Best books by American Authors
If you’ve already laid in a supply of guacamole and stocked up on tequila for your Cinco de Mayo celebrations, may I suggest a more meaningful way to commemorate the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862? Why not honor the contributions of Mexican Americans to our country’s culture by reading an engrossing book? Here’s some great fiction to spark a literary fiesta, and by all means, fix yourself a margarita before you settle in to read.
I’ve been a fan of Gilb’s since reading his first novel, 1994’s The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, a sort of contemporary Waiting for Godot in which the title character waits for an important check while living at the YMCA in San Antonio. Gilb, who grew up in Los Angeles as the son of a Mexican immigrant mother, worked as a construction worker before beginning his literary career, and his characters are authentic and fascinating, sharing with readers a slice of life not often seen in contemporary literary fiction. Gilb’s most recent story collection, Before the End, After the Beginning, includes a brave, funny, and fierce fictionalized account of a man who wakes up in the hospital after suffering a stroke, inspired by Gilb’s own medical crisis.
by Sandra Cisneros
Sandra Cisneros’s captivating, minimalist debut The House on Mango Street, which drew on her experiences growing up in a Mexican immigrant family in Chicago, became an instant classic upon its publication in 1984, and is still a top choice for students and readers of any age. But for a novel that stretches out, has fun, and is anything but minimal, try Cisneros’s wonderful 2003 novel Caramelo. In it, young Lala is growing up in a Chicago-based Mexican American family when her parents decide to move to San Antonio. Written in lively language and infused with vibrant culture, stories, and humor, Caramelo is about as close as you’ll get to finding a fiesta in a book.
by Manuel Muñoz
Muñoz writes with precision and grace in his moving and structurally innovative 2011 novel What You See in the Dark. In it, Muñoz reimagines the filming of Psycho in Bakersfield, California, a town not far from Dinuba, where he grew up. He intersperses chapters from the perspectives of Alfred Hitchcock and Janet Lee with the story of the murder of a young Mexican American woman named Teresa by her white lover, events that play out at the same time Hitchcock is creating his fictional horror masterpiece. There isn’t a word, an image, or a sentiment out of place in this stunning novel, which is why this book was my pick for the one that should have won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2012, the year none was awarded.
by Kirstin Valdez Quade
You know how the cool kids love to claim they were at the first concert of a band that later blew up, and they have the T-shirt to prove it? Well, here’s a name to emblazon on a T-shirt for future bragging rights: Kirstin Valdez Quade. Her debut fiction collection, set mainly in Mexican American communities in New Mexico, hit bookstores in March. Valdez Quade writes with immediacy, drama, and verve in unforgettable stories of characters at a crossroads, from an unmarried, pregnant young woman trying to maintain order in the office of a Catholic church, to a Stanford-educated daughter of field hands seeking some respect, to a down-on-his-luck man who portrays Jesus in a reenactment of the crucifixion in a New Mexico town.
by Alex Espinoza
Espinoza’s enchanting debut novel tells the story of Perla Portillo, the owner of the Botánica Oshún, a store selling saints candles, herbs, and charms to help ease the problems of the residents of Agua Mansa, a fictional Southern California town. And boy do they need their good luck potions—their problems escalate throughout the book, which keeps readers turning the pages.
by Reyna Grande
The stark realism of this story of a young girl traveling from Mexico to the United States to find her father can perhaps be credited to to author Grande’s firsthand experience: she entered the United States from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant to join her parents in 1985 when she was 10 years old. The tale of Juana’s crossing, told in spare, clear prose, won Grande an American Book Award.
by Manuel Gonzales
And now for something completely different—anything goes in Gonzales’s fresh, smart, and funny debut story collection, The Miniature Wife. There’s a story in which a man returns from work to find his wife “shrunk to the height of a coffee mug, ” another in which a man who feels like a zombie from years of office work in a cubicle actually becomes a zombie, and one in which an airplane circles the Dallas airport for decades without landing.