Revamp High School Curriculums With These 15 Books By Latinx Writers

by Kerri Jarema

It's only as an adult that I truly realized how lucky I was in my high school English classes. Unlike many of my friends, the curriculum at my all-girls school made ample room for stories written by a diverse list of women. There were some of the usual suspects like Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, but we also read Toni Morrison, Julia Alvarez, Danzy Senna, Esmeralda Santiago, Zadie Smith, Sandra Cisneros, and more.

So many high school students around the U.S. don't get to experience a wide range of literature or see themselves represented in what they read in school, thanks in large part to our old-fashioned idea of the literary canon that make up so many English curriculums: books like The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and The Catcher in the Rye. Yes, those books have merit, but it's time to rethink curriculums and how they reflect the world as it actually exists.

When it comes to adding more books by people of color, and especially women of color, to a high schooler's to-be-read pile, there is always room for improvement. Below are 15 books by Latinx authors — including everything from modern classics to contemporary reads from various genres, all of which delve into timely and relatable topics — that all teenagers should definitely have on their radar:

'A Cup Of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir' by Daisy Hernández

In her lyrical coming-of-age memoir, Hernandez writes about what the women in her Cuban-Colombian family taught her about love, money, and race. These lessons — rooted in experiences of migration and colonization — define what it means to grow up in an immigrant home.

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'The Carrying' by Ada Limón

It's time curriculums included living poets. Why not start with Ada Limón? Her most recent collection, The Carrying, is modern and moving, and sure to get a class talking.

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'In The Time of the Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is the author of numerous novels, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Yo!, but In the Time of the Butterflies — the story of the Mirabal sisters, set during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960 — provides talking points on history, narrative, memory, and more.

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'500 Words Or Less' by Juleah del Rosario

Many high schoolers will see themselves in Juleah Del Rosario's debut novel-in-verse, which follows Nic Chen as she tries to redefine her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates by writing their college admissions essays. But the more essays Nic writes for other people, the less sure she becomes of herself and the kind of person she is.

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'The Education of Margot Sanchez' by Lilliam Rivera

Gentrification is a high-stakes issue, and it's important for young people to understand what it is and how it happens. Rivera's novel delves into the realities of changing neighborhoods, and tackles issues of family, patriarchy, education, friendship and more.

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'The House Of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende

In one of the most beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century, Isabel Allende tells the story of three generations of the Trueba family. This political and personal drama has been made into a film (with a nearly all-white cast) and inspired an upcoming television adaptation, so there's plenty to discuss.

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'I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter' by Erika L. Sanchez

Sanchez's tale of the life-changing effects of immigration, living life between cultures, legacy, love and grief is heart-wrenching. Widely celebrated for its unflinching takes on mental health and the unique burdens of women immigrants, this book opens the door for important discussions.

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'The Poet X' by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo's National Book Award-winning novel-in-verse has made such a splash for good reason. The novel follows Xiomara Batista, a young poet grappling with her coming-of-age in Harlem, her strict religious mother, a new romance, and her burgeoning creative drive.

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'In The Country We Love' by Diane Guerrero

Guerrero's memoir takes readers through her experience as a U.S.-born daughter of undocumented immigrants, both of whom are arrested and ultimately deported. This is an important story about the immigration crisis, as told by someone who is still living with the ramifications of the U.S.'s system.

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'Make Your Home Among Strangers' by Jennine Capo Crucet

Jennine Capó Crucet's novel about first-generation college student follows Lizet — the daughter of Cuban immigrants who secretly applies and is accepted to an ultra-elite college — and takes place during the arrival of Ariel Hernandez, a young boy whose mother died fleeing with him from Cuba on a raft.

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'Juliet Takes A Breath' by Gabby Rivera

So few books in the English curriculum discuss young female sexuality in an empowering way. Gabby Rivera's follows Juliet Palante after she comes out to her family and embarks on a summer of self-discovery while working an internship with her favorite queer writer.

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''The Book of Unknown Americans' by Cristina Henríquez

Cristina Henriquez's page-turner is the tragic story of two teenagers living in an apartment block of immigrant families. It charts the expectations, dreams, and heartbreaks of refugees in the United States, and might help young readers put a face to the headlines about immigration.

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'Lost Children Archive' by Valeria Luiselli

Valeria Luiselli's 2019 novel Lost Children Archive centers on a family on a road-trip across America as they follow news of the migrant crisis at the border. It's a timely addition to any curriculum, and is understood best when paired with Luiselli's essay about undocumented, unaccompanied minors, Tell Me How It Ends.

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'The Distance Between Us' by Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande's moving memoir about her life before and after coming to the U.S. from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant is a contemporary classic.

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'Gabi, A Girl In Pieces' by Isabel Quintero

In this diary-style novel, Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year — everything from college applications to her best friend's pregnancy to her father's drug addiction. It's an both unflinching and recognizable portrayal of the emotions of senior year.

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