Anna-Marie McLemore never disappoints.
Not only Blanca & Roja is a beautifully-written retelling of Snow White and Rose Red meets Swan Lake featuring latinx, trans and disabled protagonists. It’s also a story about finding the truth about yourself amidst all the lies, and defying the binaries society taught you were necessary.
As usual, what stood out to me first about Blanca & Roja was the writing. I could visualize everything perfectly. The apple is never just an apple, it’s a symbol and an apple of that specific variety, because not all apples are alike. The food scenes make you crave the food and make you understand what the characters feel about that food, what it means for them, and what it means for the story. The writing is at the same time symbolic and meticulous, and Anna-Marie McLemore is without a doubt one of the most skilled YA writers I know.
That’s not to say I like this story just because the writing is wonderful and really pretty. That’s true, and that would be enough to make a four-star book, but what makes me love a book are the characters and the themes.
Blanca & Roja is a story about cursed sisters, beautiful, sweet Blanca and wild, reckless Roja. But they’re so much more than those adjectives, and so much more than their curse, just like their love interests – respectively the non-binary boy Page and the disabled boy Barclay/Yearling – are more than just the boys who disappeared, and more than what their families thought they could be. This is a story about giving yourself the space to be different from what you thought you were or had to be.
It’s a story about girls challenging the idea that they have to be either good or bad, as society often tells women, and as latinx girls, they also learn that they do not need to fit the white-passing, nonthreatening stereotype or the mysterious, exotic one. It’s a story about carving your own path, your own story, your own ending. This is also why not really finding out the “reason” of the swans’ curse worked for me. Often, we follow traditions and do things just because people before us did, because people before us said it was the only way. We often don’t need a why to not realize that we can be different.
Page’s journey was probably my favorite part of the book. Page is a non-binary boy who uses he/him and she/her pronouns – this is probably the first YA book I’ve ever seen that talks about the fact that pronouns ≠ gender – who realizes he doesn’t have to choose one just because most people think he should.
Barclay’s character arc was also really interesting (and at times heartbreaking) to read. He’s a boy born in a violent, dishonest, abusive family, and he has to adjust himself to a disability – he doesn’t see out of one of his eyes anymore.
I loved the romances. There aren’t many standalone books that manage to have two well-developed romance storylines and also a sweet side f/f couple. My favorite romance was Page and Blanca’s, it was real to me in a way few romances are.
There was just one scene that prevents me from giving this book a full five stars instead of 4.75. It’s a scene in which the only character who isn’t a believer insults the (religious) main character’s beliefs.
I hated that scene. I hate it, even though it’s irrational for me to feel that way, even though I know from experience that white atheist boys are often like that – they try to justify their own awful actions by cherry-picking whatever irrelevant “science fact” they feel mirrors their situation, and also feel objective for that.
And it still hurts, because I’m still a girl who grew up in a religious place in which people forced a religion on me for years, and I still live with that, and I have to live with them acting like I’ve insulted their beliefs every time I remind them that I don’t believe and they can’t make me. And after all of that they still feel like they’re the victims. Of course the only character who ever insults other people’s beliefs is an atheist! Of course the only atheist in the book insults other people’s beliefs! The opposite absolutely never happens!
It’s heavily subjective, I know, and please don’t let it deter you from picking up this gem of a book if you haven’t yet.
My rating: ★★★★¾