10 books like The Latin Deli

By Judith Ortiz Cofer,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like The Latin Deli. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Down These Mean Streets

By Piri Thomas,

Book cover of Down These Mean Streets

Thomas’s memoir is a seminal text of Nuyorican Literature (a sub-genre of Diasporican Literature) and the Latinx canon. It also belongs to the urban literature genre that emerged in the 1960s. His, however, was the first Latinx version of a narrative that depicts, some would say sensationalizes and exploits, the gritty, raw life of the inner city. As such, it had a tremendous impact on developing Latinx writers who had few role models at the time. His work, along with others of that genre, still holds influence stylistically and thematically with some Latinx authors. Written in the traditional Augustinian autobiographical model, Mean Streets tracks Piri’s fall into crime and drugs and final transformation and redemption. More significantly, this memoir introduces the issue of Latinx black identity and the complication of it within the American black-white paradigm. 

Down These Mean Streets

By Piri Thomas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Down These Mean Streets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A modern classic of manhood, marginalization, survival, and transcendence—and a lyrical memoir of coming of age on the streets of Spanish Harlem. 

"A report from the guts and heart of a submerged population group ... It claims our attention and emotional response." —The New York Times Book Review

Thirty years ago Piri Thomas made literary history with this lacerating memoir. Here was the testament of a born outsider: a Puerto Rican in English-speaking America; a dark-skinned morenito in a family that refused to acknowledge its African blood. Here was an unsparing document of Thomas's plunge into the deadly consolations of…


Family Installments

By Edward Rivera,

Book cover of Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic

Rivera’s only major work, Family Installments has influenced many Latinx writers, including Junot Diaz. Published in 1982, it was one of the earliest novels capturing the diasporican experience of the Great Migration in the 1950s. Rivera’s protagonist, Santos Malánguez, narrates his family’s journey from  Puerto Rico to New York in great detail, often with sharp insight and humor. As a young aspiring writer, I identified with Santos, especially as he found, in reading and books, solace from a dreary life of struggle. No other book depicts diasporican life so richly and comprehensively—from harsh rural life on the island to tenement living, abusive parochial school education, rip-off credit scams, exploitive working conditions, and the lingering desire to return to the homeland.

Family Installments

By Edward Rivera,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Family Installments as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chronicle of the Melanguez family's life in Puerto Rico, their move to New York City, and their efforts to make a life in America includes the narrator's determination to succeed on his own


The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle

By Edgardo Vega Yunqué,

Book cover of The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle

In Vega’s third novel, the eponymous Omaha Bigelow falls for a young and gifted Puerto Rican Taina priestess, Maruquita Salsipuedes. Smitten by the “gringo whiteboy,” and driven by her desire to have a “gringorican baby,” Maruquita asks her mother to perform the bohango ceremony on Omaha to enlarge his small penis. Breaking his vow never to use this new bohango on another woman, Omaha pays the consequences for his betrayal. Full of metafictional intrusions, a subplot concerning a secret, subversive plot to liberate Puerto Rico, and rambling discursive rants, this maximalist novel is more than a parodic romantic story. Vega’s fictional world is often complex, imaginative, iconoclastic, and attuned to American culture and society as seen through the eyes of arguably the most accomplished, talented diasporican fiction writer to date. 

The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle

By Edgardo Vega Yunqué,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the most powerful voices in contemporary fiction comes a fantastic adventure through the concrete jungle of New York City

Failed in all his career aspirations, recently laid off from Kinko's, and burdened with a frustrating anatomical shortcoming, Omaha Bigelow finds salvation on the streets of New York City's Lower East Side in the form of a Nuyorican homegirl equipped with an array of powers to cure his problems. Their misbegotten romance transforms him from a perpetual loser to an overnight success, but fame comes with a hefty price. Omaha must soon struggle to remain faithful as he…


The Taste of Sugar

By Marisel Vera,

Book cover of The Taste of Sugar

Through friendships with Borinqueñxs and interest in the island, I don’t consider myself wholly ignorant about Puerto Rico. Like the Philippines, Puerto Rico was claimed by the US following the Spanish American War, but once again, when I tried to learn more about that era, I ran into a brick wall. Marisel Vera recovers that history while offering all the pleasures of a traditional family saga. She brings the reader close to the daily lives and loves of a family of coffee farmers who struggle first under Spanish rule and then the system established by the US. Vera also taught me something I’d never heard of: the deceptive recruitment that carried newly impoverished but still hopeful Puerto Ricans off to Hawaii to labor in the sugar fields. 

The Taste of Sugar

By Marisel Vera,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Taste of Sugar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marisel Vera emerges as a major new voice in contemporary fiction with this "capacious" (The New Yorker) novel set in Puerto Rico on the eve of the Spanish-American War. Up in the mountainous region of Utuado, Vicente Vega and Valentina Sanchez labor to keep their coffee farm from the creditors. When the great San Ciriaco hurricane of 1899 brings devastating upheaval, the young couple is lured along with thousands of other puertorriquenos to the sugar plantations of Hawaii, where they are confronted by the hollowness of America's promises of prosperity. Depicting the roots of Puerto Rican alienation and exodus, which…


She's Such A Bright Girl

By Petula Caesar,

Book cover of She's Such A Bright Girl: An American Story

In this memoir, Petula talks about the light-skin privilege and pain she suffered through growing up in the 70s and 80s in Paterson, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland with a dark-skinned mother and a light-skinned father. Her father, Walter, raised her to be as “White” as possible by neglecting her Black heritage which caused her to have a huge identity crisis.

She's Such A Bright Girl

By Petula Caesar,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked She's Such A Bright Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"She's Such A Bright Girl: An American Story" is a story of respectability politics gone very wrong. Petula Caesar is raised in the 1970s and 1980s in Paterson, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland. Petula's Black parents, dark-brown skinned Christine and a very light-skinned Walter – migrate north from the south to find work. Once their light-skinned daughter is born, Walter realizes her complexion could give her a great advantage in her life if used correctly. Walter raised Petula to be as "White" as possible by straightening her hair, surrounding her with White dolls, only exposing her to culture created by…


Planting Stories

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Paola Escobar (illustrator),

Book cover of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

In this story about Pura Belpre, the Puerto Rican librarian, we learn about her journey of planting story seeds throughout the country. It all starts when she moves to the United States. Working as a bilingual librarian assistant, she notices there are no Puerto Rican stories. So, she writes her own and plants also dream seeds. This is a sparse, lyrical book with vivid and sweet illustrations. 

Planting Stories

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Paola Escobar (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Planting Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

FOLLOW LA VIDA Y EL LEGADO OF PURA BELPRE, THE FIRST PUERTO RICAN LIBRARIAN IN NEW YORK CITY

When she came to America in 1921, Pura carried the cuentos folkloricos of her Puerto Rican homeland. Finding a new home at the New York Public Library as a bilingual assistant, she turned her popular retellings into libros and spread story seeds across the land. Today, these seeds have grown into a lush landscape as generations of children and storytellers continue to share her tales and celebrate Pura's legacy.

This portrait of the influential librarian, author, and puppeteer reminds us of the…


A Different Kind of Heat

By Antonio Pagliarulo,

Book cover of A Different Kind of Heat

Luz Cordero lost her brother in a police shooting. Anger and grief burn within her for her brother's tragic death, and this young girl must battle through her emotional pain toward forgiveness during her stay at a Boys and Girls home. This is one girl's story as she pulls herself from the life of gangs and violence toward forgiveness and ultimately peace. I couldn't put it down. 

A Different Kind of Heat

By Antonio Pagliarulo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Different Kind of Heat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Luz Cordero is on fire. She’s burning up with rage. She was there the night her brother got killed. She saw the cop pull the trigger. She tried to do something positive about it by going to protests, but all her anger got her into trouble. Now Luz is living at the St. Therese Home for Boys and Girls, working to turn her life around.

Sister Ellen and Luz’s three fellow residents are helping. When Sister Ellen gives Luz a journal to write everything down, Luz is finally able to face the truth about what happened that night. And she’s…


Schomburg

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

As my kids are getting older, I keep my eyes open for longer, more complex picture books – and this book attracted my attention. It’s a great non-fiction biography for kids who like learning about notable historical personalities. It took roughly 45 minutes to read this book with the kids, and we all learned so much about Schomburg and his quest to collect literature by and about people of African descent worldwide. One thing that really impressed the kids and me was how he managed to keep this humongous collection in his home. (The kids and I were wondering if the whole family was sleeping on books instead of beds)!

Schomburg

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Schomburg as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In luminous paintings and arresting poems, two of children’s literature’s top African-American scholars track Arturo Schomburg’s quest to correct history.

Where is our historian to give us our side? Arturo asked.

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny),…


When We Make It

By Elisabet Velasquez,

Book cover of When We Make It

This coming-of-age novel-in-verse beautifully captures the dynamics of survival in tough neighborhoods in a way that honors the humanity and nuance of the community—details that are too often lost in media and forgotten by the people that “make it out.” Through the lens of the Puerto Rican-American protagonist, Sarai, her family, and the neighborhood characters that are all too familiar, I was brought into the heart of pre-gentrified Bushwick, Brooklyn, and Puerto Rican culture to go on Sarai’s journey of self-discovery. We are sitting on the stoop, at the foot of the bed, in the back pew in conversation with Sarai. We see her, we hear her, we love her. And won’t ever forget her. We are left to reflect on what it really means to “make it.”

When We Make It

By Elisabet Velasquez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When We Make It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The energy. The clarity. The beauty. Elisabet Velasquez brings it all. . . . Her voice is FIRE!"-NYT bestselling and award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson

An unforgettable, torrential, and hopeful debut young adult novel-in-verse that redefines what it means to "make it," for readers of Nicholasa Mohr and Elizabeth Acevedo.

Sarai is a first-generation Puerto Rican question asker who can see with clarity the truth, pain, and beauty of the world both inside and outside her Bushwick apartment. Together with her older sister, Estrella, she navigates the strain of family traumas and the systemic pressures of toxic masculinity and housing insecurity…


Once a King, Always a King

By Reymundo Sanchez,

Book cover of Once a King, Always a King: The Unmaking of a Latin King

What became apparent as I was writing my book was just how difficult it is for young kids to get away from a life of crime on the streets. Once a King, Always a King helped me understand the challenge – it’s not just that bad habits get absorbed into a personality from a young age, or that adults don’t help kids escape from their criminality. The social care and justice system actively collude in trapping young gang members in a cycle of violence, abuse, and poverty. 

Once a King, Always a King

By Reymundo Sanchez,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once a King, Always a King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This riveting sequel to My Bloody Life traces Reymundo Sanchez's struggle to create a “normal” life outside the Latin Kings, one of the nation's most notorious street gangs, and to move beyond his past. Sanchez illustrates how the Latin King motto “once a king, always a king” rings true and details the difficulty and danger of leaving that life behind. Filled with heart-pounding scenes of his backslide into drugs, sex, and violence, Once a King, Always a King recounts how Sanchez wound up behind bars and provides an engrossing firsthand account of how the Latin Kings are run from inside…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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