Updated: Jan 3
by DWA Book Review Staff
It’s been quite a year for Dominican writers. This year approximately 20+ writers published traditionally and another 20 decided to take creative control and self-published. As a platform dedicated to ensuring visibility and recognition for our authors, we are immensely proud of all who have published in 2022.
As #dominicanreaders we’ve been able to enjoy an abundance of books, our one reviewer was so overwhelmed that we had to bring in another reviewer to even out the load. As best we could, our small team kept track of titles across genres, from adult fiction to books tailored for young readers.
While the publication of each book by a Dominican writer is a win, we wanted to celebrate and share some of our most memorable reads from this year. Here’s to our stories, and those that are yet to be written.
Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera
Cleyvis Natera brought us an intricate story about Eusebia Guerrero and her daughter, Luz Guerrero, who take markedly different paths when faced with gentrification in their predominantly-Dominican neighborhood. This novel brings plenty of intrigue as Eusebia concocts a crime ring to try to stop a nearby luxury condo building from going up. Meanwhile, Luz finds herself falling for the white developer of the company her mother fervently opposes. What we loved about Neruda is Natera’s rich and spot-on portrait of a community under threat, and the lengths at which one will go to protect home. This novel is both direct and tender in its prose and message, and we’re happy to see it added to the canon of Dominican-American literature.
Islands Apart by Jasminne Mendez
Jasminne Mendez’s memoir, Islands Apart: Becoming Dominican American, made us feel truly seen. Set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Islands Apart takes us to Mendez’s early childhood years, where she unpacks living in the South as a Black Dominican girl, feeling out of place because of it, as well as familial relationships between her mother, father, siblings, and other external family members. Mendez, who described her memoir as more of a chapbook essay, focuses each story based on her firsts — first period, first crush, and first friend. In her review, our book reviewer Andreina Rodriguez shared that the memoir helped her unpack some of her own childhood experiences. Maybe it could do the same for you. This is a great read if you love short memoirs focused on the adolescent experience.
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz
With a great deal of love and an embracing of flaws, novelist Angie Cruz crafted an unforgettable voice in 56-year-old Cara Romero, a dominicana who has to participate in NYC’s Senior Workforce Program in order to keep receiving unemployment benefits. How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water is brilliant in its unique structure – we hear Cara’s story unfold over twelve sessions with a job counselor. Cara is an oversharer, to which we felt both delight and disquiet. The book feels in part like an homage to our culture’s rich oral storytelling, which many times relies on unreliable narrators. Cara wants you to see her story as she carves it, but we’re on this journey with her. We learn about her past, her darkest secrets, regrets, and what brings her joy. Like many other readers who love this book, we came away having felt enriched and moved by one woman’s life story. We recommend this novel for anyone who loves stories about the immigrant experience or about unlikely heroines.
Until Someone Listens by Estela Juarez with Lissette Norman
At the 2020 Democratic National Convention, a video was played of an 11-year-old girl named Estela Juarez whose mother was deported back to Mexico. The letter Estela wrote was addressed to then-President Donald Trump, and described how her mother being sent back to her native country deeply impacted her family. Two years later, author Lissette Norman helped Estela adapt her story into a picture book illustrated by Teresa Martínez. Until Someone Listens begins with the image of a happy family in a house full of warmth and mom’s flautas. We were drawn into Estela’s world and into her mother’s journey from Mexico to building a life in the United States without proper documents. Together Norman and her co-writer were able translate the complexity of the U.S. immigration system into a compelling story for our youngest readers. This book is a perfect choice to teach children about a real life issue and to also teach them about empathy for others.
Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega
Claribel A. Ortega and debut artist Rose Bousamra brought us a middle-grade graphic novel about Marlene, a young Dominican girl who absolutely detests the frequent hair salon trips arranged by her mom. The book follows Marlene’s journey as she fights to stand up for herself and her natural curls. Frizzy explores issues close to home for the Dominican diaspora: hair politics, colorism, complex family dynamics, and more. This graphic novel is filled with heart, and perfect for any young reader in your life who may be struggling with their own self-acceptance.
Compromised Into a Scandalous Marriage by Lydia San Andres
Filled with romance and scandal, Lydia San Andres provided us with a story sure to satisfy your novela cravings in Compromised Into a Scandalous Marriage. By taking a piece of history from Dominican Republic’s national archives, San Andres successfully set the scene for Sebastian and Paulina’s story, which is both spicy and sweet. With its historical setting in Dominican Republic’s San Pedro de Macorís in the early 1900s, San Andres’ ability to capture the city’s ancient architecture, culture, and clothing was captivating. With Paulina’s wealth and Sebastian’s lack thereof, the novel hits many romance tropes from toxic familial relationships, economic inequity between the main characters, as well as the classic, will they or won’t they. If you love novelas and historical fiction romance novels, we highly recommend this.
We hope you enjoyed our list of staff picks for 2022 and we encourage you to join us in reading more and supporting books by Dominican authors. The year ahead is already positioned to be an exciting one. Just to name a few, we’ve got Family Lore — Elizabeth Acevedo’s first novel for adults — two more platáno picture books (Plátanos Go with Everything by Lissette Norman and Plátanos Are Love by Alyssa Reynoso-Morris) and The Making of Yolanda La Bruja, a YA novel by Lorraine Avila, and many more! If you have a book you’d like us to consider for a review, please contact us at email@example.com.
If you haven't picked up a Dominican book yet, start by shopping our list, share with family and friends and be sure to tag the authors on special media. Cheers to a new year with new stories!
Let us know in the comments which were your faves!