ARC provided by Macmillan in exchange for an honest review
Title: Blanca y Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genre: YA Fantasy, magical realism
Publication Date: October 9, 2018
My Rating: ★★★★★
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.
While I think Anna-Marie McLemore’s style of writing might not be for everyone, I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Blanca y Roja. I was absolutely blown away by this book. From the first page I was fully immersed in the lives and world of the del Cisne sisters. I truly believe this is one of the most beautiful books I’ll have ever read.
This is a story of two sisters: Blanca and Roja del Cisne. Blanca is the elder, sweet sister. Roja is fierce as fire. As per a generations-long tradition, the swans would always come take away a daughter after her fifteenth birthday. For generations, sisters would become rivals so the swans would take the “worse” sister. But Blanca and Roja want to trick the swans (los cisnes) by trying to dress and act alike so that the swans won’t know who to choose. Of course, this doesn’t quite go according to plan.
You can’t stop swan season, and the girls are trapped in a game of not only trying to save each other, but also themselves. Their sisterhood is put to the test when they realize the swans will not relent. However, all trust and loyalty starts to wane when the girls come across two boys who were stuck in the midst of the magical woods.
I think my favorite thing about this book was how strikingly different the del Cisne sisters are. While Blanca is viewed as the pure sister because of her pale complexion and blonde hair, Roja is angry, has a darker complexion, and hair a deep red it’s almost black. How society views them — and even how their own family views them — pretty much dooms Roja into thinking she will be the sister taken by the swans. Just reading about Roja’s fear that she would be chosen just because she wasn’t considered beautiful made my heart hurt. And, yet, even though these sisters are so different, their love for each other was the glue that held them together even when their world was falling apart.
I also need to mention Page and Yearling, who are such wonderful characters with superb character development. I wasn’t expecting them to have such huge roles in the story, but I am so glad they did. They were like the necessary pieces that were missing from the puzzle.
I won’t go into anymore detail because I don’t want to spoil the magic, but let me just say this book was so incredibly atmospheric, haunting, powerful, and ruthless. It made me want to curl up by a fire, go apple picking, bake, and totally avoid swans. There is also so much good in this book: a gender fluid character, LGBTQIAP+ rep, Latinx rep, sisterhood, and found family. It is magical but it also feels real. It feels as if I could step outside my door and be transported right into those woods. There are also some fairy tales sprinkled throughout this book which was always fun to pick up on.
I do have one thing that I wish was done differently, and that is I wish the four different POV’s were told in third person. The first person narratives got a little confusing at times for me when switching between four people, and sometimes their voices sounded kind of similar. But this is such a minor complaint from me and shouldn’t be something that deters you from picking up this book.
I really think Blanca y Roja would be such a great choice for fall and I hope you give it a chance!
Trigger warnings: abuse (from family) and bullying.