A useful guide to woman-centric novels, poetry collections and short stories for librarians, readers and teachers alike! Create a shelf display or find your next read.
by Patricia Santos Marcantonio
In the summer of 1959, everyone knows his place in Arizona. Michael Shaw is an alcoholic lawyer struggling with his reputation as the son of one of Mitchell County’s wealthiest, most successful attorneys. Toni Garcia, the first in her family to obtain a college degree, has returned to Borden, Arizona, because she’s worried about her father’s health. But as a Mexican American, she can’t get a teaching job in spite of her education and intellect. Their worlds collide when Michael is assigned to represent María Sánchez Curry in the bloody murder of her husband and Toni, desperate for work, accepts a job as the defendant’s interpreter.
In this evocative exploration of class and race in 1950s America, Bobby Darin is on the juke box, Doris Day is on the silver screen and pink flamingos grace front yards. Former crime reporter Patricia Santos Marcantonio crafts a stirring tale of forbidden love in a world where democracy rules but due process and fair treatment aren’t as readily available on the wrong side of the tracks.
Outside the Bones
by Lyn Di Iorio
Fina is a big girl with a big mouth. She’s the neighborhood bruja, or “spirit worker” as she likes to call herself, casting spells for her neighbors in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She can’t believe it, though, when she puts an accidental fufú—or spell—on Chico, the irresistible trumpet-player who lives upstairs. “With so many scraps of his clothing … sprinkled with blood, gunpowder, sugar, spit, and God knows what else, poor Chico’s body didn’t know if it was being cursed or blessed.”
Weaving Afro-Caribbean witchcraft rituals with the sixteen-year-old mystery of a woman’s disappearance, Outside the Bones is an erotically charged ghost story set in both present-day New York and Puerto Rico. Following in the tradition of Anne Rice, Lyn Di Iorio’s brilliant debut novel takes a mesmerizing look at issues of race, class, power and greed.
by Nicholasa Mohr
“Damn you bastards, coming here making trouble. Bunch of animals.” The two police offers responding to a call about an open fire hydrant lash out furiously at the Puerto Rican residents of New York City’s El Barrio neighborhood. It’s the summer of 1941, and all ten-year-old Nilda wants to do is enjoy the cool water with her friends. But the policemen’s curses end their fun, and their animosity is played out over and over again in Nilda’s life. She is repeatedly treated with contempt and even disgust by adults in positions of authority: teachers, nurses and social workers.
Named an “Outstanding Book of the Year” by The New York Times and one of the “Best Books of the Year” by the American Library Association in 1973 when it was first published, Nicholasa Mohr’s classic novel about life as an immigrant in New York City offers a poignant look at one young girl’s experiences. Issues of race, religion and machismo are realistically and movingly depicted in this groundbreaking coming-of-age novel that was one of the first by a Latina author to be hailed by the mainstream media.
Song of the Hummingbird
by Graciela Limón
From Aztec princess to slave and concubine, Hummingbird – or Huitzitzilín in her native Nahuatl – recounts her life during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She experienced first-hand the wonder of gods’ arrival—those bearded, armored men who descended from their vessels on horseback—and the brutal devastation of her land and her people. She witnessed the obliteration of Tenochtitlán and suffered the loss of her identity, being forced to discard her traditional garb, to speak a language foreign to her tongue, and to forsake her ancestral gods.
Expressing a confidence and freedom that women have strived for centuries to attain, Huitzitzilín passionately relates her tale to Father Benito, the priest who seeks to confess and convert her, to offer her an absolution she neither needs nor wants. Instead, she forces him to see the conquest, for the first time, through the eyes of the conquered.
In Song of the Hummingbird, Limón pays homage to the pre-Columbian woman, celebrates the endurance of the human spirit in the face of cataclysm and mourns our collective loss of treasures more valuable than all the plundered gold.
To the Last Man I Slept With and All the Jerks Just Like Him
by Gwendolyn Zepeda
With dark, knife-in-the ribs humor and poignant glimpses of youth and early adulthood, Gwendolyn Zepeda’s first book is the literati’s version of television variety shows of the 1970s. Chock full of sharp observations in a narrative that jumps from personal essay to a parody of romance novels to inventive fiction, this collection spans a wide range of themes: the complications of being a “half-white child of hippies born in Houston in 1971″ and raised in a largely Mexican barrio . . . “How to Be a Trailer Trash Housewife” . . . and a midnight dance with a giant cockroach.
Weaving her exploration of family life, love, the struggle for economic stability, and the search for a personal creative space, Zepeda’s brash voice cuts at society’s stereotypes, at once critiquing those around her and herself. Family, friends, and the unwitting strangers around her—no one is safe from her commentary. Not for the shy or the meek, Zepeda’s bold ruminations ring clearly through all her pieces, whether tough dramatizations or tongue-in-cheek fiction. She debuts a voice worth hearing that challenges, “If you want to, you can watch.”
African Passions and Other Stories
by Beatriz Rivera
African Passions, Beatriz Rivera’s first collection of stories, is peopled by Hispanic women in the thrall of love of varying sorts, but always of overwhelming intensity. Passion, obsession, raucous humor, and satire are in store for the reader of this tour-de-force examination of Latina womanhood.
A series of strong-minded women relentlessly pursue love and success as they move in and out of the reality of the New Jersey Hispanic barrio that bonds them: a frustrated professional woman who unsuccessfully strives for a wedding ring from her mama’s-boy lover, a recent college graduate applies for dead-end jobs while pursuing a traditional macho lover, an Italian-Puerto Rican princess gets caught up in a vicious cycle of destructive relationships, and a young Cuban matron wrecks husband, children, and her own well-being as she seeks the nirvana of material wealth and status.
Calligraphy of the Witch
by Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Born of a Spaniard and a mixed-race woman, young Concepción Benavidez was apprenticed as a scribe to a convent. At nineteen, she escapes and is captured in the siege of Vera Cruz in 1683. She unexpectedly becomes the property of the Dutch pirate Laurens-Cornille de Graffe, who rapes her repeatedly on the long, deadly journey to the Massachusetts Bay Colony where he will sell his cargo. Realizing the young mestiza has fine penmanship, the pirate promptly sells her when they reach the cold New England coast.
Concepción is thrust into a strange world where she doesn’t understand the language or the customs. Bought by a prominent Puritan, Merchant Greenwood, to tend to his old father-in-law and his chicken farm, the girl from New Spain is regarded with suspicion. She is considered a papist half-breed who speaks the language of the devil and practices an ungodly religion. Greenwood immediately forbids her to speak her native tongue, and he changes her name to Thankful Seagraves.
This riveting historical novel combines the horror of the Salem witch trials with the philosophy and poetry of the nun and writer known as the first feminist of the Americas, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, this novel takes a mesmerizing look at women in the New World in the 17th century and the stubborn men who accuse them for no reason.
Eulogy for a Brown Angel began a new chapter in the mystery genre with the creation of the first Chicana detective in American literature. Now available for the first time in paperback, readers can discover, or rediscover, Lucha Corpi’s dynamic detective Gloria Damasco in the classic novel that started it all.
A Chicano Civil Rights March has been disrupted by the Los Angeles police, resulting in the gruesome death of a prominent reporter. The tear gas has barely settled when a small, defiled body is left on a street in Los Angeles. A feisty political activist finds the murdered child and begins an investigation that will lead her on a trail of international conspiracy and bloody vengeance. Before long, two other people are dead, and Gloria is determined to piece the mystery together, no matter how long the search may last.
Adding to the mystery is Gloria Damasco’s dark gift, a puzzling extrasensory awareness that forces her to confront situations in which solutions demand more than reason and logic. Eulogy for a Brown Angel is a fast-paced and suspenseful novel, packed with an assortment of interesting characters. A member of the international writers’ circle Sisters in Crime, Lucha Corpi brings the intrigue to a hard-hitting conclusion in the picturesque Wine Country of Northern California.
It’s the summer of 1998 and for five years over a hundred mangled and desecrated bodies have been found dumped on the Chihuahua desert outside of Juárez, México, just across the river from El Paso, Texas. The perpetrators of the ever-rising number of violent deaths target poor young women, terrifying inhabitants of both sides of the border.
El Paso native Ivon Villa has returned to her hometown to adopt the baby of Cecilia, a pregnant maquiladora worker in Juárez. When Cecilia turns up strangled and disemboweled in the desert, Ivon is thrown into the churning chaos of abuse and murder. Even as the rapes and killings of “girls from the south” continue—their tragic stories written in desert blood—a conspiracy covers up the crimes that implicate everyone from the Maquiladora Association to the Border Patrol.
When Ivon’s younger sister gets kidnapped in Juárez, Ivon knows that it’s up to her to find her sister, whatever it takes. Despite the sharp warnings she gets from family, friends, and nervous officials, Ivon’s investigation moves her deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of silence.
From acclaimed poet and prose-writer Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders is a gripping thriller that ponders the effects of patriarchy, gender identity, border culture, transnationalism and globalization on an international crisis.