Synopsis: 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.
Content Warnings: Violence/physical abuse, colorism (challenged), detailed talk of menstrual cramps,
The biggest twist in this book was realizing that the cover isn’t just a rose but two swans in the corners.
Okay, that’s obviously not true, because if you’ve ever read a book by Anna-Marie McLemore, you know saying that her writing amazing is an understatement. I was really going to wait until my library picked the book up so I could borrow it, but five days after it came out I found myself needing to read it, so I used one of my Audible credits, and I am not at all disappointed. There are four POV characters—Blanca del Cisne, Roja del Cisne, Barclay Holt, and Page Ashby—and one narrator for each (one of them being Kyla Garcia, whose voice acting I love!) I swear she gets better with every book, so let me introduce you to her newest masterpiece.
The story of Blanca y Roja is a “queer, Latinx reimagining of Snow-White & Rose-Red meets Swan Lake.” The main conflict of the story is heavily influenced by colorism. Blanca is the older sister with blonde hair and fair skin and their mother’s favorite because she is a perfect, sweet daughter who helps around the house and does as she’s told. Roja is the younger daughter who is said to have caused a complicated pregnancy and birth for her mother. On top of that, she was born with what they call “blood-stained hair”, a darker skin tone than her sister, and a temper that’s impossible for others to tame. From birth, their parents are pitting these two girls against each other, because the swans insist only one of them can survive past the youngest’s fifteenth birthday.
One of my favorite things about the story is that no matter how much their family tries to break their bond, Blanca and Roja continue to fight for each other. Despite some brief lapses in trust because of others trying to get in their heads, these sisters are so loyal to each other at the end of the day, and I love this. It’s so common to see women pitted against each other in today’s society, so to see one where two girls are thrown into a situation specifically curated to instigate a fight and have them rise above it is so refreshing.
Now let’s talk about the boys. I love them, too. So much. Barclay, who goes by Yearling for reasons that constitute as a spoiler, is such a sweet boy, and I want to gush more about him, but there’s so much spoiler territory, so I’ll hold back in this review. One thing I want to highlight for representation’s sake is that he has recently become blind in one eye and is adjusting to this disability. Also his grandmother, someone from a rich, prominent family in this fictional town is a badass lesbian whom I also love.
Not to be dramatic, but Page Ashby is the love of my life. She’s a boy who doesn’t care so much about pronouns, so they change from she/her to he/him depending on who’s talking about her, but it’s not misgendering. Make sense? If it doesn’t, don’t worry. Gender is complicated, and that’s the point here. Just be nice and respect it. So Page is a huge apple fan, to say the least—McLemore even says she speaks the language of apples, which makes more sense when you read the book—and gets Blanca to love apples too. Speaking of Blanca, her relationship with Page is adorable and they fit so well together.
The last point I want to make here is how there is always such a hopeful undertone in McLemore’s stories. So many people think that magical realism is some whimsical genre of unicorns and rainbows, but the history of this style goes so much deeper than that, and Anna-Marie is an expert at it. Horrible things always happen to her characters and they get stuck in terrible situations, but they always make it out alive. Maybe a bit battered and a little bruised, but they keep fighting. In this case, Blanca, Roja, Yearling, and Page continue to fight hate, injustice, abuse, and all that is evil. More importantly, they stay true to themselves, unapologetically. This is a story I could read over and over and never get tired of, and probably find new things I hadn’t noticed before, even after reading it for the 50th time.
Final Thought: Please, please, please! Get this book, borrow it, review it, support it any way you can, because Anna-Marie McLemore’s works are superb, and this is no exception!