As a Puerto Rican growing up on the island, I spent my days curling up with The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High and visiting my school’s library to get the most current copy of these books, while also digging into some Puerto Rican classics like La Llamarada by Enrique Laguerre for school assessments and pure enjoyment. It was definitely bookish fun that made me the book lover that I am today.
Growing up bilingual meant getting jokes in English and Spanish and easily switching from one language to the other, exploring my culture and the experience of others and their culture at the same time. Now, bilingual readers and readers from all cultures can explore characters whose quick and witty banter in two languages inspires and also gives us lessons. There are also some super cool ones with great stories that we would love to befriend.
So, I present to you some of my favorite books featuring bilingual and multicultural characters I’d love to spend a day with and learn from. One is a relatable and magical trans brujo, another a powerful and brave immigrant, one a Puerto Rican who is looking to move on from the tragic Hurricane Maria, and lastly a character that deeply explores Bolivian culture.
Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Yadriel)
Yadriel is trying, really hard, to show his family that he’s a real brujo. When he summons a ghost who simply will not leave his side, things get really interesting in a book filled with magical experiences. Not only is Yadriel a smart, witty, character, but his banter with his friend Maritza and his own family gives us a real peek at his life, his Mexican culture, and his own Spanish/English inner dialogue.
Never Look Back By Lilliam Rivera (Eury)
Eury is trying to leave the past behind, which includes a close-up experience with 2017’s tragic Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. After moving on to New York, she is intrigued by a boy who loves his bachata as much as he’s infatuated with her. In flashbacks, Eury recalls her time on the island, even visiting the iconic Puerto Rican mall, Plaza las Americas, la playa, and other experiences that made her who she is today. Besides Eury’s inner dialogue, it is her strength and her honest experience that draws us into her unique present.
Lobizona By Romina Garber (Manu)
Manu is an Argentine immigrant, hiding with her mother in Miami, until ICE finds them. Living an existence that feels a little too small for her, little does Manu know the magic that awaits her beyond that hidden world. Manu’s adventures as she tries to deal with her present and discover her truth, along with her Argentine history and slang, will have you rooting for her and for hers and learning all about new experiences along the way.
Woven in Moonlight By Isabel Ibañez (Ximena)
In this extremely whimsical story, Ximena is the highlight and the brilliant gem that shines above all she encounters. Based on Bolivian politics and history, Ximena’s story, as she struggles with her own identity as the decoy Condesa of a secondary world of Inkasisa upturned by revolution, is one for our own history books. Ximena is motivated by revenge and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight. This fantasy, along with the lessons it brings, will have you rooting for Ximena and wanting her to be extremely successful—whatever her next obstacle might be.
While there’s many more books with bilingual and culturally immersive characters, these have been some of my true favorites. Do you have a favorite as well? Let us know on Twitter at @bookriot and let me know at @AuroraMiami.