I accidentally wound up reading several Cybils books in a row by Latinx authors. Here, the author of Esperanza Rising and Echo (among many others) returns with Mañanaland, which wound up in the Cybils as speculative fiction because it has an imaginary geography, even though there is no magic.
Mañanaland by Pam Muñoz Ryan. Read by Roxana Ortega. Scholastic, 2020. ISBN 978-1338157864. Listened to audiobook on Hoopla.
Max loves his Buelo’s stories, even though his father isn’t too fond of them. He also loves playing fútbol with the other boys and is excited that he’s finally old enough to try out for the village team. But a chain of events that starts with a rumor that the new coach is going to require birth certificates ends up with Max more desperate than ever to know why his mother left and never came back, and his father leaving to try to get a new one for him. And when the not-so-nice village boys start talking about “illegals” and the people who help them, Max learns that his family is part of a secret network known as the Guardians that helped people from the neighboring country, under a repressive regime, escape to Mañanaland. Suddenly, Max is sure that if he, too, could make it to Mañanaland, he could find his mother and fix everything that’s wrong with his life. But the journey there will change how he views almost everything…
It is curious to me that this book is cataloged right in the official subject headings as “fantasy fiction.” The geography is imagined, but could be any number of places. And while Max’s Buelo’s stories sound like fairy tales, as the story goes on, we learn that they, like much of the book, are real life couched in language that feels magic. Which might make it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I really did. I loved the push to find the magic in everyday life, to look outside of your own problems and stand up and be the hero for people who are even worse off than you. Many of the refugees are women who have left because of abuse or forced marriages, so although these facts take up very little time in the story, our adventure story written for a boy interested in typical boy things is also a saying that women’s rights are a concern for everyone. And while I’ve talked here just about Max and his father and grandfather, his relationships with his aunts and uncle and best friend, as well as the new friends he makes on the journey, are also well-rounded and an important part of the story. While it may not satisfy someone looking for spells and dragons, this realism through a fantastical lens has broad appeal for a lot of readers. Roxana Ortega’s reading brings out both the individual characters and the mythic feeling of the story.
Here are some more great speculative fiction books by Latinx authors I read this year:
- Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster
- Paola Santiago and the River of Tears by Tehlor Kay Mejia
- Thunder Run by Daniel José Older
- Muse Squad by Chantel Acevedo
- Charlie Hernández & the Castle of Bones by Ryan Calejo
- Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon
- Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe by Carlos Hernandez
- Ghost Squad by Claribel Ortega
- Mixture of Mischief by Anna Meriano
This book has been nominated for the Cybils award. This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.