“Find me in Havana” Serena Burdick

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Park Row Books. To be published January 12, 2021.

A rebellion led to a reversal of fortunes for Juana Maria Antonia Santurio y Canto Rodriguez and her five children in their town of Guanajay Cuba. One of her younger daughters was more musically talented than the other so, when Estelita turned 15, she and Mamá left the family behind and travelled to America so she could become a star.

Three years later Estelita was pregnant and, after giving birth to her daughter Nina, her husband wouldn’t let her perform. She wasn’t going to let anyone stand in the way of her career, so Estelita ran away from him. As Nina grew older she resented being forced into boarding school by her grandmother, and longed for time with her mother, but Estelita was focused on men and her career.

Over the years different husbands held her focus as they struggled to maintain a relationship through Nina’s drug fueled teen years. In 1966, before they could fully reconcile, it was too late. Estelita was dead, and Nina was certain her husband had murdered her.

This poignant story is based on the life of Cuban singer and actress Estelita Rodriguez, as told to the author by her daughter. Before reading it I had never heard of Estelita, though I knew the names of her peers Desi Arnaz, John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr., and others mentioned in the book. During a time when women were supposed to bow to their husband’s wishes, both Mamá and Estelita were cut from a different cloth. Their strength comes out through the pages to inspire today’s women.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Furia” Yamile Saied Méndez

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Young Readers. To be published September 15, 2020.

FuriaSeventeen-year-old Camila’s father is like most men in her Argentinian town. He rules the household with an iron fist, does what he pleases, and regularly insults his wife, her brother Pablo, and Camila. Pablo is a beloved local fútbol star, but Camila has been forbidden to play since she was twelve because of the general belief that women do not play fútbol.

Camila plays the part of an obedient daughter well but is as stubborn as her ancestors so, undaunted, has been secretly playing on a woman’s soccer team. Nicknamed La Furia because of her intenseness on the field, she and her team have qualified for the Sudamericano Tournament. However the nervousness of having to get her parents permission to play in the tournament faded away with the news that Diego was in town.

Diego had grown up with her family, and had become an international fútbol star in Italy. They had a “thing” going on, and Camila was nervous about their relationship. The love she felt for soccer, and her feelings for him were tangled up in her heart, especially since he hadn’t contacted her since he left for Italy. With the clock ticking towards the tournament, Camila will have to stand up to her father if she wants to be with Diego and live out her dream of playing on a professional women’s soccer team in America.

Soccer plays a big role in Camila’s story, and the action on the pitch makes it impossible not to become an instantaneous soccer fan. Camila and her mother’s struggles to find their voices in a country that is extremely male dominated are true-to-life. I won’t be surprised if “Furia” wins an award in the 2021 Pura Belpré Award Young Adult category, since YALSA is now included on the awards committee AND a Michael L. Printz Award from YALSA.

I know of another breakaway novel that had the same wins in both categories AND went on to win the National Book Award. “Furia” is in the same amazing vein, so stay tuned to the ALA Youth Media Awards in January and this blog to find out!

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Three keys” Kelly Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Scholastic. Front Desk #2. To be published September 15, 2020. (Includes “Author’s Note”).

Three keysBuying the Calivista Motel improved life for Mia, Lupe, their parents, the weeklies, and their immigrant shareholders. The girls are nervous about the upcoming gubernatorial election because anti-immigrant fervor was everywhere. Proposition 187 was on the ballot, which would not allow immigrants to go to school. If it passed, many students in their new sixth grade classroom would have to leave.

With their teacher against immigration, classmates choosing sides, racist signs appearing, and racist acts rising, the girls are in a quandary. Jason was doing his best to be friends with them, but his dad’s anti-immigrant stance was wearing thin on Mia. Out of frustration, she advertised that the hotel welcomed immigrants but her plan backfired as they began losing money. Worrying became the order of the day with her parents and investors worrying about money, Lupe worrying about her parents, Mia worrying about her teacher and her writing and everyone worrying about the hotel.

With Proposition 187 and facing worry in all directions, Jason, Mia, Lupe and the rest of the Calivista Motel family have to work to keep from sinking into despair over fear of the unknown.

Once again Yang uses her own experiences to make Mia’s story realistic. Unfortunately there is a correlation between anti-immigrant issues from Proposition 187, and anti-immigration stances adopted by the current President of the United States. Yang does a great job showing the immigrant point of view, which is so often forgotten when racism rears its ugly head. “Three keys” has a lot to say, and would promote enthusiastic discussion in a book club.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Front desk” Kelly Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** Scholastic. “Front desk #1.” 2018.

Front deskWhen she was 8 years old, Mia and her parents left China for America. At first they lived in their car, but found work in a restaurant that paid enough to rent a small apartment. While seeking another job her mom found an ad asking for a hotel manager. They began to work for deceitful and unscrupulous Mr. Yao, who changed their wages, denied them protection from robbers, and demanded they pay for a washing machine that broke soon after their arrival.

Though just 10 years old Mia was in charge of the front desk, handling day-to-day affairs of customers and “weeklies” (those who paid by the week) while her parents worked to clean and take care of the hotel. They suffered through poverty and Mr. Yao’s cruelness but, unlike him, remembered where they came from, treating other immigrants kindly and hiding them when they needed to escape abusive employers.

Mia wanted to be good at writing, but thought she wasn’t good because her mother said American children were cars because English was their first language, while she was just a bicycle. Through her job Mia came into contact with discrimination of all types, using letter writing to achieve results. As time passed she, her parents, the weeklies, immigrants they helped, and others put their money together to buy the hotel and earn a piece of America. Mia and her best friend Lupe were finally able to get off the rollercoaster of life and earn their way towards better futures.

I loved reading about Mia and her adventures, and was surprised to learn that the author used her own experiences working in hotels with her parents to craft Mia’s story. Mia is a very realistic little girl, a type of “old soul,” and I look forward to reading more about her.

Highly recommended for ages 10-14.



“Sanctuary” Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. To be published September 1, 2020.

SanctuaryIn the not-too-distant future of 2032, the United States has become an Autocracy. The President has been elected for a third term, and only government-approved news, movies or shows are allowed. Citizens have had chips implanted for admittance to everything in the country. The Great American Wall has been erected, and Deportation Forces have been empowered to enter homes or businesses, at any time, without warrants, to arrest anyone illegally in the country.

Fifteen-year-old Valentina González Ramirez was just four years old when her parents brought her to San Diego, fleeing violence in Colombia. After a few years her father was deported and killed. With even more restrictions in place, they had to leave Tía Luna behind and moved to Vermont with her little brother Ernesto who had been born in San Diego. Her mom bought fake chips so she could work and Vali could go to school, while Ernie’s chip came legally.

When Deportation Forces became even more violent Vali’s mom planned to escape to California, which had declared itself a Sanctuary City. In retaliation the President began to build walls around it, sent soldiers to guard the perimeter, and declared that anyone entering it would be arrested. Soon Vali’s mom is arrested by Deportation Forces, and it’s up to Vali to get herself and her little brother safely across the country. California is their only hope.

I had to put down this book multiple times because there were too many realistic things happening to Vali and to our country that reminded me of the current state of our President and our nation. Its true-to-life events reminded me of the need to use our vote wisely in November’s Presidential elections, or be forewarned that our country will go down the same bleak path as what’s described in “Sanctuary.”

Keep an eye on this book for a possible Pura Belpré Award, now that YALSA is part of the committee.

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.




Unforgetting: A memoir of family, migration, gangs and revolution in the Americas” Roberto Lovato

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. HarperCollins Publishers. To be published September 1, 2020. (Includes Notes for each chapter).

UnforgettingJournalist Roberto Lovato is on a quest to discover more about his father’s past in El Salvador, a country run by corrupt governments, who had killed thousands of innocent civilians in the decades since the 1932 “La Matanza/The Massacre,” when 30,000 indigenous people were murdered in one week. Despite this knowledge President Ronald Reagan chose to spend billions of dollars in the 1980’s to support the government against communist rebel fighters. As a result over 75,000 more men, women and children were murdered with weapons and training received from the U.S.

The constant murders and unrest is why thousands of Salvadorans fled in the 1970’s to attempt a new life in the United States. They settled in Los Angeles, encountered Mexican gangs, and formed their own. When the U.S. deported these gang members in the 1990’s they brought MS-13 to El Salvador. 

From his father’s past to his own present, Lovato takes readers on a behind-the-scenes look at the history of violence in El Salvador, the rebels that tried to overthrow the government, the U.S. involvement in the country’s affairs, and how intergenerational trauma leads to gang formations. “Unforgetting” is an eye opening, compelling read.

Highly recommended for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Never look back” Lilliam Rivera

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Bloomsbury YA (Bloomsbury Publishing). To be published September 1, 2020.

Never look backSeventeen-year-old Pheus is ready for a Bronx summer with his dad, his guitar, and his friends. He’s not ready to commit to anyone or anything unless fun is involved. Nicknamed “El Nuevo Nene de la Bachata” due to his mad skills on the guitar and his singing, Pheus is ready for a great summer.

Eury’s father left when she was just a little girl, but Ato understood her despair. As her only friend they spent a lot of time together, but he wanted more from her. After the devastation of their home by Hurricane Maria, she and her mom moved to Florida. Though Ato followed her from Puerto Rico, fear of him and what he would do next began to change her behavior. No one would believe she was seeing a spirit and, since her mom didn’t believe in therapists, Eury was sent to visit her aunt and regroup.

Pheus never expected to meet someone like Eury. Hopeless against Ato’s tormenting spirit Eury felt relief when she met Pheus. Together their love enables them to climb mountains and forge seas of chaos and uncertainty.

As a Puerto Rican Latina and New Yorker, I could hear the music, feel the beat, and understand the Spanish phrases that flowed throughout Pheus and Eury’s stories. Publicity material calls it a retelling of the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice but, since I don’t have familiarity with that myth, I can’t tell whether or not it matches. I CAN tell you I believe it should be in the running for a 2021 Pura Belpré award – especially now that the judging panel has been expanded to include YALSA. Listen in at 44 min. 55 sec. to hear the announcement made at the 2020 ALA Youth Media Awards. Remember that you read it here first!

Highly recommended for ages 14 and older.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Spirits of the high mesa” Floyd Martinez

Rated 5 stars ***** 1997. Arte Público Press. 192 p.

Spirits of the high mesaThrough young Flavio’s eyes, readers are taken on a journey as he remembers the Indian/Mexican way of life spent growing up on a ranch in New Mexico. There everyone depended on the land, the old ways, and on each other. Flavio’s grandfather El Grande was an important man who respected the ways of his ancestors. Everyone turned to El Grande in good times and bad, observing traditions that had been the same for years. He taught Flavio the old ways, and how to work the ranch, but then the Gringos came with electricity.

Electricity made villagers give up traditions in favor of new ways of living. It meant the building of a new sawmill to chop down the forest, which brought more Gringos to build new homes, new roads and changes that would forever change Flavio’s life. Despite everything, El Grande stood firm in his desire to stay with the old ways and to retain his dignity – the most important thing he owned.

This powerful coming-of-age story won the 1998 Pura Belpré Honor Award for Narrative. It’s filled with memories of a time when life was simpler, as well as the love between a grandfather and grandson. It will resonate with readers, as it kept me thinking long after the last page was turned. Though there are many Spanish phrases and words, they are important parts of the narrative.

Highly recommended for ages 13 and older.

“Clap when you land” Elizabeth Acevedo

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Hot Key Books. To be published May 5, 2020.

Clap when you landThis novel of verse is dedicated to the memory of the 265 people killed when AA flight 587, headed to the Dominican Republic, crashed into a Queens neighborhood on November 12, 2001. Over 90% of the passengers were Dominican. I lived in New York at the time, and remember vividly how this loss shocked the city so soon after the losses of September 11th.

Sixteen-year-old Camino lives in the Dominican Republic with her aunt. Her mother died when she was six, and her Papi lives in New York but visits every summer. After he’s killed in a plane crash Camino is beset with grief and worries for her future. Papi paid for private school, but what will happen to them without his monthly checks? When she finds out he has another daughter in New York City Camino is angry because Yahaira had led a rich life while she has to struggle. However, though that girl stole her father, she’s also her sister.

In New York City Yahaira’s father is killed in a plane crash, but sorrow is mixed with anger because she’d found out a year earlier that he had another wife in Santo Domingo. When she finds out he had a daughter there too she’s angry that this girl stole her father, but is happy to have a sister. Against her mother’s wishes she’s determined to travel to the Dominican Republic to meet her new sister, Camino.

In alternating voices, Yahaira and Camino tell their stories of grief, loss, love, discovery and forgiveness as the beauty of the Dominican Republic, and the love its people have for their country, is clearly verbalized. Once again Acevedo weaves a story that will keep readers glued to their seats. I finished it in just a few short hours, feeling a great affinity for all the strong women described in its pages. I won’t be surprised if this book wins a few more awards for its author in the 2021 ALA Youth Media Awards.

Highly recommended for ages 15 and older.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.