It took me a while to decide what sort of post I wanted to do for our blog to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month. With the amount of truly excellent Latinx literature cropping up, there’s a lot of favorite lists that I could have done. In the end I went with favorite books by Cuban authors because, while Latinx representation on the whole is having a renaissance, it still feels rare to see a book by a Cuban author that has Cuban representation. Make no mistake, plenty of other Latinx folk are still deeply underrepresented, but each story I read from my culture cuts me so much deeper. So here you are: books and authors I love because I see me and my family within their pages. (Covers link to Goodreads.)
The Victoria in my Head by Janelle Milanes
I have to start this list with where I started and that’s The Victoria in My Head, the very first book I remember seeing #ownvoices Cuban-American representation that actually felt like it represented me. Much like my childhood idol, Lizzie McGuire, Victoria imagines herself so much more free than she allows herself to be in real life. That is until one day when she sees a cute boy hanging up flyers for band tryouts and she makes the first in a series of choices to start being the Victoria she wants to be. This YA contemporary is filled to the brim with heart. The soundtrack for it rocks pretty hard, too.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
It feels natural to move from Victoria to Rosa because if the former was the book I needed when I was a young teen, this was the book that served as a balm for my older self. Within these pages, Rosa grapples with so many questions and experiences other diasporic people will find instantly familiar. But even when she is at her most confused and hurt, she continues to raise her voice and fight for herself. While the romance in this YA is incredibly heart-warming, for me, this story is never about anything other than Rosa, her family, and her quest to understanding herself.
The Book of Lost Saints by Daniel José Older
Trying to choose just one Daniel José Older book for this list was harder than I originally thought. I love his middle grade series, Dactyl Hill Squad, immensely for what it does for its audience and the discussions it engenders. However, his adult historical magical realism novel, The Book of Lost Saints, felt so very personal. There is a quiet genius to this story and the way it tackles themes. This exploration of grief and ghosts and the things we don’t talk about is far and away the best depiction of the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath I’ve seen in media to date.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
After finishing Carlos Hernandez’s short story collection, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, I found that my love for his middle grade, Sal and Gabi, had only increased. The final story in that collection is very clearly an influence for this novel, and seeing that initial spark made me appreciate it all the more. Middle grade books are often ones I turn to when I’m seeking whimsy and hope, both of which you’ll find here. You’ll also encounter Sal and Gabi, who are respectively a diabetic magician (of the pulling-rabbits-out-of-hats variety) who can literally take things from other universes, and a young lawyer-in-the-making who is curious and full of gumption. These two are the kind of dynamic duo dreams are made of. In book one they kinda sorta break the universe. I can’t wait to see how they fix it in book two.
Yoruba from Cuba by Nicolás Guillén, translated by Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres
My final choice for today is a poetry collection by activist, writer, and Cuban national poet, Nicolás Guillén. He is the only one on this list who was not American and, to be fully transparent, also one of the only Afro-Cubans I’ve read from at this point. I’ve found that I like my poetry to have teeth and this selection delivers and then some. There are many topics he covers here – race and racism, international relationships, political views – that can be controversial even at the best of times and Guillén pulls no punches.
I am excited to continue to add books to this list as time goes by. More and more of us are coming to publishing with stories we’ve had in our hearts that we wish to share with the world. As they trickle in, I’ll be here, ready and hungry for more.
Do you have a favorite book by a Cuban author? And if you’re non-Cuban Latinx, what’s a favorite book from someone who shares your heritage?