Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Latine Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond between September 15 – October 15, where we invite Latine authors to celebrate being Latine and Latine books! Find the introduction post for Latine Heritage Month here.
Hello friends! I hope you’ve been enjoying Latine Heritage Month at the Pond so far. This week, we had our newest friend, Aaron H. Aceves, author of This is Why They Hate Us, visit the Pond to talk about his upcoming queer YA debut, messy characters and exploring yearning (which we all love). I also shared five reasons why you should read Furia by Yamile Saied Méndez, a feminist story about a girl’s passion for fútbol while navigating love.
Today, we’re ending another week during Latine Heritage Month with more book recommendations: science-fiction/fantasy and books with magical realism! I love all of the books that we recommend today, so I’m so excited for you to see our recommendation and add a few new books to read during Latine Heritage Month and beyond.
Never Look Back by Lilliam Rivera
Eury comes to the Bronx as a girl haunted. Haunted by losing everything in Hurricane Maria–and by an evil spirit, Ato. She fully expects the tragedy that befell her and her family in Puerto Rico to catch up with her in New York. Yet, for a time, she can almost set this fear aside, because there’s this boy . . .
Pheus is a golden-voiced, bachata-singing charmer, ready to spend the summer on the beach with his friends, serenading his on-again, off-again flame. That changes when he meets Eury. All he wants is to put a smile on her face and fight off her demons. But some dangers are too powerful for even the strongest love, and as the world threatens to tear them apart, Eury and Pheus must fight for each other and their lives.
CW: A fascinating Orpheus and Eurydice modern retelling with a Latine twist!
- The story is deftly written; taking place in a modern and contemporary setting, an exploration of the trauma and grief following Hurricane Maria, and also the comfort of religion and importance of religious identity.
- The story interweaves elements of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and magical realism; the little nods and references were wonderful too.
- There are elements of magical realism and also a romance – and the whole story itself feels like a love letter to Puerto Rico.
The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova
The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked back.
CW: Zoraida Cordova’s adult debut is a marvel, a full-length version of her short story, Divine are the Stars from the Toil and Trouble witchy anthology.
- The story begins with Orquídea’s grandchildren receiving a letter from their grandmother – “I am dying, come collect your inheritance.” If that doesn’t hook you immediately, I don’t know what will!
- With dreamy writing that pulls you right in, this story shines a light on the mysteries and wonder and even the wickedness of the world.
- Told in alternating perspectives, the story goes between Orquídea’s past and her progeny, as the latter try and unravel the mystery of their grandmother’s life.
Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro
Xochital is destined to wander the desert alone, speaking her troubled village’s stories into its arid winds. Her only companions are the blessed stars above and enimagic lines of poetry magically strewn across dusty dunes.
Her one desire: to share her heart with a kindred spirit.
One night, Xo’s wish is granted—in the form of Emilia, the cold and beautiful daughter of the town’s murderous mayor. But when the two set out on a magical journey across the desert, they find their hearts could be a match… if only they can survive the nightmare-like terrors that arise when the sun goes down.
CW: Each of Us a Desert is truly a unique book; a story about stories, the burdens we carry for others, and a meditative across the desert and all the connotation and emotions that come with.
- The magic in this story is interwoven in the world; the main character, Xochital, is a cuentista – a person who receives the stories of others and then gives it back to the desert and the sun; otherwise the burdens of those stories manifest into physical nightmares.
- The story is a quiet character-driven fantasy that unfolds slowly and deliberately. The writing is easy to follow, but within are so many poetic moments and introspection.
- Thematically, the story explores community and the relationships that we have with each other, how it feels when everything you have ever known is challenged, and how people are made of stories.
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
Living in the remote town of Tierra del Sol is dangerous, especially in the criatura months, when powerful spirits roam the desert and threaten humankind. But Cecelia Rios has always believed there was more to the criaturas, much to her family’s disapproval. After all, only brujas—humans who capture and control criaturas—consort with the spirits, and brujeria is a terrible crime.
When her older sister, Juana, is kidnapped by El Sombrerón, a powerful dark criatura, Cece is determined to bring Juana back. To get into Devil’s Alley, though, she’ll have to become a bruja herself—while hiding her quest from her parents, her town, and the other brujas. Thankfully, the legendary criatura Coyote has a soft spot for humans and agrees to help her on her journey.
With him at her side, Cece sets out to reunite her family—and maybe even change what it means to be a bruja along the way.
CW: If you love mythology and fantasy adventures that sweep you off your feet and take you for a wild and imaginative ride, then this book will hit all the right spots. I loved this and had so much fun.
- I loved how we venture into Cece’s vast world, filled with magic, mystery, darkness, and powers of fire and water. The story is rich with lore, and I enjoyed the Latine influences in the story and mythology.
- It’s a story about unlikely friendships – about a girl who is kind and genuine yet resolute to do the right thing, and makes unlikely friends along the way, and how there is strength and power in understanding one another and forging meaningful connections with others.
- And it’s also a story about family. It does depict parental abuse, which was challenging to read, but I also liked that Cece’s strength, kindness, and goodness shine, and therefore challenging the ways how people have perceived and judged her.
Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz
Lana Torres has always preferred dragons to people. In a few weeks, sixteen countries will compete in the Blazewrath World Cup, a tournament where dragons and their riders fight for glory in a dangerous relay. Lana longs to represent her native Puerto Rico in their first ever World Cup appearance, and when Puerto Rico’s Runner—the only player without a dragon steed—is kicked off the team, she’s given the chance.
But when she discovers that a former Blazewrath superstar has teamed up with the Sire—a legendary dragon who’s cursed into human form—the safety of the Cup is jeopardized. The pair are burning down dragon sanctuaries around the world and refuse to stop unless the Cup gets cancelled. All Lana wanted was to represent her country. Now, to do that, she’ll have to navigate an international conspiracy that’s deadlier than her beloved sport.
CW: Love dragons, an action-packed story, and a little bit of mystery as well? Blazewrath Games is such a fun read, and with the sequel, Dragonblood Ring, right around the corner, now is the perfect time to pick this up!
- Centered on a fictional magical sport called Blazewrath which involves dragons, and the story follows the main character, Lana, as she represents Puerto Rico in the World Cup!
- There’s plenty of heart-pumping action and the way Blazewrath and its rules are explained are easy to follow and so engaging.
- The story isn’t just about the sport though; it’s also set in a world with magic and a magic system, explores team spirit and working as a team through thick and thin, and also a shocking conspiracy underlying the Blazewrath world.
The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas
All Nestor Lopez wants is to live in one place for more than a few months and have dinner with his dad.
When he and his mother move to a Texas to live with his grandmother after his dad’s latest deployment, Nestor plans to lay low. He definitely doesn’t want anyone to find out his deepest secret: that he can talk to animals.
But when the animals in his new town start disappearing, Nestor’s grandmother becomes the prime suspect after she is spotted in the woods where they were last seen. As Nestor investigates the source of the disappearances, he learns that they are being seized by a tule vieja — a witch who can absorb an animal’s powers by biting it during a solar eclipse. And the next eclipse is just around the corner…
Now it’s up to Nestor’s extraordinary ability and his new friends to catch the tule vieja — and save a place he just might call home.
CW: If you love the idea of a Latine boy who can speak to animals, has plenty of animal trivia, solves a mystery of missing animals that he’s just moved into, is a little spooky but is also a heartwarming story about friendship? Then maybe you’ll love The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez.
- The story has a really cool mystery. Why are all the animals in the town going missing? I love the journey that the story takes us on; it’s so much fun, a little eerie and exciting at times.
- Though the story itself is simple, the story also explores some complicated topics – like what it’s like to be the son of someone in the army (and I feel like the story leans into the complexity of having a parent in a military career) and thus what it’s like having an absent parent, bullying, and doing what’s right.
- The magic and fantasy elements of this book is based on Central American legends, specifically Panamanian and Costa Rican folklore.
Lobizona by Romina Garber
Some people ARE illegal.
Lobizonas do NOT exist.
Both of these statements are false.
Manuela Azul has been crammed into an existence that feels too small for her. As an undocumented immigrant who’s on the run from her father’s Argentine crime-family, Manu is confined to a small apartment and a small life in Miami, Florida.
Until Manu’s protective bubble is shattered.
Her surrogate grandmother is attacked, lifelong lies are exposed, and her mother is arrested by ICE. Without a home, without answers, and finally without shackles, Manu investigates the only clue she has about her past–a mysterious “Z” emblem—which leads her to a secret world buried within our own. A world connected to her dead father and his criminal past. A world straight out of Argentine folklore, where the seventh consecutive daughter is born a bruja and the seventh consecutive son is a lobizón, a werewolf. A world where her unusual eyes allow her to belong.
As Manu uncovers her own story and traces her real heritage all the way back to a cursed city in Argentina, she learns it’s not just her U.S. residency that’s illegal. . . .it’s her entire existence.
Joce: It is rare to find a book with such a huge scope that is crafted in a vibrant, mysterious magical world, but also has dire and necessary commentary about our contemporary society. Lobizona does just that.
- Based on Argentianian mythology, Lobizona explores feeling and being othered, belonging, and how people are treated based on their immigration status.
- In the magical world, only girls and women are brujas, and only boys and men are lobizones. Manu is a hybrid, a lobizona, which means that she does not fit the traditional gender binary and hierarchy.
- The story has a haunting twist on society, a slow-burn romance, and also elements of fantasy in the story.
Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Space-obsessed 12-year-old Paola Santiago and her two best friends, Emma and Dante, know the rule: Stay away from the river. It’s all they’ve heard since a schoolmate of theirs drowned a year ago. Pao is embarrassed to admit that she has been told to stay away for even longer than that, because her mother is constantly warning her about La Llorona, the wailing ghost woman who wanders the banks of the Gila at night, looking for young people to drag into its murky depths.
Hating her mother’s humiliating superstitions and knowing that she and her friends would never venture into the water, Pao organizes a meet-up to test out her new telescope near the Gila, since it’s the best stargazing spot. But when Emma never arrives and Pao sees a shadowy figure in the reeds, it seems like maybe her mom was right. . . .
Pao has always relied on hard science to make sense of the world, but to find her friend she will have to enter the world of her nightmares, which includes unnatural mist, mind-bending monsters, and relentless spirits controlled by a terrifying force that defies both logic and legend.
CW: Paola Santiago feels like a blend of mythology and paranormal, the storytelling instantly likeable and charming.
- Based on Mexican folklore and the story of La Llorona, the story is parts-creepy, parts-suspense, and lots of fun with its adventure and deep dive into superstition and mythology.
- I loved Paola Santiago instantly; loved that she was an inquisitive and scientific mind, and how her worldview clashes with that of her mother’s – and I loved how this conflict is explored.
- Paola’s journey across the book is wonderful – from her feelings about her father who left her and her mother, racism, privilege, and her first crush. I loved that the Paola’s journey was both exciting but also emotional.