Title: Blanca & Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: Young Adult/Magical Realism
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Notable Notables: Latina protagonists, LGBTQ+ characters
Recommended Readers: Fans of magical realism and fairytale retellings
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Man, am I ever disappointed at the rating I have to give Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore. I’m certain it’s purely the result of “It’s not you, it’s me” combined with a healthy dose of “wrong book, wrong time.”
Let me preface this by saying there is nothing inherently bad about this book. In fact, McLemore’s prose masterfully captures the dream-like quality you expect of magical realism along with a dash of purple prose that maintains its beauty without being excessive.
I love that the tales of Snow-White and Rose-Red as well as Swan Lake are retold here with two Latina girls at the forefront. Blanca and Roja del Cisne’s first-person narratives are masterfully steeped in Latinx culture. As both sisters fight for each other and themselves to fight the family curse that will turn one of them into a swan, readers also get a thorough understanding of how, all too often, Latinx girls are ultimately pitted against each other by family, society, and themselves to become something that they’re not, especially when it comes to adhering to standards of beauty and acceptance from white society. That is an incredibly powerful detail to include in a story like this as well as in a genre that is dominated by white female protagonists.
The LGBTQ representation here is also some of the strongest I’ve ever seen in the genre. Blanca falls in love with a trans boy named Page, who uses both “he” and “she” pronouns to refer to himself, accepting the term “boy” while rejecting the term “girl.” “He” and “she” were used throughout the book, especially from the POV of different characters to reflect Page’s current mindset, and none of it ever felt forced or confusing. Even when Page is misgendered, it isn’t done in a malicious way but rather by characters who are reaching for understanding of what she wants to be called. Page’s budding relationship with Blanca is one of the most beautiful things within the story, and I still smile whenever I think about Page’s grandmother and Yearling’s grandmother also having a live-in relationship.
However, while these two notables are undeniably strong and well-written, the story drags too much, and I feel like some of the prose and character’s thoughts are repeated more than I typically like. What happened to Yearling and his eye is delayed too long, to the point where it is anticlimactic when it is finally revealed, and not even the impact of the prose can save it.
Similarly, the rift that occurs between Blanca and Roja is also born from one of my least favorite things in fiction–miscommunication. While it fits the narrative of Latinx girls and their struggles that McLemore wants to tell, it makes the rest of the book exhausting to get through. “Just talk to each other!” I thought over and over again, but alas, the sisters continued to misread and assume things about each other instead.
Blanca & Roja is also a novel where nothing much happens. While I didn’t expect this book to be action-packed, I hadn’t thought it would crawl, either. If you like books that are character-heavy over plot-heavy and you can latch onto these characters, then I’m sure you won’t mind the lack of excitement. I’m just not the biggest fan of the choice.
Even the way the curse is broken feels too convenient and anticlimactic for me, but maybe that’s because I was too frustrated or bored with everything else that had led to that point. I think I had really wanted to be reading other books while I was reading this one, and that’s where those unsatisfied feelings were coming from.
I truly believe this will be a novel that many people will like. I think it’s a much-needed addition to the YA genre. Readers are going to love Blanca, Roja, Page, and Yearling, the obstacles they have to overcome, and their journeys to get there. I just wasn’t one of them.