Since there is still a few more days left in Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought I’d highlight some novels, or rather characters of said novels, that I absolutely loved. Some of these characters I’ve laughed with, cried with, cheered for them, and had my heart broken for/with them. I don’t think I even need to say that all these books are excellent and I highly recommend you give the creators of these wonderful characters some love.
Shy Espinoza from The Living by Matt De La Pena’
I felt for Shy from page one as he tries to save the life of a passenger on the cruise ship he is working on who is determined to end his life. It’s one of those moments where the smallest interaction could end up changing someone’s life and Shy’s interaction with this man definietly changes his. And then the earthquake and tsumani just up-ends Shy’s life. Shy is the typical hero in this novel thrust into an adventure when he just wants to work to save some money. He is witty and smart and is willing to take risks and do what needs to be done to survive. He is also devoted to his family and his grief at knowing they could all potentially be dead is heartbreaking. I loved the action in “The Living”, but what really kept me reading was Shy.
Mayor Toro & Maribel Rivera from The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Though Book of Unknown Americans is not technically a YA book, at the heart of the story is teenagers Mayor & Maribel and their love story. Both are children of immigrants who fall in love against their parent’s wishes. Maribel’s parents have brought her to America to see a doctor after a head injury changed her personality, and Mayor is just trying to survive living in his superstar brother’s shadow. Mayor & Maribel’s relationship is like a sweet, slow blooming flower as Mayor is able to reach Maribel in a way no one has since her accident. He is so sweet with her, seeing her for who she is now instead of who she was, that she feels more comfortable with him than anyone else and he helps her adjust to living in America. Book of Unknown Americans is a beautiful novel, but it’s Mayor & Maribel’s story that makes the story stay with you well after the last page.
Daniel Aguilar from Gringolandia by Lynn Miller-Lachmann
Where to begin with Daniel? He made me so angry yet I could feel for him at the same time. When Daniel was little, his father was taken from their home as a political prisoner in Chile. Years later, his father returns and now Daniel must learn how to live with his father again, just as his life is going great. Let’s just say the adjustment doesn’t go well and like a typical teenager, Daniel has some trouble accepting his father in his life. Daniel is a richly complex character that I would want to scream at because he was being such a teenager, but then felt his frustration at trying to get to know his father again, reconciling the memory of who his father was with the man that his father currently is. The growth that he undergoes as he begins to understand what his father went through and uses that knowledge to help build the relationship between him and his father warmed my heart. The Daniel at the end of the novel is a very different Daniel from the beginning and the journey with him is worth it.
Gabi Hernandez from Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
I absolutely loved Gabi so much and wished she were actually one of my students. Gabi’s voice was so original and fresh and so funny that there were moments I actually laughed out loud. I read this novel after a very long, soul crushing day, but Gabi’s story lifted me up and was the perfect escape. She is is loyal to her friends, handles her tia perfectly, is accepting of herself (or rather comes to accept herself), and a wonderful poet to boot. She is the type of girl, if she were real, that once she got out of high school would rule the world with her awesomeness – in fact, she rules her world with her awesomeness. I feel like Gabi is a literary heroine that many young girls need and can be used as inspiration.
Aaron Soto from More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
If Aaron’s story didn’t have you in tears at the end, then you must have a cold heart. Sounds mean, but truth. Aaron is such a fun, lovable, real kid that when the twist comes it’s a punch in the gut for both him and the reader. Aaron is the good kid in every neighborhood that is dependable, respectful to the elders, gets along with just about everyone, is the “cool” teenager but doesn’t forget to be young at heart. He is so thoughtful in his interactions with Genevieve and Thomas that you feel for him in his indecision between the two. Aaron, and by extension some of his friends, reminded me of my students who make me laugh but are the ones I know that sometimes need that extra push. Aaron touched my heart even before the twist so much that when I think about him and his story, my heart breaks every single time.
Vicky Cruz from The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
Vicky is another character who I cried with as she fought through her depression and found life worth living after her suicide attempt. She is a quiet character, in that she observes the world in a unique way and was thoughtful in how she approached life after almost losing hers. She remains very open-minded just taking in what people say and then making her own conclusions after she has thought it all over. It is through her experiences that she finds her how strength and is able to take charge of her life. Just like Gabi, I feel like Vicky is another literary heroine readers, specifically Latinx girls, need in their lives.