relationships between Beatrice, Ignacio and Maribel in 2002. Beatrice is Ignacio’s girlfriend, but Maribel is his wife, a setup that is born out of the desperation of immigration. Maribel’s Cuban heritage grants her easier access to citizenship, which, through a fraudulent marriage, she tries to give to Ignacio, who is from Colombia. Beatrice, meanwhile, who is from Haiti, is caught between her love for Ignacio and his struggle for citizenship, raising questions about the restrictive self-labeling of nationality and marriage.

All of this occurs before we meet the final resident of 2B, Lana, who bears the weight of all of this history. Her residence is preceded by a man named Lenin (who also reveals himself as the book’s narrator), and as the mystery of Lenin begins to unfold, Lana’s own enigmatic past comes into sharp focus. Through this kaleidoscope of characters and relationships, apartment 2B, with its white mice and diminishing ocean views, proves the transcendent quality of both individual lives and Menéndez’s writing.

The Helena is an apartment complex in South Miami Beach that has stood for over 70 years, bearing witness to changes in landscape, climate and population. On the second floor of the Helena, apartment 2B anchors our story as characters and circumstances flow by like currents.

Trust a poet to know the power of words. And Elizabeth Acevedo is not just any poet: She’s a National Poetry Slam champ as well as a highly acclaimed writer of young adult novels. (Her debut work of fiction, The Poet X, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018.) Now Acevedo delivers her first work of literature aimed at adults, a magical family saga revolving around a fantastic group of Dominican American women.

All but one of the four Marte sisters and their daughters were born with special gifts, but it is the ability of second-eldest daughter Flor that has always been the most unsettling. From an early age, Flor has foreseen people’s deaths in her dreams. So when Flor announces that she’s throwing a living wake for herself, it sends the family into an escándalo. Even as they band together to prepare for Flor’s big day, they can’t help but worry that they’ll be losing one of their own very soon.

Told in various styles and from the perspectives of each of the sisters as well as Flor’s daughter and niece, Family Lore chronicles the tumultuous days leading up to the celebration, slowly unearthing the secrets and private pains each of these women has held tight over the years. The narrative flits back and forth in time, hopscotching through the women’s girlhoods and current struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs, while also shuttling readers between New York City and the Dominican Republic. Initially, the shifts between places and perspectives are discombobulating, but it doesn’t take long to settle into the rhythm of the narrative, thanks to Acevedo’s playful yet admirably honest prose and her skillful balancing of character introspection with plot.

This deeply personal work blurs fact and fiction in the most exquisite way. Although its inspiration comes from her own family and experiences, Acevedo stresses in her author’s letter that Family Lore is neither autobiographical nor based in fact, but that doesn’t mean that what’s contained within its pages is not profoundly true. Tricky construction and magical realist elements aside, Acevedo has laid herself bare in Family Lore as both a creator and as a person, which makes this not just her bravest book to date but perhaps also her best.

Photo of Elizabeth Acevedo by Denzel Golatt.

Elizabeth Acevedo has laid herself bare in Family Lore as both a creator and as a person, which makes this not just her bravest book to date but perhaps also her best.
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Montserrat grew up gorging herself on classic horror films with her best friend, Tristán, reveling in the craft of suspense, blood and terror. Now a sound editor whose projects are parceled out each week by her misogynistic boss, Montserrat still loves film and her role in creating it. But more and more, her boss is assigning the work to younger editors who can be paid less to do the same job. Tristán’s lot is no better: Once a rising soap opera actor, his life and career were derailed 10 years ago in a tragic accident that left his superstar girlfriend dead. So when Tristán’s neighbor, the legendary horror director Abel Urueta, asks them to help him finish a film that was supposedly imbued with a magical spell by a Nazi defector, the two figure that they have little to lose. But as Tristán begins to see gruesome visions of his dead girlfriend and Montserrat is stalked by a mysterious, shadowy figure, they begin to suspect that there was more danger to Urueta’s crackpot scheme than he let on. 

After bringing new life to the haunted house (Mexican Gothic) and the evil scientific genius (The Daughter of Doctor Moreau) tropes, author Silvia Moreno-Garcia puts a new spin on Nazi occultists and eldritch rituals in this love letter to classic horror cinema. Much like the horror films to which it pays homage, Silver Nitrate has deliberate pacing and deep character development, but these elements don’t hinder its capacity for utter terror, as it summons the fear of what’s hiding at the edge of your vision, just out of sight in the dark. Moreno-Garcia plays in this space well, recognizing that when the inexplicable happens, the subsequent doubting of your own sanity can be just as frightening as the initial event. After all, as Montserrat points out, the fear of being cursed can be much more powerful than the curse itself. 

While the horror is effective and then some, the sentence-by-sentence craft of Silver Nitrate is not to be overlooked. Moreno-Garcia’s prose is enchanting, full of perfect phrases that dot every page. Whether they are describing the brilliant whites produced on old film or the visage of a ghostly apparition, her sentences deliver tidy packages of imagery like motes of light in the darkness, their beauty so great that sometimes you forget—just for a moment—about the things that go bump in the night.

Mexican Gothic author Silvia Moreno-Garcia puts a new spin on Nazi occultists and eldritch rituals in Silver Nitrate, a love letter to classic horror cinema.
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Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas is 90% love story and 10% mild-to-severe supernatural interruptions of said love story.

Magdalena “Nena” Narváez and Néstor Duarte are star-crossed sweethearts. Nena is the daughter of a powerful ranchero, Don Feliciano, while Néstor is the poor son of a vaquero, destined to forever work for people like Nena’s family. The story opens with a tragedy when Nena is attacked and nearly killed by a mysterious creature and Néstor, believing her to have actually died, flees the rancho. But the pair is reunited in 1846, when Nena is a healer, Néstor is a soldier and the United States is about to begin its invasion of Mexico.

Nena and Néstor wrestle with their need for each other, the societal strictures keeping them apart and their years of separation, resentment and grief—all while dealing with ongoing attacks from either vampires or United States soldiers. Nena and Néstor suffer from a classic case of poor communication; they step on each others’ feet with bitter retorts and clumsy attempts at small talk. Cañas writes from each character’s perspective, illustrating Nena and Néstor’s warped views of each other in brooding vignettes. As the war rolls on, Cañas inserts quiet moments where Nena and Néstor explore their disaffection with each other, draw out their pain and knead their emotional scars into renewed bonds. It’s a painful process, but thanks to Cañas’ skill, there are moments of joy and tear-inducing sweetness.

While the romance is an unquestionable centerpiece, Cañas does a fantastic job bringing the setting to life. She sketches out the life of a vaquero in small details, such as how Néstor loosens saddle cinches at the end of the day and checks boots for scorpions, and takes time to note the styling of characters’ clothes and hair, immersing the story in the beauty of mid-19th century Mexico.

Now a reader might, at this point, be wondering about the elephant in the room, the one with fangs and a taste for blood. And the reviewer will answer: Vampires are definitely in the book. They are moderately frightening. They are primarily a plot device to move the story forward. Readers looking for a scary horror novel will not find it in Vampires of El Norte, but they will find a dramatic and well-rendered setting, a drizzle of animalistic vampires and an engaging story about two young lovers who want nothing more than the freedom and strength to be together in a world determined to rip them apart (sometimes literally).

Vampires of El Norte by Isabel Cañas is a well-rendered and moving love story—punctuated with occasional attacks by the titular creatures.
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Kel has worked carefully to assimilate into the culture of her adopted homeworld of Loth. She’s a daredevil climber of xoffedil, the local megafauna, and is a somewhat dour friend to Lunna, a cheerful youth from the nearby village. But Kel has a secret buried under the floorboards of her house—the kind of secret best left right where it is, for everyone’s safety. However, when a derelict war machine left behind by an expansionist interstellar empire mysteriously reactivates, Kel’s best option is to dig out her old weapons and hope she doesn’t have to make use of them.

Valerie Valdes’ Where Peace Is Lost reads like Star Wars co-written by Scott Lynch and Tamsyn Muir. Kel and Lunna are soon joined by Savvy, an appropriately named space captain, and Dare, Savvy’s strong and silent companion. The four mismatched leads try to solve a problem that’s locally a very big deal, but beneath the notice of galactic politicians and imperial commandants. Along the way, there are hijinks at varying levels of violence, some involving the loquacious Lunna charming their way out of (or into) trouble, others involving Dare hitting things with a high-tech claymore. And then there’s Kel, whose secret could solve all their problems, but also create newer, much bigger ones.

Where Peace Is Lost could easily be the first book in a series revolving around this volatile quartet as they traipse around the galaxy, solving problems with implausibly big swords and amusing chatter. Valdes ties up the main plot without answering several significant questions about her core characters and their respective histories, perhaps leaving room to flesh things out in sequels. Or perhaps she’ll just . . . leave it at that. When the characters and their relationships are as well-drawn as they are in Where Peace Is Lost, a reader’s imagination can easily fill in the gaps. 

Where Peace Is Lost, with its ambitious, imaginative brand of escapist social commentary, is part of the current resurgence in optimistic speculative fiction, where the good guys are actually good and some of the bad guys might be decent deep inside. Readers will forgive a few just-so plot twists and predictable romances in order to spend time in this gift of a story where nobody locks their doors, the greedy get what’s coming to them and and the artifacts beneath your quiet, secretive neighbor’s floorboards can save the world.

Where Peace Is Lost is an ambitious, imaginative space adventure with an escapist, soothing brand of social commentary.

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