For Latinx Heritage Month, Seeta Estrada, YES Prep English Content Director, invited a group of high school students from different YES Prep secondary campuses to write book reviews on novels written by Latinx authors. Needless to say, our students came with some amazing breakdowns!
Scroll down to read all the book reviews or click below to read a specific one.
- Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros
- The Devil's Highway: A True Story by Luis Alberto Urrea
- Bang: A Novel by Daniel Peña
- Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez
Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros is a novel comprised of a series of emotional yet humorous vignettes about Cisneros’s personal experiences as a Hispanic girl.
Sandra Cisneros’ writing is beautiful and powerful as she incorporates blended descriptions of Mexico and the United States. The book’s incorporation of both cultures creates the narrator’s dilemma as she struggles to find a perfect blend of her identities, a struggle that resonates with many Hispanic Americans. Through the narrator’s earnest search for identity, Cisneros spotlights the tragedies that grip Hispanic culture: machismo, domestic abuse and treachery while also providing a beautiful account of Hispanic culture marked by its strong women, resilient people and loving families.
Many stories in in this book provided a personal connection for me. The usage of poetic imagery was reminiscent of my own childhood vacations in the small towns of Mexico and the clumsy blend of Spanish and English I used to communicate with my friends. Similarly to the author’s description of life in Mexico and the US, visiting Mexico created my strong values of family while language and traditions shaped my lifelong friendships in the US. This book was also a meaningful read as I considered what it means to be Latinx. For me, being Latinx is being proud of my culture despite of the distance or years from my family’s native country, and staying rooted in my Latinx culture and treasuring it wherever I am. In Cisneros’s book I was able to find a comforting reflection of my culture with the acknowledgment of my struggles, and the loving memories that complete my identity as Latinx.
About the student: Stephanie is a senior at YES Prep Southeast Secondary and a first-generation college student. This year she plans to apply to College of Saint Benedict in Saint Joseph, Minnesota and is aspiring to study Elementary Education. During her free time she enjoys visiting the Houston Zoo.
The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is a literary nonfiction book that takes place in 2001 and tells the story of a group of 26 men who attempt to cross the U.S. border from Mexico through a dangerous route in harsh conditions. Every one of these men has a goal they're trying to reach, and they dream about a life in America where they can finally have freedom and be economically stable. Their families and their passions motivate them to keep pushing through the difficult circumstances, and to keep their head up whenever they feel like giving up.
After 17 years of The Devil's Highway release, this book remains significant because it highlights the perseverance and resilience of Hispanics in obtaining their dream. Urrea uses literary elements such as imagery and details to maintain the reader hooked and set the tone of the passage.
I chose to review this book because the great majority of Hispanics can relate to this book both physically and emotionally. The story is very engaging and the suspenseful moments kept me asking for more and more. The experiences of these men are the same experiences many Hispanics have gone through to get a better life in America. After reading this book I am proud of my family and Latinos for the sacrifices they have done to give their children an opportunity to have a successful life.
About the student: Jaime is a junior at YES Prep North Forest Secondary and she will soon be a first-generation college student. In 2023, she plans to apply to both the University of Houston and the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She is aspiring to study Science in Nursing. During her free time, Jaime enjoys spending time with her family.
Bang by Daniel Peña tells the story of an undocumented family living in Harlingen, Texas. At the beginning of the novel, the family is split up when brothers Cuauhtémoc and Uli crash a plane on the Mexican side of the Mexican American border. In a desperate effort to reunite her family, their mother, Araceli, leaves the safety of Texas and sets off on a quest to find her sons. Throughout the entirety of the novel, Cuauhtémoc, Uli and Araceli are condemned to experience the harsh, ugly truth of gang violence, all while trying to stay levelheaded in unfathomable circumstances and attempting to piece their lives back together. In this engrossing novel, the main characters are forced to face the very same horrors they ran away from.
I reviewed this novel because it is one of the few novels that have made me feel like I understood all the character’s motives and situations. When I read Bang for the first time, I was shocked by the rawness of the imagery and familiarity of the dialogue. Throughout the novel, Peña puts extra focus on details, whether gruesome or lively, to convey the uncertainty that the characters feel facing the life they could have had if they had not left Mexico. The constant switch between English and Spanish appeals to me, as a native Spanish speaker, it reflects what my own life is like. It is rare to read a book that is primarily in English and feel connected to what is said in Spanish because the slang is usually used incorrectly, or the language is used at times does not make sense to use it.
Another aspect of the novel I feel connected to is the plot. A large part of my family lives near the Mexican American border, I am not a stranger to these types of stories. Reading Bang felt like listening to a more detailed version of stories I already know. I remember telling my mom about the plot of the novel, and later that day I heard her telling my grandma and my older brother about it. I usually talk to my mom about the books that I like, but this was the first time I had ever heard my mom tell other people about them or ask for more information. Bang resonated with me, as someone who unfortunately has family that has gone through these things, and I know that it resonated with the rest of my family too. Based on my reaction and my family’s reaction to Bang, I know that Bang is a novel that people with backgrounds like Cuauhtémoc’s, Uli’s and Araceli’s should read, for they might see themselves in it.
About the student: Gabriela is a senior at YES Prep Southeast Secondary. This year she plans to apply to The University of Texas at Austin and is aspiring to study Aerospace Engineering. During her free time, she enjoys listening to music and reading books.
A book review by Caitlyn, junior, YES Prep East End Secondary
Before We Were Free is about the coming-of-age tale of Anita de la Torre, a 12-year-old living in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s, when former President Rafael Trujillo was in office. We see Anita experience the loss of family as they flee the country, falling in and falling out of love, and the hardship of living in a dictatorship country. The story takes place in chronological order, starting just before Anita’s 12th birthday and ending just after her 13th birthday. Alvarez writes about the horror of growing up amid a revolution and the bond of familial love. While there are some scenes about torture and some ideas that are not for the faint of heart, it is beautiful. The themes of this book are about family, love, and how familial love can overcome anything.
This book is similar to Anne Frank’s diary or Odette’s Secrets by Maryann Macdonald, but instead of World War II, it takes place in the 1960s Dominican Republic. I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of In the Time of the Butterflies, want to learn more about the history of the Dominican Republic or learn more about revolutions that aren’t from the United States or France.
About the student: Caitlyn is a junior at YES Prep East End Secondary. In 2023, she plans to apply to both Louisiana State University and University of Roehampton London. She is aspiring to study Psychology. During her free time, she enjoys reading and writing science fiction fantasy novels.
Make sure to check back every Friday during 2021 Latinx Heritage Month for more book reviews by our students! To learn about how YES Prep is celebrating 2021 Latinx Heritage Month, click here.