Opening Line: "A grown man is no match for a teenage girl on a skateboard."
Undercover Latina is the debut middle-grade novel from Aya de León, an established author of adult heist and espionage novels. The story centers on fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín who only recently learned that her family works for the Factory, an international organization of spies dedicated to protecting people of color. Andréa has been selected to go on her first solo mission to infiltrate a local high school and befriend the estranged son of a dangerous white supremacist. She's hoping she will be able to gather information on Kyle's father's whereabouts and stop him from launching a national terrorist attack. The only thing is Andréa will not be entering the school as herself, instead she will be undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, as both Andréa and her mother are light-skinned and can pass as being white. To get closer to Kyle, Andréa learns to play Tríangulo, a card game based on anticolonialism (similar to Magic the Gathering in play style) and meets Kyle's best friend, Ramón who she unexpectedly develops a crush on. Giving up every part of her Latino heritage and identity proves to be more challenging than Andréa expected, especially when faced with hearing xenophobic comments and not being able to respond to them because she might blow her cover. Can she hold on in order to stop the attack or will her hidden identity be revealed to all?
Undercover Latina explores the topics of racism, privilege, culture, and passing as white, by adapting the xenophobic comments the authors own mother received into Andrea's story to illustrate how she too was overlooked as being Latina because of her lighter skin color. I appreciated the way the story also combats these harmful ideals. Overall, this was a very interesting read and super action packed. From the very first pages where Andréa grabs a suitcase and jumps onto her skateboard while navigating her escape route, the reader's attention is instantly captured. It's evident that Aya de León put a lot of effort into developing her story with the middle grade reader in mind. She even developed the game of Tríangulo, with all its specific rules for how to play, what each character card does and strategies for winning. Some of which I was entirely lost on, but I don't play Magic the Gathering either, however I'm sure kids would thoroughly enjoy reading about. Readers will also enjoy reading about Comic Con and the cosplaying competition while following along with its fast-paced action sequences. Undercover Latina will appeal to readers of action and spy stories, as well as for fans of card games. **Thank you to Laura Rivas at Candlewick Press for drawing attention to this title to me and Edelweiss+ for the E-ARC**