Modern Fantasy · Review · Young Adult

Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore | Book Review

Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, library book on a brown background

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Pub. Date: 2018

Genres: Magical Realism, Retelling, YA

Pages: 367

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Blanca & Roja, by Anna-Marie McLemore, retells two of my favorite fairy tales, Snow-White and Rose-Red and The Wild Swans, with two Latina girls and a non-binary prince. Blanca and Roja del Cisne are the next two girls in a long line of women who were born in their exact pair because of a blessing and curse from the swans who raised their great-great-great-grandmother. This was a blessing to the original bisabuela, but it has been a curse for every pair because the swans always turn at least one sister into one of them. Blanca and Roja refuse to let the swans win, but the swans always have other plans so that they get their prize. When two local boys enter the picture, the swans’ magic and the woods’ magic intertwine. The only way all four have any hope of survival is if they can face the truth. Told in four points of view, Blanca & Roja weaves a unique, magical-realism story about sisterhood, friendship, love, and betrayal, and it keeps you on your toes.

I liked all four characters’ whose perspectives we get. I usually decide I don’t like at least one character’s perspective once a book has too many perspectives, but this book got me to like all of them. We see the two del Cisne girls’ perspectives, a local wealthy boy, and an apple farmer’s son who identifies with both he and she, depending on the context. Their perspectives are distinct from each other, and they are very clear. However, there were times where I was frustrated because some characters, like Blanca, explained so much to me, the reader, that I just wished she would leave some things for me to discover. That’s made worse by every perspective being in first person.

The titular characters’ relationship and desire to save each other before doomsday was beautiful and heartbreaking. I liked seeing them try to fight back against humans’ attempts at splitting them up. I also liked that they were assigned the colors that matched their names for because that detail added to the fairy-tale feel. I can’t say that I cared for a retelling of Snow-White and Rose-Red having the sisters be each other’s enemy, especially over one of the boys, but I can let it go because it worked and because McLemore explains it in her Author’s Note. She writes,

So often, Latina women are called to rip ourselves apart, to reduce ourselves to versions who can be easily understood. So often, it pits us against each other. And the only way we survive is to find our way back to each other and ourselves, to resist the idea that we must be one version of ourselves or another.

(McLemore 369-70)

Because of this explanation, I can deal with their conflict with each other, caused by secrets and a lack of communication, a lot better. Even though this type of conflict annoyed me, I appreciate that the author still surprised me in how the sisters’ conflict culminated and was resolved.

Then we have the two boys from the main fairy tale: Yearling and Page Ashby. They are not brothers, but they’re close enough friends to be siblings. Yearling comes from a wealthy family that isn’t as good and ethical as it would like you to believe. He plays big brother to Page. Page tries to deal with his community’s and family’s reactions to his gender identity and friendship with Yearling. They care for each other enough to chase after the other, and they can be frank with each other about trust. A fun little LGBT-related note is that the two grannies of Page and Yearling are in a relationship.

I enjoyed the language used in this book. It’s beautiful and magical in the way that fairy tales are told, but it uses modern-enough language to keep my interest level. I also loved that what Spanish was included was not italicized or immediately translated after it was written. It reminds me of what one of my English professors once said in class. They said something along the lines of treating Spanish in this way appears frequently in Chicano/a literature having to do with the target audience, who would understand those words and sentences easily. Jennifer De Leon explains this idea better in her article about using italics for foreign words.

The ending was also impressive for its creativity and cleverness and for giving consequences for characters’ actions. The only thing I wish was that it was as easy to follow as the rest of the book, but I see more of these clever-twist endings that I have some trouble following in magical-realism books.

This is a beautiful fairy-tale retelling about siblings, sacrifice, and fighting back. I highly recommend reading it for the retelling, the themes, the diversity of characters, and the surprises.

6 thoughts on “Blanca y Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore | Book Review

  1. Oh, wow, this sounds like a really neat book. I absolutely adore beyond all measure how much fiction, especially YA, is beginning to look a lot more like the real world. My son attends high school with students whose skin comes in every shade, from dozens of different countries, whose home languages are quite often something other than English. He has friends who are gay, straight, bisexual, and transgender. He has a fabulously inclusive group at school, and I love so much that the kids who don’t have these groups can still see themselves in books like this. What a wonderful thing representation truly is.

    Thanks for the great review!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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