5 Classics Of Latinx Literature & The Modern Books To Read If You Love Them

By Kerri Jarema

To celebrate Latinx heritage is not only to remember the accomplishments of those who came before you, but to lift up the voices of those who are working and creating right now. While this month is the perfect time to catch up on classic Latinx literature you might have missed, it's also crucial to read Latinx authors whose stories reflect the issues — immigration, identity, legacy — that are important to Latinx today. Why not do both? Below, you'll find five classic Latinx books, and a modern counterpart for each.

Stories of revolution like Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, coming-of-age tales like Angie Cruz's Dominicana, magical realism love stories like Anna-Marie McLemore's Wild Beauty, profound memoirs of identity like Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican — these are books that will speak your heart, no matter your desire, and affirm that your stories, your families, your loves are important and worthy of phenomenal art. All 10 books feature complex Latinx characters with touching, thought-provoking, and heart-wrenching stories. This month, set aside some time to get acquainted with the classics, and the books that will soon become the classics:

If You Love 'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel, read 'With the Fire on High' by Elizabeth Acevedo

Laura Esquivel's 1989 novel, Like Water for Chocolate, follows Tita, the youngest daughter of the De la Garza family, who has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, who is seduced by the magical food she cooks.

Elizabeth Acevedo's 2019 novel, With the Fire on High, also features a young woman — teen mom Emoni Santiago — with magical cooking abilities and a set of responsibilities that could keep her from following her dreams. Themes of culture and family legacy are woven through both of these unforgettable tales.

If You Love 'The House on Mango Street' by Sandra Cisneros, Read 'Dominicana' by Angie Cruz

In her 1984 novel, The House on Mango Street, Cisneros tells the coming-of-age story of Esperanza Cordero through a series of vignettes set in her Chicago neighborhood.

Angie Cruz's 2019 release, Dominicana, follows 15-year-old Ana Cancion, who leaves behind everything she knows in the Dominican Republic when she marries a man twice her age and moves to Washington Heights in search of the American Dream. Cisneros and Cruz both center the tales of two young Latinas finding their own ways and figuring out who they want to become.

If You Love 'When I Was Puerto Rican' by Esmeralda Santiago, Read 'A Cup of Water Under My Bed' by Daisy Hernández

In her first memoir, 1993's When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago shares memories from her early life on the island, her unpredictable single mother's decision to move Esmeralda and her six younger siblings to New York, and how that upheaval changed the course of her life forever.

Daisy Hernández's 2014 memoir, A Cup of Water Under My Bed, also addresses a life between two cultures — Hernández is Colombian-Cuban and grew up in the United States — as well as the fraught coming-of-age she experienced as queer woman, and what it means to grow up in an immigrant home. At the heart of both memoirs are young women living between two cultures, trying to figure themselves out.

If You Love 'In The Time of the Butterflies' by Julia Alvarez, Read 'When We Left Cuba' by Chanel Cleeton

Julia Alvarez's 1994 novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, is a fictionalized story of the real Mirabal sisters, three of whom were murdered in 1960 for their part in an underground plot to overthrow the dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

When We Left Cuba, Chanel Cleeeton's 2019 novel, is also set in the 1960s and follows another young woman — Cuban exile, Beatriz Perez — on a mission to help overthrow a dictator. The Cuban Revolution took everything from Beatriz: her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro's inner circle, she becomes consumed by her quest for revenge. If you love revolutionary women who will risk it all to fight for their people, these are the two books for you.

If You Love 'The House of the Spirits' by Isabel Allende, Read 'Wild Beauty' by Anna-Marie McLemore

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende's 1982 epic, follows three generations of the Trueba family — patriarch Esteban, his clairvoyant wife Clara, their daughter Blanca, and Blanca's revolutionary daughter Alba — as their personal lives intersect with the political, and they deal with both tragedy and triumph.

Anna-Marie McLemore's Wild Beauty also follows multiple generations in a single family — the Nomeolvides women, who have for a century tended the lush gardens of La Pradera — and a revolutionary young girl named Estrella. Tragedy has followed the Nomeolvides women for decades, but Estrella will discover secrets that change everything. Family sagas that deal with themes of legacy, tragedy, and complicated love, you'll fall for them both.