Magical, enchanting, and heartbreaking. Those are the three best adjectives I can come up with to describe Blanca & Roja!
Blanca and Roja del Cisne come from a cursed family, where every generation will have a pair of two sisters and one of them will eventually be taken by a bevy of evil swans because of a centuries-old curse. Their entire lives, Blanca and Roja have tried to fool the swans by making themselves indistinguishable—despite the fact they are polar opposites both in appearance and personality. Their plight becomes even more complicated when two local boys who’d vanished months before come back and become intertwined in their lives.
Before Blanca & Roja, I’d only ever read ONE magical realism book, which I rated five stars. So to say that I was a bit frightened to pick this up is a massive understatement. And although it took me several tries to power through it, I can say with full confidence that Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest is an absolute wonder.
Blanca and Roja were such fascinating and layered characters, I’m still astonished, to be honest. They were polar opposites; a favorite for each of her parents. But no matter what, they loved each other fiercely, and their relationship brought tears to my eyes. Throughout the book, they face countless hardships and ups-and-downs, and there is lots of betrayal due to miscommunications that still hurt my heart. But I think the most beautiful part of this story was how much these two girls were willing to give up to save the other. It speaked volumes and it broke me in the best way possible.
Page and Yearling were two soft but broken boys, that somehow, healed each other with their friendship and brotherhood, and again, would’ve sacrificed anything for the other, to the point that Page sacrificed herself to the woods just to follow Yearling. Their relationship also warmed my heart.
Both of the romances were gentle and delicate, and Blanca and Page and Roja and Yearling had phenomenal chemistry; you couldn’t help but root for them. They were all messy and complicated human beings exploring love, and that made the reading experience even more real.
One of the reasons why I stay away from magical realism is that I’m constantly afraid it will be too whimsical or flowery for me to stomach. There will be too much magic and no explanations, and I’ll just end up confused. Anna-Marie has definitely opened up the door for me to explore this genre more. The magic sometimes didn’t make sense, but I think that was the point. It is set in a place where magic was natural and came out of nowhere and was simply a part of life and the way she wrote it all was fantastic.
The major highlight of Blanca & Roja is definitely its writing. This was my first time ever wandering into McLemore’s work, and man, it did not disappoint. I don’t even have words to describe how amazing the writing was; I’m sure I won’t do it justice. It’s enthralling, captivating, descriptive, lush, and simply put, a work of art. I can’t wait to read more from her.
The icing to this already delicious cake was the incredible representation. You could say I’m over the moon to have read a fairytale starring two Latinx sisters, with a culture so similar to mine. Reading Spanish words in the text touched me and brought me endless joy. How normal it was that the del Cisne family was humongous, just like so many Latinx families. And the genderfluid rep! As someone who has been questioning their gender identity for the past few months, it filled my soul with happiness to see someone in a YA book facing struggles so similar to mine.
Finally, I really appreciated the conversations surrounding racism, colorism, and gender identity. they were all so relevant and beautifully handled, and it made the book even better. (TWs for colorism, violence/physical abuse, detailed talk of menstrual cramps)
Overall, if you’re a fan of magic and retellings, this is one you should definitely check out. It does a superb job of weaving together the tales of Snow-White and Rose Red and Swan Lake to create a new, improved, and diverse version of it. In my opinion, it was a beautiful rendition of the classics it took inspiration from. And if you’re a fan of McLemore’s other books, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 5 STARS
Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore is available in bookstores everywhere now.
The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.
The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.
But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.