Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

It’s Latinx Heritage Month, and there’s a book bingo going on which means – I’m reading the heck out of some Latinx books! I can’t remember how I first heard of Blanca & Roja, but it was sitting in the back of my mind when I went to the library, and so I put it on hold. Nevertheless, it means I went into the book knowing absolutely nothing about it, aside from my guess that it had something to do with the fairytale of Snow White and Rose Red. (For those who don’t know any Spanish, that’s what Blanca and Roja mean – white and red.)

Blanca and Roja are two sisters born into a family with a curse; every generation has at least two sisters, and one of them will be turned into a swan.

The first thing I’ll say is that the plot was not my favourite part of this book. It’s good, don’t get me wrong – it’s interesting, and taps into a lot of current feelings about predatory business practices, among others. But in some ways, the plot itself feels like various fairy tales cut and stitched together, and the stitching is just a little too obvious still. It doesn’t help that the chapters are all from different POVs, and the chapters being so short means that it can be hard to follow what’s going on.

Where Blanca & Roja absolutely SHINES, however, is in both the prose and the… trying to word this is hard, but the combination of symbolism and representation, social issues and marginalization encapsulated in fairy-tale magic. The sequence of events is far less interesting than the punch delivered when you realize that two brown girls have been forced into fighting for the love of a “blue eyed boy” to save themselves, and that it’s not what either of them really wants. I mean, the range. Then there’s Page Ashby, whose appearance in the book resulted in me YELLING in delighted surprise. Page is a genderqueer trans boy. That’s right, both at once. Which I have never seen in a book before.

I have mixed feelings about the romance. I definitely like how the romance begun as a ‘this is a thing nobody is actually wanting’ thing, but once the actual romance showed up and so much of it started being about misunderstandings, I started to lose interest. I think one of the biggest things slowing this plot down, to be honest, is the interlacing romantic confusions. (Also, I’ll be honest: I started hoping for polyamory about halfway through the book. Why is poly never the answer?) My usual disclaimer applies here, though, in that I’m aro and my perspective on romance is usually different than others.

Blanca & Roja is a beautiful book; some things didn’t quite do it for me, but where it did hit home, it hit a home run. I’m definitely excited to read more from this author. (Also, if you’re somebody who skips afterwords, PLEASE read the one for this book. It really pulls it all together.)

Blanca & Roja is available at Macmillan (https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250162717), Barnes and Noble (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/blanca-roja-anna-marie-mclemore/1127457533#/), and Chapters/Coles/Indigo (https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/blanca-roja/9781250162717-item.html?ikwsec=Books&ikwidx=5). Please consider getting it from here instead of Amazon!

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