Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Blanca & Roja

Rate this book
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.

375 pages, Hardcover

First published October 9, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Anna-Marie McLemore

28 books3,166 followers
Anna-Marie McLemore writes stories as queer, Latine, and nonbinary as they are. They are the author of William C. Morris Debut Award Finalist The Weight of Feathers; Wild Beauty; Blanca & Roja, one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time; Indie Next List title Dark and Deepest Red; Lakelore, an NECBA Windows & Mirrors title; and National Book Award longlist selections When the Moon Was Ours, which was also a Stonewall Honor Book; The Mirror Season; and Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix. Venom & Vow, co-authored with Elliott McLemore, is out in May 2023 from Feiwel & Friends, and their adult debut The Influencers is forthcoming from Dial Press in 2024.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,017 (27%)
4 stars
1,368 (36%)
3 stars
940 (25%)
2 stars
322 (8%)
1 star
92 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,023 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews153k followers
February 22, 2021
McLemore centers Blanca Y Roja on the del Cisne sisters who couldn’t have been more different—Blanca, light-skinned and golden-haired, and Roja, darker-skinned and with a heart that gleamed so red it showed in her hair. Blanca and Roja have always lived in a perpetual state of disaster preparedness: sisters in their family were offerings for the swans to choose from, and for many generations, they delighted in taking one of them and leaving the other.

Blanca and Roja’s fear of this curse was its own entity, but in the furnace of their terror, their resolve kindled. They would do everything to keep each other safe. Until the señoras sought to snip the thread between them clean in half, offering Blanca to spare herself by earning the love of a blue-eyed bear-prince, Yearling. Yearling was rumored to have been stolen by the woods with his best friend, Page, only to be then given back. To protect themselves from the scolding eyes of the town and Yearling's poisonous family, they hide in the del Cisne house, where the del Cisne sisters are saddled with the decision of who to save and who to sacrifice.

We painted the woods that night. We gave it the colors we were and the colors we borrowed. We were opening our hands. We were giving up the stories we thought we already knew. We were becoming.

Blanca Y Roja casts a cozy spell and is kissing-close to beginning with once-upon-a-time. McLemore weaves in and out of multiple first-person narratives a brilliant reclamation of Snow-White and Rose-Red with a wonderful Latinx feel threaded throughout and mesmerizes once again with a gorgeously supple story at the thresholds of identity, family and history. McLemore writes with an adept heart drawing feeling out of the words, and I wanted nothing more than to dwell in the honey-light of their writing. Theirs are the kind of books you want to take in slowly, to wander through, to spend time in, for you'll likely find yourself the better for it. What's more, there is always the faintest glimmer of familiarity in them, as though you knew the story, but had forgotten it. It's breathtaking.

It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.

There’s so much tenderness in this book, ineffable and aching, but with jagged edges too. This is a spellbinding tale of sisterly devotion in a world that searched for sparks of sibling rivalry to fan into a flame for the stage. The way Blanca and Roja sought solace in each other and found it, the way they had hidden in it, obfuscating reality and the fear they were powerless against, filled me with such a seethe of emotions.

I wanted to hold these characters' hands. Each of one of them is embroiled in a struggle for acceptance in a world that fears and distrusts them for who they are. Anyone who has ever been excluded can understand what they felt—anyone who’s ever felt heavy and trudging and trapped down here on the surface of the world while everything is slicing at you from the harshest angles.

Roja gives in to the scalding, scarring ache inside her—that fire she’d been born with. She doesn’t want to glide through life, unfeeling, so she breaks from the grooves she’s worn down inside herself thinking she’d never be anything more than a last resort, a minor player in a drama about her, her story always a mere subplot woven around someone else’s.

Blanca for whom people decided a life and made it an immutable truth that will govern her interaction with the world—because they couldn’t fathom that a woman is capable of multidimensionality, that she was more than one emotion, one trait, one story, but a million experiences and a million pieces. They held on to a perception of her that was caught in the thorn bush of the past but she broke free and tried on the sleeves and slacks of a new self however she saw fit.

Yearling wasn’t a creature of anger or envy, though he grew up surrounded by people who were, and few will ever know the violence it took him to become this gentle and soft-hearted, and how he’d taken the jagged pieces and spliced them into elements that tiled and tessellated and fit themselves back together again. Yearling is also adjusting to his disability, something that McLemore has portrayed with so much attention and genuinity and I am so grateful for it. I honestly love Yearling so much I don’t want anyone to touch his golden soul with their soiled hands.

Page is trans and uses both he and she pronouns. His queerness is never forgotten. Being genderqueer is simply who he is, and in those moments when others demanded he be different, Page cannot satisfy them, and be someone he is not. She doesn’t owe anything to people who were only committed to misunderstanding her. Page no longer stood there and accepted the weight of the ignorance of those who should’ve known better and tried harder, and hoped it left them lightened. But Page also learns not to always layer cynicism and distrust upon her life and think it futile to try to alter the pattern when fear had carved so deep a path. And as a queer person myself, I related so much to this: to hardening yourself by choosing to lock out everyone else—the ugliest stripe of self-preservation, born out of disappointment and weariness. It’s a lesson I’m still turning over in my head, trying to learn the shape of it.

I also loved both the romantic and platonic relationships in this book—how Yearling and Page’s friendship was a blaze of love, how Page & Blanca’s, Roja & Yearling’s love came softly, enough to hold, not enough to hurt. Everything about them was so tender and heart-shaped that the entire book felt colored by it. But mostly, I love the way they were a testament that, in time of despair, all we can do is reach for each other and hope the edges of our hopelessness dissolves, even just a little.

I think I will always be frustrated by my own inability to express how much I love McLemore’s books. How much I love their ability to not only dazzle—but to make you believe, your heart rising to so many possibilities.

My hope for you, reader, for all of us, is two sides of the same wish: that the world gives us each the space to write our own story, and that we leave room for each other’s stories. They are where our hearts survive.

If you liked this review please consider leaving me a tip on ko-fi !

Profile Image for Emily May.
1,962 reviews293k followers
August 3, 2020
A story about two sisters, and a prince who got turned into a bear, and all the ways magic can save you but also fuck you up.

This is such a beautiful, queer fairy tale.

On the surface, Blanca & Roja is a mash-up retelling of Snow-White and Rose-Red and Swan Lake, but the sheer amount of layers and thought that has gone into this novel makes it a whole number of other things, too. Peel back the familiar fairy tale aspects and underneath there is a moving tale of stereotypes, expectations and assumptions-- and how to shatter them.

Blanca and Roja are the latest in the long line of del Cisne girls - a Latinx family who are always cursed to have two daughters, one who survives and one who is taken by the swans. No matter what they do, one sister is always taken. And Roja has always known it will be her. How can it not be? With her fiery red hair and darker skin, she looks like the wicked girl, the witch, the fairy tale villain from all the stories.

Roja and fair-haired Blanca try to prevent either one meeting their fate. As they attempt to fight the curse (and the swans), another story takes place. A cygnet and a bear who the sisters take in and care for turn out to be two missing local boys.

The bear, Yearling, is a rich white boy from an abusive family, and the cygnet, Page, is a trans boy from a family of apple farmers. Two romances develop slowly through evocative description, with Blanca and Page's romance being especially sensual and exciting. The romantic themes move alongside family drama, magical prophecy and a desperate fight to avoid destiny.

And there's more than a little viciousness:
"Remember what I always told you."
I let my eyes fall shut. "I have teeth."
I opened my eyes in time to catch his nod.
"So use them," he said.

At its heart, though, it's a book about how you can read someone completely wrong. You can see someone's appearance or wealth or assigned gender and quickly make incorrect assumptions based on that.

McLemore also uses their trademark flowery prose for some thoughtful meditations on colour and how it is perceived - both in how Snow White and Rose Red are viewed by others, but also the wider perceived relationship between “fair” and “good” and “dark” and “evil”.

And it's wrong, of course, in case you couldn't guess. It's an assumption shattering, rule-breaking kinda read. Highly recommended.
You two never could follow rules, could you?

CW: Abuse; transphobia/misgendering.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
May 10, 2020
But I would not let the swans write our story for us.

So… let’s start with, I cried reading this? Anna-Marie McLemore is one of the most talented authors on any market right now. They are consistently fantastic at creating compelling characters, beautiful sentences, and Super Good Romances, all wrapped up in narratives of generational trauma, colonialism, & queerness.

➽W H Y T H I S W A S A M A Z I N G

This book is about a few things: internalized colorism, systematic transphobia & homophobia, and most importantly of all, stealing back your story from those who wish to make it theirs. In a world that wants to steal your words, to put you into a story of sister vs. sister and family vs. family, it is so difficult to find your own way and force your way out of a colonial narrative.

As always, McLemore’s writing is so beautiful and lyrical. I really do find it hard to tear myself away from these works; I never binge them, but whenever I read them I am so in them. For those of you who found Wild Beauty a bit much, I will say I found this slightly easier to read quickly; however, I will say that Wild Beauty was my favorite book of two years ago, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

➽C H A R A C T E R S

These characters are just,,, so so good.

→Blanca Del Cisne has been trying to fit an archetypal role, a role she has been allowed to partake in due to her lighter skin. So throughout the story, she must find that she does not belong in that role, and that she can find love as a queer girl, and have her own life.

→Roja Del Cisne projects manipulation and lack of caring, but underneath that layer, she is a deeply loving girl, made fierce by love and by resentment of her mother’s dislike. (One of my only complaints about this was that I really wished that element specifically had been resolved with slightly more buildup.)

→Page Ashby is a nonbinary trans boy trying to discover his identity in a world where he is put into boxes. There's a really good discussion of gender ≠ pronouns incroporated here, as Page uses both he and she pronouns.

→Barclay Holt, or Yearling, is the story’s blue-eyed boy, a boy from an abusive family. His arc involves resolving his feelings around his past and adjusting to his disability. He is also sadly the only character I do not love; his arc felt sort of dissonant compared to the other three character’s arcs. He is fine and he exists and he is good.

→Also, Tess Holt and Grandma Ashby are the best. That is all.

➽R E L A T I O N S H I P S

There are two romantic couples in this book. Roja and Yearling’s romance is sweet. Blanca and Page’s is indescribably good. It’s sensual, but built on such an incredible base of trust, and their tension is just um… a lot? There is something so delicate and emotional to me about queer people finding themselves in loving each other, and I honestly wonder if there’s any personal element to how beautifully this romance is rendered. They are amazing, my favorite couple, 30/10.

But the main relationship in this book is between the two sisters. Blanca & Roja’s relationship is incredibly complex; each has problems with herself, and each often projects these problems on her sister. It is so easy, in a sibling relationship, to see your sister as something she is not — to allow the image of someone you love to twist and distort. Seeing that bond break, and then come back, was so cathartic.

➽I N C O N C L U S I O N

I remember about a week before I read this book, I saw this thread by Anna-Marie, and it was so amazing, and the fact that the reality of this book was even better is a real statement on how amazing this story was. I know I won’t forget about this story anytime soon.

TW: colorism, homophobia, transphobia, discussion of physical abuse.

release date: 8 Oct 2018
Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,656 reviews5,136 followers
October 23, 2019
If you ever need a story that’s guaranteed to give you all the feels, break your heart, and look good doing it, Anna-Marie McLemore’s definitely the right woman for the job. If this tells you anything about how much faith I have in her writing, I don’t even like the fairytales this book pulls from, yet it’s still been one of my most anticipated releases of 2018.

‘There will always be two daughters. But we will always take one back.’

Predictably enough, I was not disappointed. Blanca & Roja is such a gorgeously woven magical realism story, full of lovable characters that I can’t help wanting to protect, and an atmospheric setting that’s positively teleportative. Anna-Marie’s writing always immerses me so quickly, and this was no exception, as I literally was less than ten pages in when I first thought, “Wow, I love this book already.”

I could not let that kind of distance spread between me and the girl I’d mapped the woods with, both of us learning them as well as each other’s faces.

One thing that I’d like to mention is the magical realism aspect to Anna-Marie’s style, and how I think readers will fare with that in general. I know the lyrical writing style caused a lot of my friends to dislike her last release, Wild Beauty (which I adored, but art is subjective!). If that describes you, I think you’ll be happy to know that the magical realism facets of Anna-Marie’s storytelling felt substantially less prominent in this book than they did in Wild Beauty. In fact, if you’re looking for a book to introduce you to the MR subgenre, I think Blanca & Roja would be perfect for it.

Roja and I had woven the roots of ourselves together so well that if she was ripped from the ground, I would be wrecked.

Not only is the writing lovely, but these characters just won me over so effortlessly! Blanca and Roja, our title characters, are the most wonderful sisters. They care so much for one another and want so desperately to find a way to save one another from their family’s curse, that they’ve spent their entire lives trying to find a way to trick the swans so that they won’t take either girl. Their desperation and fierce protectiveness of one another will give you all the warm fuzzies, and even when they fight, their love for each other never leaves center stage.

But I would not let the swans write our story for us.

Besides the sisters, their love interests are precious, broken, soft boys that really stole the show for me. I loved the sisters, but I loved Page and Yearling. They aren’t living under the weight of a blood curse, they’re just trying to survive a world that they don’t feel like they fit perfectly into, for one reason or another. I can’t say much about Yearling without spoiling a mystery surrounding his character, but I will say that he broke my heart over and over. Page, on the other hand, is such a sweet, lovable little thing. He’s trans and nonbinary—modeled after Anna-Marie’s own husband!—and if you ask me, very few authors write queer characters quite as lovingly as Anna-Marie does.

“I don’t mind questions. Most people never bother asking.”

There is a lot of representation going on in this book, by the way. With Page, we obviously have this trans/nonbinary rep, but we always get this insight into how nuanced and specific his identity is to him, which is such a legitimate thing for a lot of people! With Yearling’s character, he’s recently become disabled (partially blind), and I loved how much time is spent focusing on his struggles to adapt, and how respectfully it’s handled in the book’s dialogue. There’s also an absolutely lovely f/f side couple that we spend a bit of time with later in the story, and I couldn’t write this review without mentioning the fantastic period rep that anyone who’s ever suffered from serious menstrual problems will relate so hard to, like I did.

To them, Roja’s hair was a sign of her wickedness. To them, I was weak, a girl born without fingernails or teeth sharp enough to get into anything.

Perhaps the most prominent piece of the representation is the struggle of colorism and racism that these beautiful Latina sisters go through. Roja is brown-skinned with dark red hair, whereas Blanca is mostly white-passing with pale skin and golden hair. Their community has used the differences in their appearances to form assumptions about the girls and which sister the swans will choose, and it functions as a divide between them at times. It draws light to how much pain colorism can cause within a community when one girl is valued above another for having a white-passing appearance, and it’s heartbreaking, but necessary.

It is not a story about realizing you have become beautiful. It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.

Final thoughts: Blanca & Roja is an absolutely gorgeous fairytale retelling that everyone should read, especially if you’re a fan of magical realism to begin with, or if you’re looking for a fantasy story with endlessly diverse representation. The characters are a delight to read from, and you simply can’t help but become emotionally invested in the entire scenario from start to finish.

Content warnings for abuse, violence, racism/colorism, transphobia, homophobia

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Feiwel & Friends for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,009 reviews1,327 followers
October 14, 2018
This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription

“The strong devour the weak, even when the weak are your own. It’s how any family gets stronger”

🌟 Let me just point again the fact that the cover of this book has not only 1 swan but 2 swans!! (bonus points for Elysia for discovering the second swan)!!

🌟 This is my third time reading a Magical realism book without knowing so. I think that is magical xD. I found out the hard way that this genre is just not for me. I prefer to go to books these days without knowing much. I read the synopsis of this book and I liked it and that was that. I got the book and read it. I just think magical realism don’t have good world buildings, obviously they are set in the real world but the magical laws are never explained and that seems like a shortcut for me and it leaves me always with many questions and wanting more. This book was no different!

🌟 The writing was good, I really loved the introduction and gave my friend the book while we were together so he can read it and he said it was great! So my problem was not mainly with the writing style.

🌟 My problem was more about the characters, there were 4 different POVs and I think it would have been better if it was only Blanca and Roja. The characters sounded the same and I needed to go back to the beginning of chapters to see who the POV was from.

🌟 The plot was kind of OK for me but I wanted more and I needed to understand more things. I just have this problem with all the books of this kind!

🌟 Summary: A typical Magical Realism book with good writing and nice story. The magical laws and characters just fell short for me and was sort of boring. It is a kind of me rather than the book problem.

🌟 Prescription: for fans of Magical realism books only!
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,557 followers
March 7, 2018
One of my new favourite books of all time. The writing in this is absolutely breathtaking. The characters are lovely and heartbreaking. The relationships are nuanced and dynamic. Seriously, it was amazing!
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
660 reviews3,882 followers
October 7, 2020
“I was a girl who would never exist in a fairy tale, not just because of the brown of my body but because of my heart, neither pure enough to be good nor cruel enough to be evil. I was a girl lost in the deep, narrow space between the two forms girls were allowed to take.”

Beyond shocked to learn the cover is not in fact a rose and is actually two swans entwined

Like all Anna-Marie McLemore books, this was so beautifully written and I thought this one had an ethereal quality about it I really liked. Swan Lake is one of my favourite stories ever and I think the author did such a lovely job retelling it. I don't always vibe with retellings but I loved what Anna-Marie McLemore did with this one. Specifically, the exploration of womanhood and the expectations placed upon marginalised women to exhibit certain traits and act a certain way to fit within certain spaces.
Profile Image for Fadwa (Word Wonders).
547 reviews3,543 followers
December 18, 2020
TW: Physical assault, non-consensual kiss, gunshot, fatphobia, panic attack, misgendering.

Full review originally posted on my blog: Word Wonders

I HAVE FINALLY READ BLANCA & ROJA and if you couldn’t tell by the all caps it did not disappoint. By Anna-Marie Mclemore fashion, this book went above and beyond my expectations. Everytime I read their latest book, I just get more assured that they *indeed* are my favourite author. Hands down. No questions asked. Gimme her grocery list, to-do list, and I’ll read it all. I just need more of their lush writing in my life. Anyway, enough yelling and let’s get into the actual review.

As per classic Anna-Marie Mclemore fashion, the writing is breathtakingly stunning, it feels so soft and gentle while simultaneously packing a punch of feels. It also flows so smoothly that it gets you flipping page after page until you reach the end of the book without even realizing it. All their books read like a fairytale but this one even more, I don’t know what about it makes it stand out more than the others, maybe it’s something about how the writing is both eerie and magical at the same time, maybe it’s because it’s a retelling in and of itself (of both Swan Lake and Snow-white & Rose-red) but I kept forgetting that I wasn’t reading an actual fairytale written ages ago.

And here’s another thing about Blanca & Roja that it also has in common with all the other releases, it feels timeless. While reading it, I felt like it could have been set yesterday or half a century ago and I would be okay with either, in fact I’m more than okay with the fact that the book isn’t really set in one time period, I love that about it. Phones are mentioned, but other than that, no indicator, and it honestly does not matter because it adds to the general darkish whimsical atmosphere of the book.

The narration alternates between four different POVs, the two main ones, that have a lot more page space are obviously Blanca & Roja, but we also have Page and Yearling who are their respective love interests. And that was a nice surprise, since I expected Blanca & Roja to be dual perspective. The four POVs approach is perfect for what the book does, it gives us a 360° view of everything that is happening at all times, as well as how events affect the characters differently, even when said events don’t seem to be connected a first glance.

Blanca is the older sister and the one everyone is head over heels for, she’s soft spoken, soft mannered, soft dressed and even her appearance is what people around them call softer on the eye, which makes her easy to love by everyone. In everyone’s eyes, she can do no wrong, she doesn’t raise trouble and only wants to protect her younger sister. Roja is the complete opposite, she has brown skin, red hair, she’s loud and has a tempter, is full of anger and everyone, including herself, thinks that she will be the one the swans take. And to be completely honest? I would die for Roja.

I loved how close the two were and how eventhough on a surface level they were opposites, once you get to know them they’re more similar than they let on. Roja might be rough around the edges but she has a soft inside too, just like Blanca might seem calm and soft but she also has anger simmering inside of her. Another thing I appreciated is that Anna-Marie Mclemore explored a lot of pressure girls have to deal with through the contrast between the two girls, including things like the way we’re told we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to like, as well as colorism and fatphobia.

Then we have Page, who’s a genderqueer boy (he/she pronouns, gendered male language, no gendered female language). He’s such a soft boy who just wants the people he loves to be safe and happy and would not hesitate to get his hands dirty to ensure that those things happen. He’s out to his family but the way his parents tiptoe around him makes him uneasy and sad and he basically just runs away from it and doesn’t want to deal with it, which is fair, because when you come out you want to accepted and the people around you to stay the same. I can’t speak for the representation so don’t quote me on this but the bits that explore his gender were done with so much care and respect that I couldn’t help but read them over and over again.

Last but not least is Yearling whose name is also Barclay and he’s just…such a tortured soul, I just wanted to wrap him up and soothe him and tell him everything will be okay. He blames himself for a lot of things that aren’t…really his fault. He blames himself for his family’s dishonesty, for beating up his cousin when he initiated it and was all around an ass, for anything that happens to Page and later on Roja and by extension Blanca. All I could think is “Take a breath, baby boy!!” IT’S TOO MUCH FOR ONE HUMAN. He’s too good for this world.

Just like every other book of hers, through Blanca & Roja, Anna-Marie Mclemore explores a bunch of timely topics with such subtilety, weaved through the narrative, that you don’t even realize it until you reflect on what you read. Before I finish this review, shout out to both Yearling and Page’s gay grandmas’ for giving us the sapphic content we deserve while being badass ladies who would come after you if you hurt their loved ones.
Profile Image for NickReads.
461 reviews1,199 followers
Want to read
September 17, 2018
Another intriguing read. Fantasy books are special this year.
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews189 followers
August 15, 2019
Anna-Marie McLemore never disappoints.

Not only Blanca & Roja is a beautifully-written retelling of Snow White and Rose Red meets Swan Lake featuring latinx, trans and disabled protagonists. It's also a story about finding the truth about yourself amidst all the lies, and defying the binaries society taught you were necessary.

As usual, what stood out to me first about Blanca & Roja was the writing. I could visualize everything perfectly. The apple is never just an apple, it's a symbol and an apple of that specific variety, because not all apples are alike. The food scenes make you crave the food and make you understand what the characters feel about that food, what it means for them, and what it means for the story. The writing is at the same time symbolic and meticulous, and Anna-Marie McLemore is without a doubt one of the most skilled YA writers I know.

That's not to say I like this story just because the writing is wonderful and really pretty. That's true, and that would be enough to make a four-star book, but what makes me love a book are the characters and the themes.
Blanca & Roja is a story about cursed sisters, beautiful, sweet Blanca and wild, reckless Roja. But they're so much more than those adjectives, and so much more than their curse, just like their love interests - respectively the non-binary boy Page and the disabled boy Barclay/Yearling - are more than just the boys who disappeared, and more than what their families thought they could be. This is a story about giving yourself the space to be different from what you thought you were or had to be.

It's a story about girls challenging the idea that they have to be either good or bad, as society often tells women, and as latinx girls, they also learn that they do not need to fit the white-passing, nonthreatening stereotype or the mysterious, exotic one. It's a story about carving your own path, your own story, your own ending. This is also why not really finding out the "reason" of the swans' curse worked for me. Often, we follow traditions and do things just because people before us did, because people before us said it was the only way. We often don't need a why to not realize that we can be different.

Page's journey was probably my favorite part of the book. Page is a non-binary boy who uses he/him and she/her pronouns - this is probably the first YA book I've ever seen that talks about the fact that pronouns ≠ gender - who realizes he doesn't have to choose one just because most people think he should.
Barclay's character arc was also really interesting (and at times heartbreaking) to read. He's a boy born in a violent, dishonest, abusive family, and he has to adjust himself to a disability - he doesn't see out of one of his eyes anymore.

I loved the romances. There aren't many standalone books that manage to have two well-developed romance storylines and also a sweet side f/f couple. My favorite romance was Page and Blanca's, it was real to me in a way few romances are.

There was just one scene that prevents me from giving this book a full five stars instead of 4.75. It's a scene in which the only character who isn't a believer insults the (religious) main character's beliefs.
I hated that scene. I hate it, even though it's irrational for me to feel that way, even though I know from experience that white atheist boys are often like that - they try to justify their own awful actions by cherry-picking whatever irrelevant "science fact" they feel mirrors their situation, and also feel objective for that.
I know.
And it still hurts
, because I'm still a girl who grew up in a religious place in which people forced a religion on me for years, and I still live with that, and I have to live with them acting like I've insulted their beliefs every time I remind them that I don't believe and they can't make me. And after all of that they still feel like they're the victims. Of course the only character who ever insults other people's beliefs is an atheist! Of course the only atheist in the book insults other people's beliefs! The opposite absolutely never happens!
It's heavily subjective, I know, and please don't let it deter you from picking up this gem of a book if you haven't yet.
Profile Image for Helen.
159 reviews68 followers
January 9, 2019
2.5 stars

Who knew a book could be so bewildering and yet at the same time so painfully boring?

The story (supposedly) follows two sisters who are cursed - one of them will turn into a swan after their sixteenth birthday - and two boys who for differing reasons have decided to leave their families and start new lives as bears in the woods or something (I don't know, the story had already lost me at this point). As magical realism, it was less about the fantastical elements and more about the relationships between these four.

I understand that this book injected some much needed LGBT representation into the magical realism / fairy-tale genre, but that doesn't excuse the fact that this is essentially not a good story and the characters, while supposedly 'diverse', were at the same time practically indistinguishable from each other. All four character voices were exactly the same. I had to keep going back to the beginning of the chapter because I'd forgotten who was supposed to be speaking. When you can't tell apart the 'dark and troubled' teenage boy from the preppy and popular teenage girl from the rebellious tomboy from the teen isolated for being transgender, you know you are dealing with some pretty basic writing.

Then there was the plot (if it can even be called as such). There were so many boring scenes, like the apple tasting scene or the many references to Roja's periods (please let me know if I missed something and this actually became relevant in the end). There were some baking scenes, some library scenes, some people transforming into animals... and then a side plot about investment fraud... Am I the only one who found that subplot exceptionally random? Who thought this belonged in a magical realism novel?? Most of the time I was wondering where the hell the evil swans I had been promised were. By the three-quarters point, they'd had barely a cameo.

With hindsight I probably should have realised this story wouldn't be for me. I've never been a fan of magical realism. In my opinion it's often just used as an excuse for lazy world building and messy plotting. But even saying that, I've read magical realism much better than this. Very disappointing.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
557 reviews112 followers
March 26, 2021
I loved this book and I am so happy that I loved this book. I wanted Anna-Marie McLemore to be a new favourite author, and they are, or will be once I have my hands on their other works. But this book is certainly a new favourite. It was literally a work of art; the words were so lovingly crafted, so delicately pieced together, so earnestly and carefully chosen. This is possibly my favourite book of the year and I urge you to pick it up and read it. It's not only beautiful and imaginative, it's also incredibly important and diverse.

Blanca -> sweet, demure, timid, hopeful and responsible, cares deeply about her sister and is willing to sacrifice herself.

Roja -> wild, angry, reckless, imaginative, courageous, is also willing to do anything for her sister, and the misunderstanding that comes between them is truly heartbreaking.

Page -> eager to learn, determined, wise, identifies as a boy but uses he/his and she/her pronouns, and because of this suffers from a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice from people who can accept him being trans, but cannot comprehend why she would still want to use both pronouns.

Yearling -> kind, brotherly, generous, neglected, fights against his cousin to win his father's pride.

This story follows two sisters who are cursed; when they are both sixteen one of them will be taken away to be swans. Of course, Blanca and Roja are not going to let this happen, and both are determined to save the other, if they cannot save them both. Woven throughout this tale is this rich, lush Latinx culture and whimsical magical realism that is so seamlessly woven into the story. Everything in this book was beautiful, but it wasn't crammed with beautiful people; the people were made beautiful by the writing and characterisation, because there is so, so much magic in the mundane.

And there are themes of privilege and race, but also that girls can't ever be perfect, because even if they are blonde and fair in this twisted world of white beauty standards, they still have to live up to other people's expectations. And those who aren't lucky enough to look and act how other people want them to are forced to hide themselves. This book is about expectations: expectations based on what you look like, your gender, your personality, where you come from. The characters grow and blossom and bloom throughout the story, they come into themselves fully, become more and more distinct, and they are accompanied by this strange and wonderful magic that manifests wills and loves and fears into reality.

I loved this book, so, so much.
Profile Image for Cece (ProblemsOfaBookNerd).
332 reviews7,310 followers
September 25, 2019
A gorgeous novel, brimming with the author's recognizable and gorgeous style. I have a distance when it comes to McLemore's work, in that it usually takes me 2/3 of the novel before I'm truly invested. I think this one came around a bit faster due to the beautiful description of Blanca & Roja's relationship as sisters. Their deep, abiding love for one another is one of those remarkable things in fiction that I know I'm going to remember. As an older sister myself, every one of Blanca's chapters hurt a bit to read as I recognized my own dedication to my younger sister. But Roja is the one who really shines, angry and messy and full of love.

Yearling and Page are similarly incredible. I think having the chance to read Page's story in particular after Anna-Marie has publicly come out took Page's struggle with the world and how to demand her place in it from great to unforgettable. McLemore writes their characters with so much care and adoration that it is impossible not to fall in love with each of them just a little bit.

The only thing that kept this book back from a full five stars for me was that I never got fully emotionally invested (aka, I didn't cry - usually my indication that a book gets the full 5/5 review). I think that is the only thing that separates how I felt about Wild Beauty and Blanca & Roja. Both are essential stories that are brimming with magic and complex explorations of the world and how queer people, people of color, disabled folks, etc. are able to fit into that world. The difference for me is purely personal, and something I'm looking forward to exploring more as I read more of McLemore's work.

I fell in love with these characters, with the world, with complex forms of understanding, with the struggles of colorism played out between generations and between sisters, and so much more. It's a gorgeous story that I'll recommend again and again.
Profile Image for Karima chermiti.
812 reviews153 followers
November 2, 2018

We painted the woods that night. We gave it the colors we were and the colors we borrowed. We were opening our hands. We were giving up the stories we thought we already knew.
We were becoming.

I feel quite an idiot who’s trying to articulate in words a beauty that lives in them and yet it transcends them. This book made me emotional and I fear I’ll be writing things that doesn’t make a lot of sense so just bear with me guys. I think it’s better if I just put in words these random thoughts that plague my mind demanding to be let out without trying to make them fit into a structure so here they are :

• Magical realism books about family dynamics and sisterhood are my new drug and I need more of them because they speak to me on so many levels, I'm greedy , I want more.

• I discovered that retelling can make me lightheaded and brokenhearted if they’re done well and Oh boy was this retelling a beauty, I feel my soul is singing.

Everything you mean well can twist and become something else when you’re not looking. Everything has an edge if you know to watch for it.

• This book reminds of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, one of my favorite books of all time and I’m in agony.


Anna-Marie Mclemore, where have you been my whole life. you know it doesn’t matter that I hadn’t read you before, It matters that I read one of your books now and now I’m never going to stop reading your books, favorite new author of mine

• I feel I can quote the entire book, it was simply magic. The writing was artistic, poetic and felt like clouds in my blood. The words felt like a balm to cure the cynical old me and to make me feel full of love and wonder.

She was the girl I wanted, and the girl who knew me. She was the girl who let me choose, because she demanded no choices of me.

• This book has one of the most complex characters I read about this year. They feel so vivid, so authentic and so full of feelings. Roja, the one who though herself the sister to vanish cause she wasn’t enough so she’d lash out from fear. Blanca the one who loves without limits and who sacrifices for that love. The bear-boy who lost sense of his place and Page, the one who’ll learn that love came in different shapes and that people who really care we’ll see you the core of you and embrace you even when they don’t understand.

“You know, just because they don’t understand you doesn’t mean they don’t want to,” my grandmother said. “And just because they don’t understand now doesn’t mean they never will.”

• Blanca and Roja, a book about sisterhood and falling in love in the worst time possible is also a book about second chances, breaking the barriers that separate us from what we want to be and what we deserve to have and fighting against marginalization and how people needs us to fit into their image of us

• The best love stories are the ones who make you want to fall in love as well, so I guess this book has the best love stories, it was sweet, ad wild and passionate and tragic and it was so pure.

Every time I talked to Yearling I felt like I was reaching into some smoke-glass jar, grabbing at words I couldn’t see and hoping they were the right ones.

• I don’t think I’ve ever been in tune with characters emotions like with the four main characters of this book, their love filled me with love, their anger made me angry, their pain hurt my soul and that ending filled my heart with hope.

• This book changed something in me. It broke me and mended me, it killed me and brought me back to life. This book owns me.

The lie of who we were had killed who we might have been. It had buried us. It stripped us down into girls uncomplicated enough to be understood.

So there they are, some of my thoughts about Blanca and Roja, a beautiful story about love in its different forms, friendship, shattering expectations and loving who you are for who you are and being truthful to yourself. You should really do your self a favor and read this book, you’re going to love it, you will.

Profile Image for Eden.
507 reviews206 followers
October 3, 2018
The first ten percent of this book, I was all in. I enjoyed the retelling aspect of the story, I liked the magical quality of the writing, the two sister characters were intriguing, but at about the twenty percent mark, the book started to lose me.

In the beginning, I was thinking this was a five star book because I really enjoy fairy tale retellings and the story of Snow-White and Rose-Red is one of my favorite fairy tales of all time. That eventually went down to a four star because the author didn’t explain what was going on enough. Then the four star moved down to a three star when she kept repeating the same phrases over and over. Finally, my rating landed at a two star because of the lack of explanation and overuse of romance.

This plot was ridiculous. These two sisters are cursed and at some point after the youngest one turns 15, one of them will be chosen to turn into a swan. Okay. You’ve got me there. I’m on board. Then, the author brings in two random boys who end up becoming more important than the CURSE that these girls are trying to get away from.

At the beginning of the novel, I was so on board with McLemore’s writing style. Flowery, over-the-top language isn’t my first choice, but in magical realism it definitely has its place. She started to lose me when she’d say things like “the smell of his bruises” or some crap like that. Umm… excuse me? Do bruises smell? No? Exactly.

Another thing that really bothered me was how descriptive she’d be of some things but then she’d pull back when I ACTUALLY NEEDED TO KNOW WHAT WAS GOING ON. She gets really descriptive of these girls’ periods (don’t ask me why because I have no clue), but then at one point one of the boys is helping the girl with her pain and she keeps saying he’s touching her between her “hip bones” and I’m like…. what is going on here? Please tell me cause I have no clue.

Blanca is definitely my least favorite character. She lets the swans get in between her and her sister and keeps things from her sister when she shouldn’t. One of the things that caught my attention was how Blanca blends this special herb concoction for Roja because her period pains are BAD every month. Like she can’t walk or anything. If they’ve been doing this for… let’s guess three years based on their ages, how on EARTH would Blanca forget and go off with some boy when Roja needs her? Like the author makes a huge deal about these girls’ monthly cycles for Blanca to forget so easily.

Roja is a fierce gem the entire novel, but then at one point everyone just starts thinking the worst of her and she thinks she deserves it… Like…? In the goodreads summary it says Roja is manipulative. I call bull crap on that and the entire characterization of her in the summary. I never get the feeling she is manipulative. Ever. Ugh. Just the way people treat her makes me so angry.

Both of the girls get a boy, and the romance happens almost instantaneously. They say they are in love so quickly. Then one of the relationships is easily broken…he believes the worst of her without really even thinking about it. I can’t.

Overall, this book was just okay for me. My frustrations with the writing and storyline do not end here, but I thought I’d ranted enough. I truly don’t understand how some of the glaring flaws got past the editors. I was reading an advanced reader kindle copy, so maybe some of these things were caught before real publication. I sincerely hope they were because this book has so much potential.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
January 19, 2019
Blanca and Roja del Cisne have been born into a cursed family where one daughter is always taken by swans -- literally turned into one. It’s happened to their grandmother's sister, their aunts, their cousins, and it will happen to them, too. But they aren’t two girls who are going to accept their fate gracefully. They're each determined to be the one the swans choose, so their sister can be saved.

Barclay Holt and Page Ashby are trying to escape their own family problems. The form of their escape brings them to Blanca and Roja’s house, and binds them all together.

Can four teenagers figure out how to break a curse, and define their own ways in the world?
This book was more like an immersive experience than like something with a describable plot. It’s a contemporary retelling of a number of Grimm and Anderson fairy tales, and a teeny bit self-aware of that. It’s also heavy on magical realism, which I usually hate because I never understand any of it. But it manages to feel enough like a fantasy that I loved every word of it.

The plot is a little thin -- I kept forgetting about the swan thing, to be honest, because the “real” problems Barclay/Yearling and Page face were more interesting to me -- but the book covers a lot of emotional ground. The sister-love was great, and was more important to the story than the budding romances. The story also addresses the difficulties of being a brown family in a white town; the question of what to do when your family turns out to be not at all the honorable people you thought; what it’s like to be 15 and transgender; among others. And it was all woven together just beautifully. It’s the kind of story that caught me up and played in my head while I wasn’t reading.

This is a book where you’re either going to love the lyrical, evocative, insightful writing and the mood it sets, or just hate the metaphors and imagery that make you choke and constantly yank you out of the story. I’m not sure there’s a lot of in-between for that. Also, the story is told by constant POV switches between the four main characters, and it wasn’t always obvious who was narrating (which is one reason this is only getting 4 stars and not 5).

I’m going to leave off with words that sum up the moral and feel of the book:

The story of the ugly duckling was never about the cygnet discovering he is lovely. It is not a story about discovering you have become beautiful.

It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be.

If you feel drawn in by those two paragraphs, then by all means give this story a try.
Profile Image for Lisa.
855 reviews562 followers
July 5, 2018
Lyrical, emotional and ultimately about the deepest kind of love.
Profile Image for Enne.
718 reviews112 followers
August 10, 2020
5 stars

There are so many things I loved about this book that I genuinely don’t know where to start. I’m in love with every single element of this story and this book has quickly skyrocketed up in my rankings of Anna-Marie McLemore’s work.

The writing in this one is just as beautiful as in all of their other works and, as always, it leaves me with a feeling of melancholy and a homesickness for a place I’ve never been. McLemore’s descriptions are always so vivid and their style is so lyrical that I can’t help but be mesmerized by it and this novel is no different. I would honestly recommend McLemore’s works for the writing alone, but there is so much more to love about this one!!

For example, the characters!! Every single character in this book has decided to steal my heart and now they refuse to give it back and I’m not mad about it because all of them are so well crafted?? There is so much depth to each of them and you can tell that all of them are incredibly flawed but that only makes you love them more?? Their flaws are just as much of an important part of this story as their triumphs and I honestly love that so much?? It really allows McLemore to explore how a lot of the time, things you (or society) think of as flaws can be turned into triumphs.

I also love the relationships in this book! Both of the romances are to die for and I?? Love them with the entire heart. No one can make me root for a romantic pairing like Anna-Marie McLemore and I love that for me. But while I loved both of the romances, my favorite relationships in this book were, by far, the friendship between Yearling and Page, and the sister relationship between Blanca and Roja. Because throughout the story, it’s so clear how much they care for each other and how much they love each other and how they would go to the end of the world for each other and it just made me very emotional. Nothing gets me to cry like a good sibling story!!

And while I normally don’t care about the plot in McLemore’s novels because I’m reading for the characters and the atmosphere, I really loved it in this one!! I really loved how a lot of it was a lot more introspective than I’ve gotten used to with other novels and I loved how the storylines of the four characters intersected. Also, can I just say that I have never hated any swans as much as I hate the swans in this book. That said, though, I loved how the storyline surrounding them was resolved!!

There are so many other little things that I absolutely love about this book that we would be here all day if I tried to list all of them, but as a final note, I will say that I absolutely adored the themes McLemore explores in this novel and the way they do it. I cannot recommend this book enough, it’s genuinely one of my favorite of McLemore’s works and it deserves all the praise in the universe!!

(Also Blanca and Page have my heart and every single scene with them makes me want to cry, but that’s neither here nor there).
Profile Image for TheYALibrarian.
295 reviews133 followers
January 16, 2019
Rated 5 Stars

All hail McLemore!! How can I not with that beautiful prose and well plotted out LATINA retelling of Swan Lake and The Prince and the Bear!

This is no fluffy Swan Princess from childhood ladies so buckle up!


Blanca and Roja are sisters cursed to be torn apart. One will become a swan, never to be human again while the other remains a girl. A curse put on their family for generations when one woman asked for daughters from the swans. In this tale swans are magical beings who can grant a woman's wish but also take and punish those who defy them. These two sisters tried to do just that by making it that the swans could not choose one or the other. I loved this particular part of the story with the two girls trying to be like the other when they are so different in almost every way. Blanca, like her name is kind and pure while Roja is as fiery as her name. But I will say that Roja was not as viscous as the synopsis made it seem. She was rough around the edges but really could be kind and gentle like Blanca. Especially when it came to Yearling.

I think that's a good segway into the other main characters with curses of their own. Barclay Holt, a average teenage jock is introduced to the reader as a bear named Yearling. How he became to be a bear is a little confusing. From what I could grasp is that he wished himself into a bear but that's it? I think it's just that this universe that McLemore created has magic as a prominent well known thing and I think that's why Yearling could shapeshift from man to bear. I liked Yearling he was kind and protective of the Del Sisne sisters and that's refreshing in the YA world. I will say though that we was a little on the average side so he doesn't stand out that much to me as a character after finishing this book. His best friend Paige however I remember well. Their voice was strong as they switched from any really living being to human back and forth like Yearling. Their love for Blanca was sweet as the apples they and Blanca bit into and they just made a perfect couple as well as Roja matched Yearling very well.

As for the plot it was well written and was also very character based. The coming of the swans to take one of the girls was just a small piece of the story with the narrative switching from all four of them back and forth. But as for the coming of the swans I thought that was a great twist. I liked how Roja became a black swan but then Blanca wished herself into a swan to protect her sister. In doing so they broke the curse and they both got to keep their human bodies. Their was a lot of trials and tribulations along the way that almost broke these sisters apart, but they still kept their sisterhood strong even through all the secrets between each other. It's relate-able too to readers who have sisters and I have two so I like that relate-able aspect as well.

Overall totally recommend and I am totally going to dive into the rest of McLemore's work.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Faith Simon.
198 reviews162 followers
January 3, 2019
4 1/2 stars.
I loved this book so much, I can't even describe just how much. This book pulled every emotion deep inside me out through my eyes and lungs, every breath I took was so heavy reading this, my eyes were constantly trying to cry. This book made me so damn emotional. I'm proud of myself I didn't cry but I was REALLY CLOSE.
I'm quite sure I've said this before, but Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my most favourite authors ever. I will read absolutely anything she writes, her writing is phenomenal and I have such a new appreciation for magical realism because of her. Her writing is as beautiful and poetic as always. I cannot rave about her or her writing enough to ever do her justice. But for now, I guess I'll start by reviewing this book.
I've wanted to read this book since it was announced, it was on my most anticipated releases of 2018 list. And it just blew me away, it was so much better than I could have ever imagined.
First off, I'm so into androgynous or genderqueer characters, and every single book she writes has at least one, I love reading about characters falling into tender love with genderqueer characters, like it just makes my heart so happy, we don't really get to experience that very often in YA, so I just fall in love with this aspect when I read Anna-Marie's books (among other things, of course). I love how she writes these characters, their existence does not conjure constant questions having to be answered throughout the entire book, they are just allowed to exist in this world, to just be. And I love this. We do not always need to understand characters to love their perspectives. And I loved that different characters thought of him as different pronouns, but he was still the same person without sacrificing his gender identity.
By the time the ending came around, I was thinking that there was some certain plot point that wasn't going to see any resolution, but then I was proven wrong and there went my one and only critique I could possibly have written about the story.
A familiar theme in the books she writes is the love between family, and this book entails the love between two sisters, it made my heart soar, but also made my heart sore. So much in this book made my heart sore. There's so much present conflict that sort of acts passive, it's not always weighing on the story but it's always there, there's tension as you read but it isn't in your face at all, which I really loved. Obviously there's the curse of the swans always weighing down on you, but there's so much more and ah, this book is just so insanely good!
With every book Anna-Marie writes I think her next book can't possibly get any better than the one before, but I'm always being proven wrong. Each book is better than the next, more painful and beautiful than the one before. I'm sure by her next book I'll be crying while I read it. But for now, I'm still proud that I didn't.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,023 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.