Realistic young adult fiction holds a special place in the hearts of many readers. It is a genre that offers relatable stories and voices that resonate with our communities, a sentiment that holds true regardless of one's age but is particularly crucial for the younger generation. Two remarkable authors, Mayra Cuevas and Jessica Parra, write on life, love, and being true to yourself through a contemporary lens.
Jessica Parra, author of Rubi Ramo’s Recipe for Success takes readers on an exploration of dreams. The story delves into the dreams inherited from one's parents and the dreams one holds for oneself. As a diaspora child, Rubi uses the language of food to forge a connection to her Cuban heritage. The narrative touches on the universal theme of navigating aspirations and identity.
Drawing on her experience as a journalist, Mayra Cuevas is a storyteller whose work authentically captures the experiences of Puerto Ricans, Caribeños, and Latinx people residing in the mainland United States. Her stories encompass love, family, cultural identity, and social justice. Her work paints vivid pictures of everyday joys, life celebrations, struggles, loss, and the pain within our communities. These culturally specific stories depict a universal emotional experience and the opportunity for people outside our communities to feel the truth behind our lived experiences.
One such project, Does My Body Offend You?, co-authored with Marie Marquardt, seeks to tell a story of allyship, empathy, and compassion. It strives to dismantle walls and erect bridges through storytelling. These stories don't merely captivate readers; they reflect facets of the readers themselves onto the pages.
Discussing the importance of supporting underrepresented communities, Parra notes:
"Libraries can support the voices of unrepresented communities by giving them a safe space to discover all types of stories. Especially stories that reflect local cultures and experiences."
While Cuevas firmly believes that "Stories have power. And nothing is more powerful than a story that changes the narrative against historically oppressed and marginalized communities—systemically the object of most book bans. These stories have the power to humanize, normalize, and build inclusive spaces for people excluded or pushed to the fringes of society. Books are a revolution." Cuevas tells us, "For the Latinx community, that means not only stories of immigration, pain, abuse, or overcoming tragedy but also stories of love, joy, celebration, and following your dreams. They are all equally important. This mission is one of the reasons why I co-founded the Latinx Kidlit Book Festival, as a vehicle to celebrate the breadth and depth of stories in our communities." With its annual powerhouse speakers, this festival is definitely one to look for.
Looking ahead, readers can anticipate Maya Cuevas's debut picture book, an adult fiction novel, and a new YA novel co-authored with Marie Marquardt, a Romeo and Juliet-esque story set in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Along with teaching in an MFA program, Cuevas is, of course, planning the next Latinx Kidlit Book Festival in celebration of Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month.
Meanwhile, Jessica Parra is working on The Quince Project, another YA contemporary story that follows "a Latina party planner who unexpectedly finds love—and herself—after loss. It may or may not be my reimagining of the J Lo classic, The Wedding Planner." Like her previous book, this "features family at its center, but there is a romance, and lots of Disney and Star Wars fun, as the party the main character plans is a Star Wars quinceañera!" Readers eagerly await the chance to devour all these captivating books soon!
Mayra Cuevas and Jessica Parra will be two of the featured authors at the Los Angeles Libros Festival, a free bilingual book festival for the whole family celebrating stories and music from Latin America and the United States. L.A. Libros Fest will be streamed live on YouTube on Friday, September 29, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. The Festival will be in-person at Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, September 30, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.