It’s mid-September, which means it’s also Hispanic Heritage Month. I’ll never know why the Powers that Be decided Latinos should get half of September and half of October, instead of a full calendar month like everyone else, but I suspect it has some misguided thing to do with Columbus Day. Anyhow, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I’m on the hunt for recommendations of Young Adult books featuring stand-out Latino characters.
Since I’m a newbie to YA literature (I’ve read more than 100 books straight this year, but other than that only two dozen or so books here or there), the only character that immediately comes to mind (as in, I just read the books, so could he not come to mind?) is Alex Morales from Susan Beth Pfeffer’s “The Dead and the Gone” and “This World We Live In.”
When we first meet Nuyorican Alex, he’s finishing his junior year at a posh Catholic prep school in Manhattan. Unlike most of his classmates, though, 17-year-old Alex is a scholarship student. His father is a super at an Upper West Side apartment building (they live on 88th St and West End), and his mother is an operating-room technician at a Queens hospital. He has an older brother, Carlos, who has recently enlisted in the Marines and two younger teen sisters: the devout Briana, and the feisty (read: bratty) baby of the family, Julie. When a catastrophic event causes the moon to fall out of its axis, Alex is the only one at home, and he finds himself in charge of his baby sisters — a task no Latino man would take lightly.
Pfeffer brilliantly depicted a working-class Latino family, with its gender double standards, desire for upward mobility, and emphasis on hard work and obedience as the only way out of a difficult situation. Alex is extremely smart, adaptable, and attractive, but he’s simmering with the resentment and insecurity that comes with being one of the few “scholarship kids” amidst all of that white privilege and wealth that makes up Manhattan’s private school culture (think “Gossip Girl”).
Whenever Alex and his sisters discussed their Mami, Papi or their bodega-owning uncle and his family, I felt transported back to New York City, where Puerto Ricans form the dominant Latino community. Alex is exactly like a few of my friends from college — they came from working-class backgrounds but were going to study twice as hard as everyone else to prove they deserved a spot at an Ivy League university. Alex’s dream is to attend Georgetown, and he was obviously going to make it… before the moon gets struck causing one tragedy after another to befall poor Alex and his sisters.
Obviously the hot guy in the photo is NOT Alex Morales; he’s Tyler Posey, star of MTV’s hit show “Teen Wolf.” But he’s actually half-Latino (and I don’t think he’s Puerto Rican, but whatever), and I pictured Alex with the same olive skin tone, black hair, and deep brown eyes — the kind that can be vulnerable one second and fiercely angry the next. Since I’ve actually watched “Teen Wolf” on more than one occasion (hey, I get paid to keep up with rising stars), he seemed a great — and not to mention crush-worthy — fit for Alex should Hollywood decide to option the series in the next couple of years.
So, what are some YA books with awesome Latino characters? Anyone, anyone? Bueller, Bueller?