Title: Blanca and Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Macmillan- Feiwel and Friends
My Rating: ★★★★★
The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.
The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.
ARC provided by Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.
“There will always be two daughters. But we will always take one back.
What would you do if you knew, from the day you were born, that it was always going to be you or your sister? That one day, the swans – los cisnes – will take one of you as their own, to live the rest of your days with wings and away from everyone you love?
Blanca y Roja follows the story of two sisters who, for generations, have always had to surrender one of their daughters to a group of swans that live in their woods. The daughter is chosen by the swans after their 15th birthday, and the threat of losing everything usually pits the sisters against each other. Blanca and Roja decide to try it differently: they try to become so alike that the swans cannot choose, and remain close and each other’s best friends. They thought they’ve won – until one day the swans appear. As the girls fight to save each other and themselves, their story twines with that of two boys who’ve experienced the strange magic of the woods.
This book is about so many things – family, friendship, love, betrayal, bravery, acceptance, identity. And it is complete and utter perfection. I loved this book completely and with my whole soul from start to finish. There is not a single thing I did not enjoy. This is easily one of my top 5 books of 2018, and may be #1.
Let me touch first on the writing. I’ve never read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s other books – but I sure as hell will now. The writing in this book was so haunting and gorgeous. I felt so completely transported into the woods right alongside the sisters and the boys. It was so vivid and descriptive, I could picture everything exactly. The writing itself was magical, and weaved it’s own sort of spell right alongside the swans.
I also fell completely in love with the four main characters.
Blanca: Blanca is the sister who everyone expects to remain human. She is gentle, sweet, and as pure as her name. She loves Roja and will do anything to save her, even if it means sacrificing herself. My favorite part about Blanca is how she grows throughout the story. She finds her own sort of courage, her own way of fighting, and she never wavers in her mission to save Roja.
Good girls had their own ways of hitting back.
Roja: Roja is the daughter everyone expects to be taken, even herself. She is all sharp edges and wild anger. She’s difficult and fierce and tries her hardest not to resent her sister for being everything that she isn’t.
I wasn’t just fighting her to survive the swans. I had been fighting her my whole life to be seen.
Page: Page is easily my favorite character. Page is gender fluid, identifies as a boy but also likes to be called she/her pronouns – but not girl or young lady. He’s been fighting gender constraints her whole life and feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. His parents love him but can’t understand him, and he’s never met anyone who’s accepted him unconditionally – before Barclay, who becomes his best friend. Page is kind, loyal, and ultimately I want to put him in my pocket and keep him safe forever and ever.
There was no room for me to ask to be called both him and her. There were already too many people who thought I was just a failure as a girl. They wouldn’t listen long enough for me to say that I had never been one. I was a boy who had to bear the same assumption so many girls endured, that I was simply the wrong kind of girl.
Barclay: Barclay comes from an affluent family that doesn’t always feel like a family – his mom is something of a socialite who only cares about appearance, and his father is aggressive who encourages brawls between Barclay and his cousin, Liam (who I hate). Barclay escapes into the wood to lose his own name, and when he meets Blanca and Roja he goes by Yearling in an effort to cast off all he knows and hates about his family. As the story develops, he learns that becoming someone new doesn’t always help you escape what’s chasing you.
This was the thing I knew, the thing I’d been trying to tell Barclay for so long: even if there is no retracing your path, no unbreaking what has been broken, the heart of you, the heart of everything, can still knit back together.
The representation and diversity of this book is incredible. Beyond the Latina sisters, their family, and the bits of their heritage and culture that peak through, there’s a Lesbian relationship and a gender fluid/trans character. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better mix.
This book is so important, and touches on so many hard things. It’s about friendship, and what that really means. It’s about family, and the love and sacrifice that comes with it, but it’s also about making your own family – the people who will love and accept you for everything you are and everything you aren’t. It’s about deciding who you are for yourself, not letting anyone else tell you what you should be, and giving yourself that same unconditional love that your family does. It’s about discovering what first love is, with all it’s sharp edges and soft, stollen moments. Ultimately, this book is the deepest love story I have ever read, and I mean every kind of love under the sun.
I’ll leave you all with my very favorite quote from this book – and it didn’t come from the story. It came from the Author’s Note.
For me, the point where fairy tales and magical realism intersect is this: We find what is beautiful in what is broken. We find what is heartening in what is terrifying. We find the stars in the woods’ deepest shadows…My hope for you, reader, for all of us, is two sides of the same wish: that the world gives us each the space to write our own story, and that we leave room for each other’s stories. They are where our heart survives.
Blanca y Roja releases on October 9. Go buy this book. I promise you will not regret it.
Any quotes are taken from an ARC and may be altered by pub date.