Blanca & Roja

by Anna-Marie McLemore

I really liked McLemore’s prior book, The Weight of Feathers, especially due to the poetic, sense-evoking descriptions. And the dwelling on emotions and connections to family and how they contrast with our chosen families.

All of that is here in this retelling of Snow White & Rose Red, plus the addition of two really culturally less common male characters– a non binary boy who follows his best friend into the woods one day when the friend becomes a bear. This best friend is the other less common male character– the victim of abuse from a family member, but the depiction of the violence and damage they wreak upon each other is nuanced and complicated.

Blanca & Roja are sisters in a family where a curse has been passed down for generations that two sisters will be born and one will be claimed by the swans. These particular sisters, despite their differences, want to fight this curse, and they have entangled their lives together, trying to dilute each other’s differences to fool the swans. McLemore is really, really adept at evoking all the senses, referencing plants and flavors and nature to give us a complete sensation– anger like the buzzing of iridescent beetles, the sweet maple flavor of red rose petals on the tongue, the moon-fresh brightness of a particular apple flesh at night.

And while the story ostensibly is Blanca & Roja left by their family when the swans finally come to claim them, just as the two lost boys emerge from the woods and a bear shape to live with them, the plot is spun out of their emotional journey like cotton candy– airy, ephemeral, and quick to melt on your tongue.

And that’s where this book felt more difficult to push through then her other book. It felt repetitive in terms of the constant talking about the sisters’ differences and ambiguous about why they were just hanging around their house all the time.

Anyway, this probably gets shelved under fantasy, but really its magical realism with a higher-than-usual ratio of the magical to the realism (As if Isabel Allende wrote a YA movie for Netflix). So this is beautiful, and definitely lovers of fairy-tale retellings in a contemporary mode will enjoy it, but it was a tad over-flowery for me.