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Young people mature at different rates, and readers’ tastes, values and philosophies vary. In order to meet the needs of as many readers as possible, the literature listed below represents a wide range of content and difficulty. Not all titles are suitable for every reader.

Compiled with help from Sandy Westra, Media Center Specialist

The Afterlife
by Gary Soto
(fiction, 161 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.2)

Returning to the Mexican-American community which he has made a career of chronicling, Soto's 17-year-old narrator Chuy is murdered on page two, for no good reason, in the restroom of a nightclub. Chuy's ghost roams his native Fresno, visiting Angel ('mi carnal, the guy I hung with') his would-be novia (girlfriend), his family, his school friends. In several compelling sequences, he comes face-to-face with his killer, and is shocked to see that the boy is completely without remorse. There is mention of revenge (Chuy's mother gives his cousin a gun), but Soto keeps that subplot brief, favoring instead a more thoughtful painting of what Chuy's departure means to those around him. Chuy also meets the ghost of a girl who has just committed suicide, and the two spirits begin to fall in love.

Before We Were Free
by Julia Alvarez
(fiction, 192 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.6)

Anita de la Torre never questioned her freedom living in the Dominican Republic. But by her 12th birthday in 1960, most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States, her Tío Toni has disappeared without a trace, and the government's secret police terrorize her remaining family because of their suspected opposition of el Trujillo's dictatorship. Using the strength and courage of her family, Anita must overcome her fears and fly to freedom, leaving all that she once knew behind.

Bless Me, Ultima
by Rudolfo Anaya
(fiction, 262 pgs., book level: 5.4)

Growing up in New Mexico in the 1940s, Tony faces the daunting prospect of growing up amidst constant religious and cultural uncertainty. His mother is a devoted Catholic, but her influence is challenged by Ultima--a woman with magical healing powers. As Tony follows his own path toward adulthood, he relies on Ultima's wisdom. With her guidance, he is able to forge his unique identity.

Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua
by Stephen Kinzer
(non-fiction, 450 pgs.)

Kinzer served in Central America first in the 1970s as a freelance journalist and later as a New York Times bureau chief in Managua (1983-89). An eyewitness to events, he interviewed members of the Somoza, Sandinista, and contra hierarchies. As a result, he provides a highly objective and balanced assessment of events that led to the fall of the Somoza government in 1979.

Boxing for Cuba: An Immigrant's Story
by Guillermo Vincente Vidal
(non-fiction, 256 pgs.)

The whims of politics are at the fore of Guillermo Vincente Vidal s memoir, in which young boys become men in the shadow of revolution and personal turmoil. Vidal writes about his family's participation in events that forever altered U.S. Cuban relations after an effort to free children from the threat of Communist rule sparked Operation Peter Pan. From chance encounters with Fidel Castro and Robert F. Kennedy to life in a dismal Catholic orphanage in Colorado, Vidal perseveres to embrace life as a proud and successful Cuban American. His account is a poignant story of forgiveness and the joy of returning home.

Breaking Through
by Francisco Jiménez
(non-fiction, 213 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.3)

At the age of fourteen, Francisco Jiménez, together with his older brother Roberto and his mother, are caught by la migra. Forced to leave their home in California, the entire family travels all night for twenty hours by bus, arriving at the U.S. and Mexican border in Nogales, Arizona. In the months and years that follow during the late 1950s-early 1960s, Francisco, his mother and father, and his seven brothers and sister not only struggle to keep their family together, but also face crushing poverty, long hours of labor, and blatant prejudice. How they sustain their hope, their good-heartedness, and tenacity is revealed in this moving sequel to The Circuit.

Buried Onions
by Gary Soto
(fiction, 176 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.3)

Eddie's father, two uncles, and best friend are all dead, and it's a struggle for him not to end up the same way. Violence makes Fresno wallow in tears, as if a huge onion were buried beneath the city. Making an effort to walk a straight line despite constant temptations and frustrations, Eddie searches for answers — and discovers that his closest friends may actually be his worst enemies.

by Sandra Cisneros
(fiction, 464 pgs., book level: 5.7)

Every year, Ceyala "Lala" Reyes' family--aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, and Lala's six older brothers--packs up three cars and, in a wild ride, drive from Chicago to the Little Grandfather and Awful Grandmother's house in Mexico City for the summer. Struggling to find a voice above the boom of her brothers and to understand her place on this side of the border and that, Lala is a shrewd observer of family life. But when she starts telling the Awful Grandmother's life story, seeking clues to how she got to be so awful, grandmother accuses Lala of exaggerating. Soon, a multigenerational family narrative turns into a whirlwind exploration of storytelling, lies, and life. Like the cherished rebozo, or shawl, that has been passed down through generations of Reyes women, Caramelo is alive with the vibrations of history, family, and love.

The Circuit
by Francisco Jiménez
(fiction, 133 pgs., ages 10 and up, book level: 5.3)

"La frontera ... I heard it for the first time back in the late 1940s when Papa and Mama told me and Roberto, my older brother, that someday we would take a long trip north, cross la frontera, enter California, and leave our poverty behind." So begins this honest and powerful account of a family's journey to the fields of California -- to a life of constant moving, from strawberry fields to cotton fields, from tent cities to one-room shacks, from picking grapes to topping carrots and thinning lettuce. Seen through the eyes of a boy who longs for an education and the right to call one palce home, this is a story of survival, faith, and hope. It is a journey that will open readers' hearts and minds.

Crazy Loco
by David Talbot Rice
(fiction, 144 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.2)

Meet Loco, a dog with a passion for firecrackers. And Pedro, an altar boy forced to lean a hard lesson from two of the toughest, oldest men ever to serve the Lord. Jordan and Todd are two boys from California who don't know what they're in for when they push their Texas cousins a little too far. Loosely based on the author's own childhood as a Mexican-American boy in south Texas, this story collection is a moving whirlwind of humor and insight--brash, tender, and full of the unexpected.

Enrique's Journey
by Sonia Nazario
(non-fiction, 336 pgs., book level: 5.6)

Originally written as a newspaper series for the Los Angeles Times, Enrique's Journey tells the true story of a Honduran boy's journey to find his mother who left him behind so that she can seek better fortune in America. Planning to only stay until she can send for her children or return with enough money to support them, Enrique's mother promises to bring him to be with her, but each year setbacks prevent her from keeping her promise. When he is sixteen and with only her phone number on a piece of paper, Enrique decides he will go to America to find his mother. After terrible hardships-attacks by gang members, near misses on trains, extreme hunger and thirst-Enrique makes it to his mother, only to find that in the years of separation, his image of her and the reality he finds are very different.

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
by Julia Alvarez
(fiction, 336 pgs., book level: 6.2)

Julia Alvarez admits that her critically acclaimed novel is a semi-autobiographical account of her family as they struggled to adjust to American culture. Alvarez was born in New York City on March 27, 1950, but soon relocated to the Dominican Republic, where she lived until she was ten. While there, her father, like the novel's patriarch, was forced to flee with his family after he led a failed attempt to oust Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The family returned to the Bronx, in New York City, where her father started a successful medical practice. Like Yolanda, the main character, Alvarez turned to books and writing as an escape from her frustrating acculturation experiences.

In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez
(fiction, 352 pgs., book level: 5.8)

During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names and Alvarez, a native of the Dominican Republic, has fictionalized their story.

An Island Like You: Stories of the Barrio
by Judith Ortiz Cofer
(fiction, 165 pgs., ages 10 and up, book level: 5.4)

The contemporary teenage voices are candid, funny, weary, and irreverent in these stories about immigrant kids caught between their Puerto Rican families and the pull and push of the American dream. The young people hang out on the street in front of the tenement El Building in Paterson, New Jersey, where the radios are always turned full blast to the Spanish station and the thin walls can't hold the dramas of the real-life telenovelas. Cofer depicts a diverse neighborhood that's warm, vital, and nurturing, and that can be miserable if you don't fit in.

by Gary Soto
(fiction, 166 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.8)

Coming of age in the shadow of the Vietnam War, Jesse, a young Mexican American, and his older brother, Abel, work long hours in the fields in order to save money for college in the hope that education will help them escape poverty.

Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America
by Helen Thorpe
(non-fiction, 416 pgs., book level: 5.8)

Offers a powerful account of four young Mexican women coming of age in Denver--two of whom have legal documentation, two of whom who don't--and the challenges they face as they attempt to pursue the American dream.

La Línea
by Ann Jaramillo
(fiction, 144 pgs., ages 10 and up, book level: 4.3)

Miguel has dreamed of joining his parents in California since the day they left him behind in Mexico six years, eleven months, and twelve days ago. On the morning of his fifteenth birthday, Miguel’s wait is over. Or so he thinks. The trip north to the border—la línea—is fraught with dangers. Thieves. Border guards. And a grueling, two-day trek across the desert. It would be hard enough to survive alone. But it’s almost impossible with his tagalong sister in tow. Their money gone and their hopes nearly dashed, Miguel and his sister have no choice but to hop the infamous mata gente as it races toward the border. As they cling to the roof of the speeding train, they hold onto each other, and to their dreams. But they quickly learn that you can’t always count on dreams—even the ones that come true.

Like Water for Chocolate
by Laura Esquivel
(fiction, 241 pgs., book level: 7.2)

Employing the technique of magic realism, Esquivel tells the story of Tita De la Garza, a young Mexican woman whose family's kitchen becomes her world after her mother forbids her to marry the man she loves. Set in Mexico in the early part of the century, Esquivel chronicles Tita's life from her teenage to middle-age years, as she submits to and eventually rebels against her mother's domination. Esquivel use an imaginative mix of recipes, home remedies, and love story to create a bittersweet tale of love and loss and a compelling exploration of a woman's search for identity and fulfillment.

Mexican WhiteBoy
by Matt de la Pena
(fiction, 256 pgs., ages 14 and up, book level: 4.3)

Sixteen-year-old Danny searches for his identity amidst the confusion of being biracial while spending the summer with his Mexican family. Mexican White Boy is set in the back alleys and rundown baseball fields of National City, California.

The Milagro Beanfield War
by John Nichols
(fiction, 456 pgs.)

The day Joe Mondragon illegally irrigated his parents' beanfield was the day change came to the small southwestern town of Milagro. Joe was known for a certain feistiness that often landed him in jail, but this rebellious act, clearly unlawful, confused the sheriff, baffled the Ladd Devine Company, which now owned the water rights, and gave the governor a funny feeling in his gut. How a small town of disenfranchised people came to rally over Joe's beanfield and reclaim their own lost rights is a story that remains funny, fresh, and inspiring.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(fiction, 417 pgs., book level: 8.7)

One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.

Parrot in the Oven: Mi vida
by Victor Martinez
(fiction, 216 pgs., book level: 6.1)

Dad believed people were like money. You could be a thousand-dollar person or a hundred-dollar person - even a ten-, five-, or one-dollar person. Below that, everybody was just nickels and dimes. To my dad, we were pennies. Fourteen-year-old Manny Hernandez wants to be more than just a penny. He wants to be a vato firme, the kind of guy people respect. But that's not easy when your father is abusive, your brother can't hold a job, and your mother scrubs the house as if she can wash her troubles away. In Manny's neighborhood, the way to get respect is to be in a gang. But Manny's not sure that joining a gang is the solution. Because, after all, it's his life - and he wants to be the one to decide what happens to it.

A Place Where the Sea Remembers
by Sandra Benitez
(fiction, 176 pgs., book level: 5.1)

In the small Mexican town of Santiago, childless Chayo and her husband find their prayers answered when they agree to adopt the unborn child of Marta, Chayo's sister. When Chayo becomes pregnant and they change their mind about adoption, Marta has a witch doctor put a curse on Chayo's unborn baby, setting in motion a series of tragic events.

Reaching Out
by Francisco Jiménez
(non-fiction, 213 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 6.1)

From the perspective of the young adult he was then, Francisco Jiménez describes the challenges he faced in his efforts to continue his education. During his college years, the very family solidarity that allowed Francisco to survive as a child is tested. Not only must he leave his family behind when he goes to Santa Clara University, but while Francisco is there, his father abandons the family and returns to Mexico. This is the story of how Francisco coped with poverty, with his guilt over leaving his family financially strapped, with his self-doubt about succeeding academically, and with separation. Once again his telling is honest, true, and inspiring.

Return to Sender
by Julia Alvarez
(fiction, 352 pgs., ages 8 and up, book level: 5.5)

After Tyler's father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn't sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences?

The Short Sweet Dream of Eduardo Gutierrez
by Jimmy Breslin
(non-fiction, 224 pgs., book level: 6.8)

When a building under construction in Brooklyn collapsed on November 23, 1999, Eduardo Gutierrez, a 21-year-old Mexican day laborer working on the third floor, fell face-first into liquid concrete below. Trapped, he suffocated to death. Here, longtime New York newspaper columnist, Breslin, gives voice and respect to the powerless like Gutierrez. He compassionately portrays the drudgery and loneliness consuming the lives of hardworking but undocumented immigrants while fearlessly revealing the questionable procedures and corruption that enabled the builders to develop their shoddy structures.

Socialist Dreams and Beauty Queens
by Jamie Maslin
(non-fiction, 304 pgs.)

Couchsurfer, hitchhiker, and rogue wanderer Jamie Maslin embarks on a couchsurfing adventure to the homeland of "firebrand," "populist," "anti-American" president Hugo Chavez of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Often irreverent, frequently informative, and habitually funny, this is the remarkable account of a young adventurer’s journey through a breathtakingly beautiful and dynamic country where the politics of oil and social revolution are never far from the surface.

Taking Sides
by Gary Soto
(fiction, 103 pgs., ages 8 and up, book level: 4.4)

Lincoln Mendoza and his mother have just moved from a San Francisco barrio to a wealthy, predominantly white suburb. He misses his Hispanic friends, the noise, camaraderie, and even the dirt and fights in his old neighborhood. Having made first-string on the basketball team, he finds that the coach dislikes him for no good reason. Plot development hinges on an upcoming game between his new school and the old one. As the big day approaches, Lincoln cannot decide which team he wants to win. He's not sure where he truly belongs, but the game helps to clarify this for him. The conflicts of old vs. new and Hispanic vs. white culture are clearly delineated. So is the fact that the differences are not as great as they first appear.

The Underdogs: A Novel of the Mexican Revolution
by Mariano Azuela
(fiction, 153 pgs., book level: 6.0)

To save his family, Demetrio Macias, a peace-loving, naive Indian, becomes swept up in the mounting revolution of 1910 against the tyranny of Dictator Porfirio Diaz, as he rises to become a general in the army of Pancho Villa.

Under the Mesquite
by Guadalupe Garcia McCall
(fiction, 224 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 5.7)

Lupita, a budding actor and poet in a close-knit Mexican American immigrant family, comes of age as she struggles with adult responsibilities during her mother's battle with cancer in this young adult novel in verse. As Lupita struggles to keep the family afloat, she takes refuge in the shade of a mesquite tree, where she escapes the chaos at home to write. Forced to face her limitations in the midst of overwhelming changes and losses, Lupita rediscovers her voice and finds healing in the power of words.

Voices in First Person: Reflections on Latino Identity
Lori Marie Carlson (Editor)
(non-fiction, 96 pgs., ages 12 and up, book level: 4.6)

This eclectic, gritty, and groundbreaking collection of short monologues features twenty-one of the most respected Latino authors writing today, including Sandra Cisneros, Oscar Hijuelos, Esmeralda Santiago, and Gary Soto. Their fictional narratives give voice to what it's like to be a Latino teen in America.

We Were Here
by Mat de la Pena
(fiction, 356 pgs., ages 14 and up, book level: 5.0)

Haunted by the event that sentences him to time in a group home, Miguel breaks out with two unlikely companions and together they begin their journey down the California coast hoping to get to Mexico and a new life.

When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir
by Esmeralda Santiago
(non-fiction, 289 pgs., book level: 6.0)

Esmeralda Santiago's story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. As she enters school we see the clash, both hilarious and fierce, of Puerto Rican and Yankee culture. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be eleven children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity.

by Julia Alvarez
(fiction, 322 pgs., book level: 6.1)

Yolanda Garcia has managed to put herself at the center of many lives. Each part of this novel is told from the viewpoint of one of those first tangled in her web and now frozen in the spotlight her literary fame has generated. While everybody from her three sisters to her third husband attempts to sort out Yo's character, motivations, and behavior, Yo herself never speaks on her own behalf, even though, in her native Spanish, her nickname means "I."


El Norte (141 minutes, Rated R)

Brother and sister Enrique and Rosa flee persecution at home in Guatemala and journey north, through Mexico and on to the United States, with the dream of starting a new life. It's a story that happens every day, but until Gregory Nava's groundbreaking El Norte (The North), the personal travails of immigrants crossing the border to America had never been shown in the movies with such urgent humanism. A work of social realism imbued with dreamlike imagery, El Norte is a lovingly rendered, heartbreaking story of hope and survival, which critic Roger Ebert called a Grapes of Wrath for our time.

The Mission (125 minutes, Rated PG)

Featuring a majestic score by Ennio Morricone and lush Oscar-winning cinematography by Chris Menges. It won the top prize at Cannes in 1986 and was nominated for a Best Film Oscar. The film is shot through with piercing, haunting imagery, pictures of enduring imaginative force. A visually stunning epic, The Mission recounts the story of two men--a man of the sword (Robert De Niro) and a man of the cloth (Jeremy Irons)--both Jesuit missionaries who defied the colonial forces of mighty Spain and Portugal to save an Indian tribe from slavery in mid-18th-century South America. Mendoza (De Niro) is a slave trader and colonial imperialist who murdered his own brother (Aidan Quinn) and seeks penance for his sins by becomining a missionary at Father Gabriel's (Irons) mountaintop mission. The Mission is a rich and thought-provoking. It contains moving images of despair, penance, and redemption that are among the most evocative ever filmed.

The Motorcycle Diaries (126 minutes, Rated R)

An inspirational adventure based on the true story of two young men (a young Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado) whose thrilling and dangerous road trip across latin america becomes a life-changing journey of self-discovery.

The Official Story (112 minutes, Rated R)

An Argentine teacher lives in blissful ignorance of the evils perpetrated by her country's government. Over time, however, her students' rejection of the "official" versions of their history leads her to question things herself. Suspecting that her adopted daughter may have been the child of a murdered political prisoner, she attempts to unearth the truth. But her investigation reveals levels of political corruption so abhorrent that the illusions of her past life are irrevocably shattered.

Romero (102 minutes, Rated PG-13)

Romero is a compelling and deeply moving look at the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who made the ultimate sacrifice in a passionate stand against social injustice and oppression in his country. This film chronicles the transformation of Romero from an apolitical, complacent priest to a committed leader of the Salvadoran people. Acclaimed actor Raul Julia stars as this man of God forced by the unspeakable events going on around him to take a stand -- a stand that ultimately leads to his assassination in 1980 at the hands of the military junta.

Sugar (120 minutes, Rated R)

Sugar is the inspirational story of Miguel Santos, a gifted pitcher struggling to make it to the big leagues of American baseball. Nicknamed "Azúcar" (Spanish for "sugar"), 19-year-old Miguel travels from his poor but tightly-knit community in the Dominican Republic to play minor league baseball in the United States - where anything is possible. He finds himself in a small Iowa town, where he struggles with the culture, the language, and the pressure of knowing that only his success can rescue his family.

West Side Story (152 minutes, Rated PG)

This brilliant film sets the ageless story of Romeo and Juliet against a backdrop of gang warfare in 1950s New York. A love affair is fated for tragedy amidst the vicious rivalry of two street gangs: the Jets (comprised of white working-class youths) and the Sharks (comprised of Puerto Rican immigrants). When Jets member Tony falls for Maria, the sister of the Sharks leader, it's more than these two warring gangs can handle. And as mounting tensions rise, a battle to the death ensues, and innocent blood is shed in a heartbreaking finale.

The True Story of Che Guevara (History Channel) (91 minutes)

Argentine renegade Che Guevara led a life cloaked in mystery and obscured by legend. His powerful charisma and his dedication to worldwide revolution terrified some of the world's most influential men and left armies scrambling to destroy him. Immediately upon entering the international spotlight, Guevara was as passionately loved by some as he was hated by others. From a privileged childhood in Argentina to the lonely execution on the jungles of Bolivia, the life of Che Guevara is intimately revealed through interviews with his family, supporters, and enemies. This extraordinary documentary chronicles Che's transformative motorcycle trips through the poorest corners of South America, his leadership in the Cuban Revolution's decisive Battle of Santa Clara, and his transformation from government minister to full-fledged revolutionary.