Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 9, 2018
Summary: 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.
My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: Blanca & Roja is magnificent tale that weaves in beautiful prose, powerful themes of family, sisterhood, and identity! As the del Cisne sisters attempt to break free from the bonds of a generations-long spell and when 2 boys become tangled in it, they know this will not be an easy game to win!
No matter what Anna-Marie writes, I will read it! I had been looking forward to this book for so long & now that I’ve finished it I’m not entirely sure I can form coherent thoughts about how amazing Blanca & Roja was!
Not only is this is lush magical realism story, but its also a retelling of Snow White & Rose Red weaved together with Swan Lake!
Blanca & Roja del Cisne are sisters, but not only that, they are also rivals in a generations-long spell that has left one sister of each family, turned into a swan!
McLemore’s tale is filled with such descriptive and elegantly delivered prose that just paints such vivid and vibrant settings, characters, and emotion with each page!
Both sisters are grown up to be seen as total opposites where Roja is seen as less graceful and the one with “blood-soaked” hair, while Blanca is the older gentler one who is seen as more graceful.
Because of that, its believed she will be the one spared by the swans. Regardless, this forces Roja & Blanca to always have this underlying truth in the back of their minds, that they will one day be lost to each other, just as the other sisters before them!
What I loved about Blanca & Roja so much, was that even though we see this hidden but present conflict between them, their is a beautiful and powerful sister bond that exists within them both, but as they’ve gotten older its become a lot easier to remain hidden.
Not only have these conflicting views about them been perpetuated by their parents and people around town, but also through the inevitable spell itself! They really don’t want to lose each other and you feel + see that so much through their separate POVs!
–That reminds me: I adored the multiple POVs so much! We explore this tale from 4 distinct 1st person POVs which include Blanca, Roja, Page & Yearling (Barclay)!
They each undergo their own personal journey of identity, understanding what they are willing to risk everything for, and accepting the love they never thought they’d find.
Blanca is keeping a secret which brings a lot of uncertainty into the game with the Cisnes (involving a blue-eyed boy who could save one of them!), Roja undergoes a journey of seeking out truths + taking charge of her own destiny, while Page + Barclay undergo journeys of finding out who they are meant to be, while attempting to leave their pasts behind them!
With the game of the swans always ending with one sister being transformed into a swan and the other left behind, the sisters think its best to stay close to home with their parents, cousins & aunts.
The family curse causes Blanca & Roja to go behind each others backs in the hopes they can still find a way to stay together! Their fierce and determined loyalty to each other just left me feeling so heartbroken at their rivalry, but with sisters myself, it was just so powerful + moving and something I could relate to so much!
The beautiful + complex exploration of their dynamic was so beautiful & heart-breaking all at once!
Though their game becomes a bit more tangled when local boys Page Ashby and Barclay Holt find themselves drawn into the forest near the del Cisne’s house, leaving Page the ability to weave in & out of his body and become part of the forest, while Barclay (or Yearling) finds himself transformed into a bear!
Both boys later escape the forest after spending quite some time there and become a part of Blanca & Roja’s lives!
Page escaped from the family of apple farmers who never really understood him, while Barclay left behind his wealthy family because of a secret he uncovered, involving his cousin Liam!
As with Anna-Marie’s previous novels, she explores identity and gender so beautifully as we see that Page is genderqueer & trans, who uses varied pronouns (but through Blanca’s POV we see that Page goes by she/her)!
Also as we see the beautiful relationship develop between Blanca & Page, Blanca identifies as Queer!
When Page & Yearling reemerge from the forest, we see that they are not who they were when they first entered! Yearling or Barclay, now has to adjust with a disability, not being able to see as clearly as he did before in one eye! Page is finding that perfect place of seeing where he can truly belong while also caring for those he loves!
Page & Yearling were truly precious & I loved both of them with all my heart! ❤ Reading their journey to find themselves and seeing their beautiful dynamic to always support one another was just–so beautiful!
And while their were such wonderful friendships/sibling dynamics explored, I also adored the romance! McLemore’s romances are always so beautifully explored and complex that just have so many layers to them! I loved the sweet relationship between Blanca & Page (& their date in the apple orchard!!) + I adored Roja & Yearling’s powerful dynamic/friendship as they begin to see they aren’t who each of them expected to be & that builds into such a beautiful relationship! (& their hang-out to get ice cream <3)
As with McLemore’s other novels, she explores so many themes alongside many different facets to her stories that have so many layers to them: First, the theme of sisterhood, which is really at the core of this story (which I related to so incredibly much)! Then there’s family & love as we see Blanca & Roja’s family & found family remain a very important part of the story! There’s also periods/menstruation & its pain explored through Roja’s POV & I don’t usually see it explored in such a way as it was with Blanca y Roja– & it was just relatable, but also just so amazing to read about in YA!
Being able to relate to this novel too, identifying as Latinx was just so incredible and reminds me why I love Anna-Marie’s books so much! I could truly see myself in Blanca & Roja and relating so much to them in a way that left me connecting to them 100% (I also loved the Quetzal references ❤ ❤ + the cascarones (confetti-filled Easter eggs!) I’d actually known about them for years, but the name always escaped me, now I’ll definitely remember after reading about them in Blanca & Roja ^_^
The plot itself unravels in some unexpected ways, which I really loved! Some of my favorite moments included the del Cisne’s sisters dates/hang-outs w/ Page & Barclay, the mystery of how they would outmaneuver the swans game, & basically ever other plot point!! The way it developed always left me in surprise, joy, fear, and so many other emotions as I was constantly worried for Blanca & Roja as they tried to better understand each other in the ever-evolving game w/ the swans!
With this book also as a retelling of Snow White & Rose Red, I also loved how Blanca & Roja presented the story + how it was turned introduced into the story itself + delivered in a way that really left so much symbolism.
Another important element to this book that I really loved exploring was the forest! Its very much its own world and represented many different things to Blanca, Roja, Page & Barclay! It was a place of peace & transition, but also a place of fear and inevitability, that I found was described so wonderfully and you could see its duality through each POV! It is a place of beauty, but has a darkness to it and I adored that exploration!
My only minor issue (which is totally on me) & why I’m leaving it at 4.5 for now, is that I did spend a little more time reading this book than I would have liked (b/c there’s always so many books I need to catch up on 😂) But regardless of that, because I also found myself taking my time with this story, I loved that I truly got to understand Blanca, Roja, Barclay & Page so much!! They really came to life & their whole group dynamic was just so complex, multi-layered & developed from the very beginning to the very end!
Blanca & Roja is a story that really explores the relationships/dynamics we have with those we love and that was easily one of the overarching elements of this novel that was present from page 1 all throughout the story!
Blanca & Roja is an unforgettable, magical, beautifully written, & captivating story I will never forget! As with McLemore’s other novels, a lush and descriptive writing evokes so much as important themes such as family and identity weave their way into the story! The plot is immersive, filled with mystery, the characters are fantastic, and everything about this stunning magical realism tale comes to life with each and every page!