Ten Excellent YA Chica Lit Novels To Read During Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted by Diana R. Wallach
Just as the rise of “chick lit” is often credited to Helen Fielding’s debut Bridget Jones’s Diary, the birth of “chica lit” is said to swell from Alisa Valdes’ debut megahit The Dirty Girls Social Club. And if you haven’t guessed already, essentially the genre is a segment of women’s fiction that features a Latina protagonist, and it has a young adult counterpart.
Hispanic Heritage Month kicks off on September 15th (don’t ask me why it starts in the middle of the month), and if you haven’t delved into the world of chica lit, then let me introduce you.

1. Fifteen Candles (Amigas #1) by Veronica Chambers: MTV might have My Super Sweet 16, but Latinas get the party started a year early with super-sweet quinceañeras. And for fifteen-year-old Alicia Cruz, quinceañeras are a serious business. She and her three best friends launch a quince-planning venture in Miami, but when their first client turns into a quince-zilla, there may be no saving the party or their friendships.
2. Call Me Maria by Judith Ortiz Cofer: If you like a little poetry in your YA, read about fifteen-year-old Maria who is caught between two worlds—Puerto Rico, where she was born, and New York, where she now lives with her dad in a basement apartment. She struggles to loose her accent and fit into her New York life, and finds herself turning to poetry to express her feelings on culture clash.
3. It’s Not About the Accent by Caridad FerrerI’m sure a lot of prospective college students look at those “choose your own ethnicity boxes” on applications and debate selecting one that might give them a better edge. Well, Caroline Darcy does just that. She decides to explore—and exploit—her distant Cuban ancestry when she goes off to school, claiming to be half Cuban, calling herself “Carolina,” and dying her blond hair Havana Brown. Only her act lands her in a dangerous situation, and she finds herself on a journey to discover who she really is.
4. Chasing the Jaguar by Michele Dominguez Greene: The always popular paranormal YA genre now also comes in chica lit. Try Chasing the Jaguar where fifteen-year-old Martika is having unsettling dreams about the kidnapped daughter of her mother’s employer, and ultimately learns that she is a descendant of a long line of curanderas—Mayan medicine women with special powers.
5. Yaqui Delgado Wants To Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina: You need to read this book for the title alone. Author Meg Medina got “ass” into the title of a YA novel, that’s not easy to do. But it’s with good reason. One day before school, someone tells Piddy Sanchez that,“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.” Only who is Yaqui Delgado? Piddy has no idea – or any idea what she’s done to piss her off. But she’s about to find out, and the list of grievances starts with not being “Latin enough.”
6. Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa: You may start noticing a trend here: a lot of YA chica lit novels feature fifteen year-olds and many are planning quinceañeras. What can I say? Paranormals have “vampires,” and chica lit has “quinces.” So be it. But not all characters are up for the celebration, like Violet Paz who thinks of herself as American, not half-Cuban. She doesn’t want a party full of traditions she cares little about, and her humorous ride to the ruffled pink dress and gaudy tiara leads to much self awareness.
7. Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa by Micol Ostow: The other trend you’ll notice (of which my own novels are guilty) is a half-Latina protagonist coming to grips with her dual ethnicity. This is with good reason—a lot of American kids, and authors, share this experience. As is the case with Emily, a half-Puerto Rican/half-Jewish teen forced to stay with her mother in Puerto Rico after her grandmother’s funeral. A New Yorker from Westchester, Emily does not find it easy to connect with her island heritage or her foreign relatives.
8. Graffiti Girl by Kelly Parra: Graffiti art. It’s bold. It’s thrilling. And it can get a girl into serious trouble. Angel Rodriguez channels her dreams into painting. But when her entry for a community mural doesn’t measure up, she turns to the underground world of graf tags and turf wars. It’s an interesting love story with a glimpse into a subversive world many of us know little about.
9. Cubanita by Gaby Triana: Seventeen-year-old Isa is eager to leave Miami (which she dubs North Cuba) and attend the University of Michigan, wanting nothing more than to be a regular American teenager. Only Isa is torn between her overbearing mother’s traditional ideas of how a “cubanita” should behave, and her own struggle for individuality. Speaking from personal experience, it’s a perk to write about your own ethnic background; it gives you the freedom to poke fun at it, which Triana does well.
10. The Temptation of Demetrio Vigil (Book #1 in The Ghosts of Golden series) by Alisa Valdes: Full disclosure: I helped copyedit this book and unabashedly love it. If you want to trace chica lit back to its roots, then check out Valdes’ latest book for teens. When prep student Maria Ochoa, sixteen, crashes her car on an isolated stretch of New Mexico Highway, the only person around to help is a teen gangbanger named Demetrio Vigil. He miraculously heals her nearly fatal wounds with nothing but the warm energy radiating from his hands, and she soon learns that isn’t the only secret gift that Demetrio’s hiding. It’s a YA romance that will have you shedding your stereotypes by the last page.

Diana Rodriguez Wallach is the author of three young adult novels, Amor and Summer Secrets, Amigas and School Scandals, and Adios to All The Drama (Kensington Books). In Fall 2013, she will publish Mirror, Mirror, a short-story trilogy based on the Narcissus myth (Buzz Books). She hold a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University, and currently lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Follow Diana online: www.dianarodriguezwallach.com, @dianarwallach, or http://dianarwallach.tumblr.com.