Up-close pile of rose petals tinted red and white

About the Book

Title: Blanca & Roja
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Pretty
BFF Charm: Third (or Fifth) Wheel
Talky Talk: Magical
Bonus Factor: Sisters, LGBTQ+, Diversity
Relationship Status: MFEO

Cover Story: Pretty

I like this cover, but I find myself struggling to say much about it. It’s fitting with the story, in theme, but the colors don’t quite match up to the “divide” of those in the story. I think a much more graphic treatment of the colors, a clear distinction rather than a gradient, would have a greater impact and feel more connected to the text.

The Deal:

Blanca and Roja are the youngest sisters in the del Cisne family, a family who’s cursed by swans. Each woman in the del Cisne family will have two daughters, and one of which will be taken shortly after her 15th birthday and turned into a swan. Blanca and Roja are determined to thwart the swans’ curse, and they think they’ve won when months go by after Roja turns 15 without so much as a rustle of feathers. But a magic this old doesn’t break easily, and even the best intentions often go awry.

Barclay Holt and Page Ashby are like brothers, even though they aren’t related. The two have their own mysteries, their own issues to escape, and have found a different magic in the woods behind the del Cisne house, a magic that swallows them up for six months.

Though they don’t know it, Blanca, Roja, Barclay, and Page’s stories are inexorably intertwined.

BFF Charm: Third (or Fifth) Wheel

BFF charm holding an umbrella

Blanca and Roja are as tight-knit as sisters can be, and their closeness would make it hard for anyone to try to become friends with either, much less both of them. And when Barclay and Page come into their lives, the idea of trying to be friends with any of them becomes seemingly impossible. At the start, the four of them aren’t exactly friends, but there’s something about the four of them together that feels complete. I don’t think any of them would exclude a new person looking to join the group on purpose, but it would happen organically nonetheless.

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Blanca’s long had an interest in Page, a non-binary transgender boy who uses both masculine and feminine pronouns. But she’s only spoken to him once, and that was before he went into the woods. Roja doesn’t know much about Barclay, other than that he’s a Holt, which is a loaded last name in their town. Both sisters think they are too concerned with the swan situation to bother with relationships, but sometimes relationships happen when you aren’t looking.

Talky Talk: Magical

When I finish a McLemore novel, it takes me a while to “come back” to the real world. Their writing is mesmerizing and dreamy, and I tend to get lost in their stories from the very start. Blanca & Roja, thanks to being based on the fairy tales of Swan Lake and Snow White and Rose Red, feels a smidge more fantastical than their other novels, which toed the line between magical realism and full-on fantasy. I did struggle a bit with the lack of world building around the magic that Barclay and Page encounter, but I eventually learned to just go with it; in a world in which swans have cursed a family, it’s not that much of a leap for there to be other magics about.

Bonus Factor: Sisters

Claudia resting her head on Janine's shoulder (Kishi sisters from The Baby-Sitters Club)

As an only child, I’ve really only been able to experience siblings second hand. (Although I do have wonderful in-laws, our relationship isn’t the same as it would be if we had grown up together.) Blanca & Roja features the kind of sisterly relationship I would have liked to have: one in which the girls would do near anything for each other, but isn’t without disagreements and misunderstandings. It might seem strange to wish for a relationship that isn’t perfect, but how truly real Blanca and Roja’s relationship felt was much more impactful than it would have been had it been portrayed as an always shiny, happy—fake—thing.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ+

Transgender flag

Two of McLemore’s other novels—When the Moon Was Ours and Wild Beauty—also feature non-binary or trans individuals, and I applaud them for continuing to include such characters in their books. Never does it feel preachy when McLemore explains who these characters are, and how they see themselves, and their inclusion has helped me understand a bit better just how open-ended the nuances of gender identity can be.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Faces of all different races, ethnicities and genders.

I love how much Latinx culture McLemore weaves into their books. I learn so much, and never mind having to turn to an online translator to understand some of the references.

Relationship Status: MFEO

You took me on an adventure of the imagination book, one that taught me new things and opened my mind to new possibilities, was suspenseful without causing a panic attack, and featured a nice bit of swoon. Is there a better date to be had? I think not.

Literary Matchmaking

When the Moon Was Ours

I can’t recommend McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours enough. This is the first novel of theirs that I read, and it got me hooked on their beautiful storytelling.

Wild Beauty

While I’m pushing their novels, you should also read Wild Beauty. (I have yet to read their debut, Weight of Feathers, but it’s on my TBR!)

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

And if you find yourself on a magical realism kick, be sure to also check out The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Feiwel & Friends, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Blanca & Roja is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.