Book corner: A Latina’s take on Nina Moreno and Elizabeth Acevedo’s latest works
Nina Moreno’s Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Rosa Santos is cursed. Or, at least her family is. Every time a Santos woman falls in love with a sailor, he is tragically lost at sea. And everyone in her sleepy coastal town knows it. So Rosa stays away from the ocean, and sailors. Even though the ocean breeze calls her name. But when an opportunity to visit Cuba in a study abroad program presents itself (and a stoic, handsome sailor with waves tattooed on his arms), Rosa must decide if it is all worth the risk to reconnect with her roots. Can she find herself without losing everyone she loves?
This book is magical, lyrical, and dynamic. With each page, I became more and more of a part of the small south Floridian town of Port Coral. I could see the viejitos sitting outside the cafe, drinking coffee, smoking cigars, exchanging chisme; I could smell the fresh guava pastelitos mixed with the salty breeze from the sea. For just a moment, I was home. I was a child listening to my parents speak Spanish over a plate of arroz con pollo, with the driving beat of the drums and Celia Cruz’s powerful voice tying the memory together in a neat little bow. I felt Rosa’s struggle to not be Latina enough. It’s been a personal struggle for me too.
I come from a mixed family—my mother is Cuban and Puerto Rican, and my dad is white. I grew up knowing Spanish, but never really speaking it. I would get glimpses of the culture, touches here and there that reminded me that I was mixed, but I never felt fully one side or the other. Rosa Santos, like me, doesn’t fully understand herself. She is Latinx, but there is still one part of herself she will never truly know. I understood her desire to visit her native land, and stand where her grandfather stood. To experience her culture in a way that made it feel wholly hers, that she could be enough, and be proud of where she comes from. For me, this book was more than a cute love story, more than a story of family, it was a piece of my heritage that I could connect to. I loved every moment of this book, and I can’t wait to see what Nina Moreno does next.
Elizabeth Acevedo’s With the Fire on High
Emoni Santiago can cook, really well. Her grandmother says she has a gift. When she cooks, she infuses her emotions into every dish. She can bring tears to eyes, each bite loaded with the magic of her cooking. Emoni is also not one to shy away from tough decisions: she decided to keep her baby after she got pregnant her freshman year of high school; she decided to become a single mom after the father of her child left. Emoni puts the needs of others first. When an opportunity to take a real cooking class at her school shows up, Emoni must decide if she wants to take her gift, and passion for the kitchen, and turn it into a real career.
In her stunning second book, award-winning author Elizabeth Acevedo delivers a real, heartfelt story of a girl who tries to find a place for herself, in a world where she takes care of everyone but herself. Acevedo weaves a beautiful story with her signature lyrical language that pulls the reader in and makes it impossible to put the book down. She highlights Afro-Latino culture, and what that means, in a way that has never been explored before.
Although every sub-plot in the story reaches a conclusion, and the story is tied up in a neat little bow, you get the sense that Emoni’s story is not yet done. It feels as if she has merely reached the end of one chapter in her life, and you, as the reader, had the pleasure of being a part of it. Another beautiful thing about this book is that every relationship Emoni has with another character is fleshed out and real. No character is wasted. Like real life, every relationship has quirks and problems—each character Emoni interacts with is important. They all teach her something, either about herself or the world around her. They guide her down the correct path, before she (or the reader) realizes it.
I swallowed this book whole. I found myself wanting to try all of the different recipes (and Emoni’s “remixes”) featured in the book. Luckily, some of the recipes are at the front of each section of the book . Acevedo challenges the idea of what is means to be Latinx. She brings a new, and often ignored, perspective to the table and makes you listen. Elizabeth Acevedo is a real talent, and I can’t wait to see what she brings to the table in the future.
About the author: Natasha Ford lives and works in Austin as a bookseller. She enjoys reading young adult fantasy, eating tostones, and playing with her schnorkie.