While some holidays that the Internet celebrates seem bogus (National Blueberry Popsicle Day, anyone?) National Hispanic Heritage Month is legit, and it’s happening right now. Taking place from September 15 to October 15, the month honors and recognizes Hispanic and Latino people who have helped make this country great. Whether you’re Latino yourself or you want to learn more about the 17 percent of the US population that is, discovering more about this culture is a great way to celebrate. Scroll on for our fave books that tell a compelling story about what it means to be Latino. Some are classics, some are out this month, but trust us — they’re all worth reading.
1. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet ($19): Released last month, this book is generating big buzz from Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair, to name a few. Lizet is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and attends a private university in the Northeast — something her family could never have dreamed of. But juggling her college experience with family drama back at home is difficult. The challenging dance of trying to balance two different cultures is all too real.
2. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros ($6): Equal parts heartwarming and insightful, this book is a series of short stories, all told through a Latina girl named Esperenza, who is living in Chicago. People in Esperenza’s run-down town might have low expectations for the woman she will become, but she has bigger dreams for herself.
3. When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago ($13): In this true story, Esmerelda Santiago writes about what it was like growing up in Puerto Rico. Spoiler alert: It was complicated. When her family uproots and moves to New York, she’s suddenly thrown into a whole new culture. Seeing what it is like for a child trying to navigate a new life in the US is truly eye-opening.
4. Hollywood Notebook by Wendy Ortiz ($15): Not all the books on this list are told through the eyes of a schoolgirl. In Hollywood Notebook, a 20-something living in LA invites readers into her world as she tackles relationships, family drama and trying to figure out how to become a functioning adult in a city she wants to adopt as her home.
5. A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernández ($13): This memoir not only tackles what it’s like to grow up as a Cuban-Colombian, but also what it’s like to grow up gay. Hernandez confesses her experiences finding a new community where she could freely be herself, without letting go of her roots.
6. The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli ($13): This novel is about Gustavo, a guy who collects teeth from famous people, like Virginia Woolf and Plato. Seriously. Gustavo takes readers on a voyage from Chicago to Mexico City. It’s a quirky plot, and you can’t help but get sucked in.
7. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez ($9): You knew this one was coming, right? If you escaped having to read it in school, now’s the time to pick it up. The novel is about a young couple very much in love, but things fall apart and the woman in question marries someone else. But her beau will never give up on their love…
8. By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño ($10): When a book starts with, “I’m dying now, but I still have many things to say,” you know you’re in for a powerful read. This novella is about a man who dreamed of being a poet when he was young, but grew up to become a priest instead. It’s about what it means to be flawed. Oh, and Marxism. It’s also about that.
9. Cool Salsa by Lori Marie Carlson ($10): Grab your nieces and nephews and read aloud some of the beautiful poems (written in both English and Spanish) in this collection. It celebrates the double life millions of Latino American kids lead. One culture is fun, but two? How lucky.
10. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero ($11): Get a glimpse at the (fictional) diary of a Latina high-school girl who definitely has her fair share of friend drama and family issues. She struggles to cope with her father’s drug addiction, the news that her close friend is pregnant and, of course, crushes. In the midst of it all, she discovers who she is, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch unfold.
11. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez ($15): What is it like to leave Latin America and come to the US? This book shows you, plainly and profoundly. The voices vary, but what stays the same is the longing for keeping those you love close, no matter what comes.
12. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros ($14): When you’re assimilated to life in America, but your extended family has a very different life in Latin America, it can be a challenge to relate to them. For Lala, a teen who visits her grandmother every year in Mexico City, it’s hard for her to understand her grandmother’s life. Learning the truth is painful, but it’s something she must discover to, in turn, learn who she is.
13. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz ($9): This one is a best-seller for a reason: It’s both gripping and poetically written. All Oscar dreams of is becoming a famous writer and falling in love, but those dreams seem like a far cry from the reality of his mundane life in New Jersey, where he’s teased for being fat. In his sweet tone, Oscar tells the story of his Dominican-American family and shows that he will never give up on love.
14. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz ($9): For any teen, it’s your friends who shape you, and Aristotle and Dante are no exception. Both loners, they meet by chance and become fast friends. Though they are both 15, they’re very different from each other and it’s only by learning about each other that they learn even more about themselves.
Are we leaving off one of your favorites? Share it in the comments.