Title: Blanca & Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 375 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publish Date: October 9, 2018
Recommend: Heck yes
Content Warnings/Disclaimers: Magical Realism, Violence,
Underage Sex (implied), Shooting of Animals, Colorism
Diverse Rep: Latinx , LGBT, Disability
Thank you so much to Latinx Book Club for having this as the August book of the month! I had a lot of fun reading this one and I need to get more into Latinx novels because these have been my favorite so far. This was my introduction to McLemore’s novels, and I was not disappointed.
Blanca de Cisne is the eldest sister in the de Cisne family in this generation. She has blonde-ish hair and is a little lighter than the rest of her family. Basically she can pass for being Caucasian, and this serves as a breaking point between her and her sister. While people will not think twice about trusting Blanca, they are immediately on guard of Roja. However, despite these differences, she was fiercely loyal to her sister and wanted to protect her from turning into a swan, no matter what it took.
Roja de Cisne is the youngest, and is considered to be vicious and manipulative. I don’t see it though. I felt like multiple people vilify her solely because she was the sister that showed the most teeth. She wasn’t agreeable like Blanca was. She had a sharp tongue and didn’t allow others to walk over her. Her father to be headstrong, and that’s exactly what she was. He taught her how to fight for herself, so she wouldn’t be easy prey to the curse. Page and Yearling would say that she lied as easily as she could breathe, but I didn’t see it.
Page Ashby is one of the boys that seems to have disappeared in the woods. After he went into the woods to chase after Barclay, somehow his spirit is able to inhabit different areas of the forest. The roots, the trees, the air itself. Sometimes even birds. Page was born female, but has come to terms with the fact that he feels more like a male. He feels like his family doesn’t know how to love him, how to understand him, but he needs to learn to not give up on them yet. He doesn’t trust Roja for some reason, and has on more than one occasion believed that she was being devious.
Yearling / Barclay Holt is a boy that is possessing the body of a yearling bear. Before he became a bear, he got into a physical fight with his cousin Liam, which left his left eye almost completely blind. He is a trustworthy and noble boy, which is why he was in this situation in the first place. He starts to fall in love with Roja, and Page being his best friend doesn’t want his heart to get hurt by the younger de Cisne sister.
There will always be one female member of the de Cisne family that will be taken by the swans. It does not matter if the family tries to not have females. They will always have two, and they will always lose one. It got to the point that it felt like the family had to pick sides, draw straws on which sister would end up surviving. Sometimes they were right, other times they were wrong. There was an instance where they took both sisters as punishment, leaving an even bigger gaping hole in the family.
This generation is different because now Blanca and Roja have variables that they didn’t anticipate: the appearance of Page and Barclay, two boys that were hiding in the forest – literally – until the swans came. Now, love ensues on all sides, and each sister has to do whatever they can to save the other. Either way, the swans always get what they want.
Do you have any idea how refreshing this was to hear so early on in the novel? There was no “he declared himself to be a girl” or any other misgendering that can happen. Nope. I feel like this sentence worked out so well, and told me that all this family really cared about was the well-being of their daughters. Of course, I don’t know which of the daughters survived in this story, but hearing this truly, truly made me happy.
Also, I absolutely love how Grandma Lynn Ashby and Grandma Tess Holt love each other and say “screw you” to anyone that thinks that they are deviant. They are lovers, and you know what? They deserve it after losing their husbands. Going through it, it makes me wonder if they really did love their husbands, or if they were pressured to continue the family line. Maybe a part of them loved their husbands, but it’s clear that their love for one another is way stronger.
I don’t know how many times I have to say that consent is sexy as hell. And I will forever love books that show consent on both parties before anything sexual/physical happens.
Despite what I put in my likes section, there was this part that kind of contradicts it, which bummed me out.
While they were able to accept it with their own family members, they didn’t seem to accept it with other families. It’s a little disheartening to hear that, especially because of what happened with one daughter.
I also didn’t like how it seems like Liam – Barclay’s cousin – just constantly beat him up. They used to play fight all the time, but his violence towards his cousin was completely terrible, and I’m honestly surprised Barclay wasn’t seriously injured before the events of this novel.
Also, the reveal of what Barclay was running away from didn’t seem as controversial as I was thinking. Yes, it was bad, but the way that he felt like Liam and the rest of the Holts would kill him if they ever found out what he did, just wasn’t that solid for me.
I hated that Roja was made to be a villain, or a negative character for certain parts. I didn’t see it at all. Maybe I was just blind but I felt like she was doing what she needed to in order to save her sister. Yeah, when she thought that her sister was betraying her, she felt hurt and tried to do something about it, but every single one of her actions was about saving the people she loved. Even before she realized she loved them. How could they not see that? I just… I felt like everyone was against Roja for a lot of the novel and I didn’t get it.
I mentioned colorism in my content warning because it was clear that Roja would feel like she was less than her sister because of their difference in skin color. It was clear that people didn’t make fun of Blanca the way they made fun of Roja because she could pass for being white. She had the blonde hair. Her skin was lighter than the brown that the rest of the family had. People had to look at her closely to realize that she wasn’t white. Roja thought that was why the swans would probably leave her sister alone, as well, and I feel like the cousins felt the same way.
Definitely interesting. Almost haunting. I really enjoyed the prose that McLemore had in this novel, and I truly felt like I was in the middle of a fairy tale that could possibly happen. I know that some of the magical realism aspects incorporated in this novel may not have been immediately explained, but that’s what really appealed to me to read it even more. I was at the edge of my seat trying to figure out what was going to happen next, which sister was going to be cursed to live out the rest of her days as a swan.
It was magical. Even though not everything was explained in its entirety, I felt like if it was, it would have ruined the magic of the novel. The story was beautiful, and I’m so glad I got to be in this world for a few days.