"Aquino’s debut novel explores complex ideas: how things that are threatening can also be attractive and whether a debt is owed to the people and places that shaped you."— WASHINGTON POST
“I was crying like I lost my best friend as I finished. . . . This book is an act of love . . . It will break you apart and remind you that we can all be put back together again, stronger, and wiser than before.” — XOCHITL GONZALEZ, New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming
An emotionally riveting coming-of-age drama about two cousins lured into the underground drug trade at a young age and the inextricable ties that bind them, as one woman seeks power and the other seeks a way out—the debut of a vibrant and stunningly original new voice in fiction.
Carmen and Grace have been inseparable since they were little girls—more like sisters than cousins, survivors of a childhood marked by neglect and addiction and a system that never valued them. For too long, all they had was each other. That is, until Doña Durka swept into their lives and changed everything, taking Grace into her home, providing stability and support, and playing an outsize role in Carmen’s upbringing too.
Durka is more than a beneficent force in their Bronx neighborhood, though. She’s also the leader of an underground drug empire, a larger-than-life matriarch who understands the vital importance of taking what power she can in a world too often ruled by violent men. So, when Durka dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances, Carmen and Grace’s lives are thrown into chaos. Grace has been primed to take over and has grand plans to expand the business. While Carmen is ready to move on—from the shadow of Durka and her high expectations and, most of all, from always looking over her shoulder in fear. She’s also harboring a secret: she’s pregnant and starting to show, and desperate to build a new life before the baby arrives.
But how can Carmen leave the only family she’s ever known—this tight sisterhood of women known as the D. O. D., a group of lost girls turned skilled professionals under Durka’s guiding hand, all bonded in their spirituality and merciless support for one another—especially now, when outside threats are circling, and Grace’s plans are speeding recklessly forward?
As tough and tender as its main characters, Carmen and Grace will grab readers from the first page with its raw beauty, depth of feeling, and heart-pounding plot. A moving meditation on the choices of women and the legacy of violence, it’s a devastatingly wise and intimate story about the bonds of female friendship, ambition, and found family.
"Melissa Coss Aquino brilliantly delivers a loving novel with characters you are inspired to ride or die with. . . . If you love reading novels about creative, ambitious, and relentless women who are committed to community and making a way out of no way, read this book!" — ANGIE CRUZ, author of How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water and Dominicana
“Electric, heartrending, and exceptionally tender . . . Every sentence of Melissa Coss Aquino's debut feels acute and deliberate, a shard of glass held up to the light.” — DANYA KUKAFKA, bestselling author of Notes on an Execution
Melissa Coss Aquino is a Puerto Rican writer from the Bronx. She received her MFA from The City College of New York, CUNY, and her Ph.D. from The Graduate Center, CUNY in English. She currently works as an Associate Professor in the English department at Bronx Community College, CUNY. She is a proud IWWG, VONA, AROHO, and Hedgebrook alumna.
"Three decades in the making, Aquino’s debut novel explores complex ideas: how things that are threatening can also be attractive and whether a debt is owed to the people and places that shaped you." — Washington Post
"Melissa Coss Aquino pens a story about the inextricable bonds that tie us to one another. Aquino's Carmen and Grace follows the journey of two cousins who venture down the same path ultimately seeking vastly different futures. Carmen and Grace examine the choices we make and how those decisions affect not only us but the people we love the most." — People en Espanol
"Cousins Carmen and Grace share a traumatic childhood that has bonded them together tightly. That is, until they meet a sisterhood of women known as the D.O.D, who are guided by a leader of an underground drug empire, Doña Durka. This plot-driven novel explores the bonds of found family and the ways into which power and ambition can sever relationships." — Lupita Aquino, Today.com
“Electric, heartrending, and exceptionally tender—this novel examines the limits of familial loyalty, twisted cycles of poverty and violence, and how far we'll go to protect those we love most. Carmen and Grace are unforgettable characters, vital and flawed and relentlessly enthralling. Every sentence of Melissa Coss Aquino's debut feels acute and deliberate, a shard of glass held up to the light.” — Danya Kukafka, bestselling author of Notes on an Execution
“I was crying like I lost my best friend as I finished. Carmen and Grace crackles with life: its cruelty and kindness in equal measure. This book is an act of love, a story about found family, the magic sacred space that is created in a circle of women and, above all, the power and lessons of intuition. It will break you apart and remind you that we can all be put back together again, stronger, and wiser than before.” — Xochitl Gonzalez, New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming
“Carmen and Grace is an extraordinary accomplishment, introducing Melissa Coss Aquino as a master stylist and suspense artist. Prepare to be transported from the cars and boulevards of the Bronx to the warehouses of Miami, in a story of resilience, forgiveness, and the people we call home. Thrillingly propulsive and with a haunting thrum of deep, aching humanity; Aquino delivers an epic sparkler of a debut.” — T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
"Prepare to not breathe. This is a remarkable, heart-pounding book based on the best kind of tension—the real kind. Carmen and Grace is the story of two young women swept into the underground drug trade, each trying desperately to gain freedom, in their own ways. It is by turns touching, terrifying, and mesmerizing. Melissa Coss Aquino is a brilliant writer and this is the book of the year." — Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder
"Carmen and Grace is everything I could want in a novel: a wise and ferocious exploration of mothers and motherlessness, an urgent, heart-pounding journey to power and safety, and an all-too-human rendering of what we choose when choice is an illusion. In Carmen and Grace, Melissa Coss Aquino offers us two of the most indelible, vital characters in modern literature. If this novel were a lifetime achievement, it would be enough—but it's only the beginning for Aquino, and for that we should all be thankful." — Katie Gutierrez, bestselling author of More Than You’ll Ever Know
“This novel broke me open. Carmen and Grace goes down as one of my favorite books of the year—one of my favorite books period. Dios mio! Listen! A magnificent portrayal of the complexities of motherhood and the powerful bonds between brilliant women who make choices that prioritize their survival based on the cards they are dealt. I know these women. I am these women. No one but Melissa Coss Aquino could have written these characters and told this story with the care and compassion they deserve. Carmen and Grace will shatter you in the best way.” — Elisabet Velasquez, poet and author of When We Make It
“Carmen and Grace is a gripping story of sisterhood, matriarchy, power, love and grief expressed between women caught up in an underground drug operation in the Bronx. Melissa Coss Aquino writes about toxic bonds and battling the cycle of violence with great skill. I couldn't put this book down.” — Emily Raboteau, author of The Professor's Daughter