Reclaim the Stars, Zoraida Córdova, ed. (Wednesday Books 978-1-250-79063-7, $19.99, 432pp, hc) February 2022.
Anthologies are as risky for readers as they are exciting. On one hand, the reader gets to not only indulge in authors whose work they already like but also gets to explore voices they’ve never heard before. On the other hand, the quality of the stories can fluctuate, and there is often at least one dragging down the collection as a whole. Readers of the new anthology Reclaim the Stars: 17 Tales Across Realms & Space have lucked out. There’s not a weak one in the bunch.
Reclaim the Stars, a young adult anthology, features Latinx diaspora stories of science fiction and fantasy, as well as genre-benders and genre-blenders. Readers of YA and middle-grade speculative fiction will recognize most of the authors: Vita Ayala, David Bowles, J.C. Cervantes, Zoraida Córdova (who is also the editor), Sara Faring, Romina Garber, Isabel Ibañez, Anna-Marie McLemore, Yamile Saied Méndez, Nina Moreno, Circe Moskowitz, Maya Motayne, Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez, Daniel José Older, Claribel A. Ortega, Mark Oshiro, and Lilliam Rivera. I’ve read something from most of the authors, and loved everything I’ve read, so even before I was asked to review this, it was high on my TBR.
The book is divided into three sections. ‘‘To the Stars’’ features stories set in or about space that have a science fiction element. I always get a kick out of YA SF, so of course my two favorite stories of the entire anthology were from this section. A human and an alien return to Earth after years away in Daniel José Older’s bittersweet ‘‘Flecha’’. Devastation reigns and only they – and their heavily armed spaceship – can punish the Evil Corp who caused it. Two queer princesses have a battle to the death on a deserted moon in Anna-Marie McLemore’s ‘‘Reign of Diamonds’’. Love and magic and tragedy intersect in the most McLemore way possible.
Fantasy stories set in or adjacent to the real world make up ‘‘The Magical Now’’. Linda Raquel Nieves Pérez’s ‘‘White Water, Blue Ocean’’ is heartbreaking and inspiring. It tells of Gabriel, a nonbinary teen struck by an old family curse: ‘‘every García who lied was engulfed in a cloud of putrid hate that poured from their eyes and ears.’’ They lie to each other, to outsiders, but worst of all to themselves. We are also gifted with the Romina Garber story ‘‘Leyenda’’, about the bruja Zaybet navigating life in the Coven. It is a part of the Wolves of No World series about werewolves and witches in a magical world heavily inspired by Argentinian folklore, and is a must-read for fans. Lastly, ‘‘Other Times, Other Realms’’ brings readers to new worlds. Vita Ayala’s powerful ‘‘Sumaiko Y La Sirena’’ was the one that stuck with me the longest. It is about a young woman, a siren, and the men who get in their way and pay the price.
What makes this anthology so compelling is not just the territory it covers but the voices doing the telling. There are lots of young adult fiction anthologies out there, and many of the authors in Reclaim the Stars have appeared in them over the years. There are also a handful of Latinx-centric collections, mostly nonfiction or adult, but as far as I can tell, this is the first young adult speculative fiction anthology by and about the Latinx diaspora. It is both impressive that Córdova was able to put together something as momentous as this and frustrating that it took until 2022 for the publishing industry to acknowledge the need for it.
In library land, we often talk about what Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop described as windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. ‘‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.’’
Reclaim the Stars is a great example of all three of those elements. Latinx teens will relish the opportunity to be seen and heard by members of their own community while other teens will see new or different experiences and perspectives. Although I am not Latinx myself, even I can see how diverse and unique it is, from the authors down to the characters and settings. There are no stereotypes here and no white definitions of the Latinx experience. Córdova and her cohorts are writing to their diaspora; I was honored to be able to sit at their feet and listen.
It should be obvious after this effusive review that Reclaim the Stars is a great – and necessary – addition to every young adult library. It is sure to be a hit with teens and adults alike, regardless of whether or not they regularly read speculative fiction.
Alex Brown is a queer Black librarian and writer. They have written two books on the history of Napa County, California’s marginalized communities. They write about adult and young adult science fiction, fantasy, and horror as well as BIPOC history and librarianship. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and access set the foundation of all their work. Alex lives in Southern California with their pet rats and ever-increasing piles of books.
This review and more like it in the March 2022 issue of Locus.
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