Identifying and Promoting Three Game-Changing Multicultural Texts for Youth

By Luke Morales

I have previously published work on the importance of multicultural literature, citing its ability to educate readers on culture, to foster empathy and curiosity, to positively influence perceptions of those whose beliefs differ from the reader’s own, and to promote positive identity development. Growing up, I have always imagined the main characters of my favorite books as white, and it was not until I got older that I started to seek out multicultural literature. I sometimes wonder how different I would be now had I been exposed to representative literature from a young age. I also often question why there is still a lack of literature featuring Latin American characters specifically. Though the search for answers in this regard may prove eye-opening to many readers, finding these answers is not the purpose of this piece. Rather, I would like to take the time to share with you a few recent novels featuring Latin American characters which I have enjoyed, and which I hope you may enjoy as well. 

Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston, 2019 

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. 

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you? Goodreads 

This novel forever holds a special place in my heart for being the first one I have read to feature a queer character of color as its protagonist. It even has a happy ending. Plus, who doesn’t love a good enemies-to-lovers rom-com? 

Red, White & Royal Blue is a particularly interesting read because while not necessarily advertised as young adult literature, it tackles many issues that queer youth specifically face, including the sociocultural construction of “coming out,” stigma surrounding queerness, familial pressure, self-acceptance, and forbidden love. While these issues plague many adult queer folk, LGBTQ+ populations are introduced to themes such as these from their earliest memories. 

The story may also act as a kind of reimagining of the real world in which we live. Author Casey McQuiston began the novel in 2016—a year which I personally do not particularly love to think on, for obvious reasons. This can be telling of what was going through McQuiston’s head when they wrote it. Ultimately, this novel would be a perfect read and re-read for those looking to find celebration and empowerment in love and identity, and I would recommend it to any LGBTQ+ person who has not yet had the opportunity to experience happy endings in queer romance, especially to readers who would like to see Latin American representation in literature (Alex and his family are Mexican). 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, 2012  

Dante can swim. Ari can't. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari's features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself. 

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side. Goodreads 

This coming-of-age story takes place in 1987 El Paso, Texas, and its themes primarily revolve around family and friendship. I read this book around the same time I read Red, White & Royal Blue, and it similarly resonated with me in a way that I’d never experienced prior to reading the two. I have come to realize that these two books were so impactful to me because of the fact that never before had I read queer romance, much less a queer romance featuring characters of color (Ari and Dante are both Mexican). It was a culture shock: I’d been so used to reading the white cis heterosexual story that I had not realized what was lacking in the literature I was reading until I was well into my teens. 

Author Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s brilliant writing had me falling in love with Ari and Dante—as much as they were falling in love with each other—and with this story also having a happy ending, I could not have been happier with the time spent invested in this text. A sequel came out recently, for those interested (I have a million and one other books to get through first, but based on my experience with the first, I am confident it will not disappoint)! 

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo, 2018 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.  

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. 

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself. 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. 

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. Goodreads 

The last book I will be mentioning in this list is The Poet X. This one is not a queer romance—instead, it follows 15-year-old Xiomara as she discovers slam poetry, and unlike the aforementioned literature, Elizabeth Acevedo writes Xiomara’s story in free verse. Growing up in a Latin American family, I related strongly to the hold that religion has over Xiomara’s life, with her being belonging to a Dominican family. Through poetry, Xiomara finds ways to express her frustration with Catholicism, her parents, her body. I could go as far as to say her poetry becomes her religion. 

I was never really any kind of poet myself (nor had I previously ever read poetry for enjoyment), but Acevedo’s blend of narrative storytelling and free verse poetry had me wholeheartedly invested in Xiomara’s story. Covering topics on identity, rebellion, and acceptance, I would include The Poet X as a must-read piece of multicultural literature among today’s youth. 

These three pieces of literature are what I think of when I imagine useful and authentic multicultural text for younger audiences. I will mention again that, though Red, White & Royal blue has some language and content that may not coincide with the current (and in my opinion outdated) ideals surrounding youth, with innocence being a key player, the novel has taken the young adult world by storm. It is my firm belief that the three works I have shared in this piece are just a few examples of literature that may provide teens with the comfort and knowledge that queer happiness exists, that cultural representation exists, that they are valid, and that they are not nearly as alone as they may think. While the publishing industry has a long way to go, I am happy that I can at least now say that every day, it becomes ever so slightly easier to find authentic multicultural voices reflected in books accessible to us all. 


 

References 

Acevedo, E. (2018). The Poet X. HarperTeen. 

Goodreads. (2022). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Goodreads. 

Goodreads. (2022). Red, White & Royal Blue. Goodreads. 

Goodreads (2022). The Poet X. Goodreads. 

McQuiston, C. (2019). Red, White & Royal Blue. St Martin’s Griffin. 

Sáenz, B. A. (2012). Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster. 

 

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