I have read since I can remember, every childhood photo carrying a book under my arm. Reading has always been my thing, the thing that I do all the time, the thing that I love. And although I’ve read and reread many books in my life, there are some that I will never forget. These books, the way they touched me, the way they made me feel so seen and validated, has already shaped my life. These books, featuring heartbreaking, powerful and important stories, came to my life pretty recently. The truth is, what young Cande would have thought about these books, I can’t even imagine. I know I would have loved them, I know I would have treasured them in my heart, I know I would have felt full of love. But I can’t even imagine the way they could have shattered and reconstructed my world, I can’t imagine if they would have saved me from years and years of feeling so alone and wrong. I want to think they would have, I want to believe these books would have made young Cande feel less alone, that there wasn’t anything wrong with her, with what she felt, with what she wanted.
I know this post is becoming way more personal than any other thing that I’ve written before, but this is what these stories deserve. These books don’t only bring me completely joy but they also are my heart. And right now, I’m offering you my heart open, all of me. So *takes deep breath* here we go
the five books young Cande needed in her life
Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
Oh, that sound? It’s me sobbing because Wild Beauty is the precious book of my heart. I grew up reading magical realism and it feels kinda magical that magical realism would give me the queer content that I needed. The book is perfect and I will never stop talking about it. McLemore prose is gorgeous, her world building fascinating and her characters? the very best. I feel like this book tugs me to my happiest childhood memories; afternoons spent reading about horrifying situations and hopeful endings. This was the first time, in a very long time, where I felt seen, really seen. The Nomeolvides girls are cousins but more like sisters, best friends, who share not only the cursed magic but such a powerful and deep love for each other. I struggle in YA to find books that show the kind of relationship that I have with my primas but this book? this book it is; the loyal support, the protective fierceness, the petty jealousy, the unconditional love, the complete trust… And yes, this story features a bisexual Latinx main character who is supported by her family AND finds the love she deserves. Could I ask for more?
Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova
A YA Fantasy + Latinx inspired world + F/F romance. Can you believe Zoraida did that? This book felt like Zoraida had read my deepest bookish dreams and made them all possible. I just love this book so much?? Not only the phenomenal world, but also these characters who feel so real and rounded. Alex doesn’t want to have anything to do with magic, but trying to get it rid off makes things worse: she vanishes her family to the magical and dangerous Los Lagos land. Alex is scared and angry and tired and she doesn’t know what she’s doing and honestly? I feel you, Alex. I felt in love with her from sentence one, her pain and guilt goes beyond paper. And so it does her strength and loyalty. She is so relatabled: she’s caught between what her family expects from her and her own dreams, living in a community that encourages family above anything else. I read this book just when I was figuring out how to tell my family ‘this is not what I want for my life’ and reading Alex’s journey made me cried so much, I was not alone in this. And I know this is not something only Latinx folks experience! Rationally, I get that. But it feels so different (and important) to see a Latinx girl coming to terms with her power and voice and telling her family ‘this is me, okay?‘ when we’re such a machista culture that refuses to listen to girl’s dreams. Plus Alex is bisexual, she just is and it melted my heart.
Like Water by Rebecca Podos
This book came at very difficult moment of my life, but I owned so much to it. Like Water follows Vanni, who after her father’s diagnostic puts her life on hold; she decides to stay in their town, she stops hanging out with old friends, she cuts short her dreams. Things slow down and Vanni lives with this constant fear and so many doubts bottle up inside her. Until Leigh and her brother moved into town, putting Vanni’s life outside down. They make her realize that there’s more, that is okay wanting more. Vanni is not perfect, she makes mistakes, she hurts the people she cares about. Her journey is equally painful and heartwarming, she’s such a relatabled character. She doesn’t know what to do, she isn’t sure how to figure out the rest of her life and I feel that so deeply. Like Vanni, when my father went to an emergency surgery I felt like I had to be the backbone of my family, there was not place or time for me to fall apart when my mother and brothers needed me. But I was not alone. I sit in that dark and cold hospital room holding Like Water like it was the only thing that could keep me going. Through the pain and fear, Vanni told me things that I didn’t want to hear but I needed and I’m so grateful to Rebecca for that.
The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
Rukhsana is a Mulism, Bangladeshi lesbian teenager who keeps in secret her girlfriend. Although things are not exactly okay, she knows they will get better once she lives for college. Rukhsana doesn’t live with the luxury of being out and proud, she’s terrified about what will happen with her parents, her family, her community if they find out. And then, they do and her worst fears come true. This story is incredibly painful and heartbreaking, I understand it’s not something everyone can read. But although things look terrible, she soon learns she’s not alone, that her community will stand with her, that her family will support her. The message is so important in this book: Rukhsana’s faith doesn’t invalidate her queerness by any means. There are many great things in this story (calling out racism and Islamophobia, beautiful sibling relationship, gay-lesbian solidarity), but my favorite thing is how utterly, completely hopeful this story becomes. Coming from a homophobic family that justifies their bigotry with religion, this book gives me hope. Maybe I am not alone in my family, maybe they will also stand by my side, maybe my community will not let me down. And I’m holding to this hope with everything I have.
We Set the Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
*takes deep breath* I just love this book so much!!!! This story makes my heart so full that I tear up thinking about it. We Set The Dark On Fire is so gay, so fierce, so powerful, so Latinx. Every small detail about this world makes me feel like home. Dani is so amazing and Carmen so freaking incredible, I just want to hug them forever. It’s everything I love from Fantasy (high stakes, corrupt governments, revolutions, politics) with everything that I thought I would never get to see: someone like me. I’m getting emotional again and I’m sorry bUT THIS BOOK FRIENDS. Dani’s queerness is NEVER questioned, she’s Latinx and she’s queer *sobs* I love how Tehlor makes you feel like 1) kissing girls/thinking about girls is 100% okay (and very gay), and 2) you’re never alone in the fight against oppression. Just… *clenches fist* feel so validated and loved.