Nov 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Young adult Latino literature faces conservative backlash

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Young adult Latino authors, ranging from Ashley Hope Pérez to Benjamin Alire Sáenz, are facing threats from conservative school boards that want to remove their work from schools for tackling issues of race and sexuality.

Why it matters: The growing backlash against lessons on slavery, racism and LGBTQ issues in classrooms has engulfed young adult Latino authors whose work is often overlooked in discussions about race in education materials.

  • Banning the works in libraries or schools makes reading about and contemplating those experiences less accessible than those of the majority-white non-Hispanic authors and publishers in the industry.
  • The bans are especially centered on the young adult genre, which is increasingly promoted on new platforms like Instagram (known as Bookstagram) or TikTok (with the hashtag #BookTok), and has slowly diversified particularly with sci-fi and fantasy offerings.

What's happening: Books by Elizabeth Acevedo, Alire Sáenz and other authors have landed on banned book lists tracked by the American Library Association.

  • Two of Acevedo's novels are on the 2020 list of books restricted or removed from shelves by librarians, school authorities, parents or local politicians.
  • They are 2018's "The Poet X", a National Book Award winner for young people's literature, and 2020's "Clap When You Land," about half-sisters who find out about one another when their father's plane crashes. Both novels are written in verse and center around Afrolatina teens.
  • Alire Sáenz's lyrical novel "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe," about two Mexican American gay teens in the 1980s, has also been on banned book lists.
  • The novel, and its Spanish translation, were also targeted recently in Texas, where lawmaker and candidate for attorney general Matt Krause unveiled a list of 850 works he has said should be made unavailable at schools across the state.
  • Alire Sáenz has just published a sequel, "Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World," and the series is being adapted to film.

Ashley Hope Pérez’s "Out of Darkness" has become one of the most high-profile targets of conservative parents.

  • The novel is about an interracial romance between a Mexican girl and a Black boy but parents have been focusing on a sex scene.

The big picture: Young adult books aren't the only genre where Latino authors have written in recent years about topics that have been the target of book banning efforts.

  • New non-fiction books "For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts," a memoir/anti-discrimination guide by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez, and the essay collection "Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed" both take on stereotypes, racism and social justice.
  • In the profitable romance genre, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland's "How Moon Fuentez Fell In Love with the Universe" and Yamile Saied Méndez's "Furia," discuss teen sex, familial abuse, religion and misogyny — topics that have gotten other books by Latino authors banned. 

What's next: For this holiday reading list or gift-giving, also be on the lookout for recent novels that put a Latino spin on Tolstoy's adage that "happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

  •  "Infinite Country" frames that unhappiness around migration status and overcoming separation.
  • "The Five Wounds" sees familial love develop and evolve in the midst of a teen pregnancy.
  • And "Of Women and Salt" tenderly deals with addiction and multi-generation resilience.
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