Aya de Leon

author – activist – faculty – mom


Between October 2021 & 2023, Aya has 6 novels coming out!

First up was THE MYSTERY WOMAN IN ROOM THREE about two undocumented Dominican teen girls who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal. This young adult thriller was too politically urgent to wait for traditional publishing, so it was published serially on the Orion Magazine website in fall 2021. The novel is still available for free!

In December, Aya’s 2nd standalone adult novel QUEEN OF URBAN PROPHECY came out from Kensington Books. A young starlet rapper faces unexpected public scrutiny when she releases a song about a girl shot by police after school, and a girl with the same name gets killed by police under those circumstances. Meanwhile, her national tour is increasingly hot as she criss-crosses a nation ravaged by global warming. Can she learn how use her platform for activism on behalf of Black lives and climate justice?

In October 2022, Aya’s first traditionally published young adult novel UNDERCOVER LATINA comes out from Candlewick Books. A 14-year-old homeschooled Latina spy gets her first solo mission: to pass for white, and befriend a geeky 9th grade boy in Arizona. Will she be able to handle the learning curve of high school, plus comic books and gaming? And can she outwit the boy’s estranged dad, a white nationalist terrorist. . . all while remembering not to blow her cover by speaking Spanish?

In winter 2022/23, Aya’s next adult thriller about the climate crisis will come out from Kensington Books. In this not-yet-titled novel, the young Black woman protagonist, who’s always been apolitical, finds herself in a love triangle with a fossil fuel mogul and a climate justice activist. She has to decide where her loyalty lies as the climate crisis continues to escalate!

Meanwhile, Aya has a super secret project coming out in early 2023 that she can’t yet disclose, but stay tuned!!

In fall 2023, Aya’s second young adult spy novel comes out. Tentatively titled GOING DARK, it’s the prequel to UNDERCOVER LATINA about a plus-sized African American girl who uncovers espionage related secrets about her family.

A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, Aya’s first spy book and first standalone novel, has already been selected as one of the most anticipated books for Fall 2020 by CrimeReads and the Washington Post. It takes on the timely issues of climate justice, corporate corruption, and government surveillance of marginalized activists in a gripping story about a rookie FBI attorney going undercover to infiltrate a Bay Area group of radicals.


Since childhood, Yolanda Vance has forged her desire to escape poverty into a laser-like focus that took her through prep school and Harvard Law. So when her prestigious New York law firm is raided by the FBI, Yolanda turns in her corrupt bosses to save her career—and goes to work for the Bureau. Soon she’s sent undercover at Red, Black, and Green—an African-American “extremist” organization back in her California college town.

She’s anticipating a career win – not for an unexpected romance to open her heart and a suspicious death to open her eyes. Menacing dark money forces will do anything to bury Yolanda and the movement. As the stakes escalate, and one misstep could cost her life, Yolanda will have to decide between betraying the cause of her people or invoking the wrath of the world’s most powerful law enforcement agency.

Children’s chapter book – EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY -May 2020

Ten-year-old Daniela and her friends get mad when a pair of boys won’t let them play soccer because the boys have negative stereotypes about girls. But Daniela gets so mad that purple laser beams shoot out of her eyes. When the rays hit the boys, they themselves suddenly begin to act out those stereotypes. But where did Daniela get this power? From the the freak accident she had involving her dog, a wad of purple gum and her mother’s laser experiment? When the president refuses to sign the Gender Equality Act, Daniela gets angry again and nearly destroys the car radio that reported the news. Will Daniela learn to control her powers? And what will happen when the girls confront the president while he’s in town introducing the Miss Tween USA beauty pageant? This book can help young readers develop critical thinking about sexism, even as they laugh at its absurdity.  


Aya continues her signature stories of multi-racial communities of women fighting for social justice. A sort of junior version of Justice Hustlers for elementary school students. With laser beams!


The multiple award-winning Justice Hustlers series carves out space for women of color in the crime genre at the intersection of wealth redistribution, sexual capital, labor rights, and women’s healthcare. The series envisions an unstoppable double rainbow coalition of racially diverse straight, queer, and trans women. These novels are action packed and sexually charged stories of hood problems, political struggle, international solidarity and brown romance. It’s a literary mash-up of Aya’s MFA in fiction, her craft as a renowned poet, and her skills as a hip hop artist, reaching for a new language of urban women’s insurrection.

Justice Hustlers Book #4 SIDE CHICK NATION – 2019

This fourth Justice Hustlers heist book was the first novel published about Hurricane Maria and has won a first place International Latino Book Award and gotten rave reviews:

“Gripping feminist heist fiction about turning the tables on the disaster capitalists in the jaws of climate apocalypse? Improbably and thrillingly, Aya de Leon has pulled off exactly that with SIDE CHICK NATION. I couldn’t put it down.”                                                                 —Naomi Klein author The Shock Doctrine

“The fourth title in de León’s genre-bending Justice Hustlers series is a multifaceted tale. On one level, it’s an entertaining feminist heist tale with a satisfying Robin Hood–style caper or two, but where the book truly shines is in spotlighting the challenges facing former sex workers and in angling an unflinching lens on the plight of Puerto Rico, both before and after the Maria disaster….An absorbing, enlightening book that exemplifies the power of good storytelling.” Kirkus Reviews

De León’s…layered tale weaves heist capers, romantic suspense, and unforgettable realism in a look at Puerto Rico after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria….De León brings feminism, racial equality, and page-turning entertainment to the best book yet in her uniquely powerful Justice Hustlers series. —Booklist Starred Review by Amy Alessio

Dulce Garcia was a teen sexually exploited by a violent New York pimp until Marisol Rivera rescued her. But Dulce didn’t stay rescued for long. In SIDE CHICK NATION, Dulce’s unhealed trauma and appetite for thrills lead her into an endless party of sugar daddies in the Caribbean. Until she gets caught in Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—and witnesses both the heartbreaking disaster of climate change, and the international vultures who plunder the tragedy for a financial killing, making shady use of relief funds to devastate the island even more . . .

New York-based mastermind thief Marisol already has her hands full fleecing a ruthless CEO who’s stealing her family’s land in Puerto Rico and getting her relatives out alive. An addional crew member could be game-changing, but she’s wary of Dulce’s unpredictability and history of indiscretion. Still, Dulce’s growing determination to get justice draws Marisol in, along with her formidable Lower East Side Women’s Health Clinic’s heist squad. But their on-the-fly race-against-the-clock plan is soon complicated by a sexy crusading journalist—not to mention powerful men who turn deadly when ex-side chicks step out of the shadows and demand to call the shots . . .

Justice Hustlers series from Kensington Books

available at the following outlets:

From IndieBound

From Barnes&Noble

From Amazon

From Audible.

The Accidental Mistress_FINAL_REVISED

Lily and Violet Johnson are sisters who immigrated from Trinidad to the US. Violet had an educational visa to prep school, but Lily was undocumented and became a stripper. A decade later, Violet’s wedding to the young African American millionaire she met at Harvard is imminent. However, when she loans her phone to a woman to make a call, a case of mistaken identity ensues. She later learns that the young woman is the mistress of the owner of Lily’s unionized strip club, and he’s skipped town with the pension fund. The mogul’s jealous wife tracks the phone call and stalks Violet with a special brand of danger. Violet loses her job and her fiancé in the ensuing scandal. In desperation, Violet teams up with the spurned wife to clear her name, and they assemble a set of unlikely allies: Violet’s sister Lily, now a stripper union leader, as well as Marisol, Tyesha and Serena from the Maria de La Vega clinic. Meanwhile, sparks fly between Violet and a Caribbean artist from her past, but she resists him in the hopes of winning her fiancé back. When the team gets a lead on where the mogul might be hiding out, Marisol gives Violet safecracking lessons. Can Violet recover the money before the mogul skips to a country with no extradition treaty? And if Violet can clear her name, which man will she choose? The millionaire fiance or the hunky artist? And as tensions mount with her sister, the very different ways they’ve each made their way in the US threaten to come into direct collision, and Violet will have to shed all of her assumptions and values if she wants to make it out alive.


Tyesha Couvillier seems to have escaped her disastrous past on Chicago’s South Side. She’s finished graduate school and stopped working as an escort. Now she’s director of a Manhattan women’s health clinic, and as the new boss, she’s called to lead in labor crisis. The dancers at the One-Eyed-King want to unionize, but the chain of strip clubs is controlled by Ukrainian mobsters with no regard for any laws, least of all labor codes. Meanwhile, Tyesha’s high drama relatives from Chicago have moved to Brooklyn, including Tyesha’s teenage niece who’s trying to break into the rap game. She begs Tyesha to rekindle her romance with a rap star she used to date. Tyesha initially encountered him as a rude client too drunk for sex. He became a promising suitor until he expected an easy lay because of her profession. According to his latest album he’s changed. But can she trust him? She needs a clear head to deal with her more dangerous relatives and the deadly anti-union thugs who threaten her, the strippers, and the clinic.

FIRST PLACE WINNER: Independent Publisher Awards:

Praise for THE BOSS

“This  well-written and enjoyable installment in de León’s unique, feminist, urban crime fiction series, Justice  Hustlers, infuses satisfying power in both plot and character. Readers will embrace  this heist story with heart and its hero, Tyesha, a smart yet fallible professional and champion for  struggling women. [de] León, who is also a poet, social commentator, and head of the Poetry for the People  program at UC Berkeley, is a crime writer to watch.”

-Amy Alessio, Booklist

“Sexy. Scandalous. Suspenseful. Book two in de Leon’s Justice Hustlers series is an honest and authentic stand-alone read that quickly captures the reader’s attention. The street-smart heroine heroically takes on…mobsters, drug pins and bad boy rappers.”

– RT Book Reviews

“tackles the real issues of sex work in a criminalized society without ever coming across as preachy…The Boss is a particularly important, informative, and exciting read which will stimulate vital discussions of many black and sex worker-specific issues.”

-Jay St. James, Tits and Sass

These Set It Off meets Ocean’s 11 books are about a multicultural group of former sex workers who run a New York clinic for women, funding their operations by breaking into the safes of wealthy men who exploit women and girls….during these hostile times, there’s also something distinctly refreshing about the storyline. How often do we get to read about the oppressed retaliating against their oppressors?

….There’s action, romance, titillating sex scenes, and keep-it-real humor. More importantly, there’s also a deeper message…

-Jenee Darden, The Establishment

The [Justice Hustlers series] offers poetic and savvy descriptions of women’s inner and external challenges that are reminiscent of Sister Souljah’s or Ntozake Shange’s work [and] continues to defy the “urban literature” category by blending womanist principles with salacious, even delicious romantic plot twists.

-Joshunda Sanders, Bitch Magazine

“one third romance, one third heist caper, and one third Norma Rae for sex workers….Equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking, The Boss is definitely one for the keeper shelves of any feminist-minded romance reader.”

-Romance Novels For Feminists

“[these] strong, intelligent, and fearless women of color who steal in the name of justice…come to life immediately…a tightly-written, inventive plot makes the pages turn on their own….If you’re looking for a summer weekend read, this is a great one.”

Elizabeth Marro, Author, Casualties, A Novel


Marisol Rivera will do whatever it takes to protect her women’s health clinic––including bankrolling it with an escort service and a successful series of robberies that target corporate CEOs involved in a sex trafficking scandal. Because sometimes the best donor to a nonprofit is the unintentional donor. Her team includes three escorts: Tyesha, an African American public health graduate student by day; Kim, “the lock whisperer,” a petite Korean immigrant; and Kim’s girlfriend Jodie, a six-foot blonde dominatrix. But can they heist a security-obsessed billionaire? Especially when he doesn’t want any of the escorts on the team, he wants the madam. The lure of a big score that could save the clinic may be too much to resist. But the risks are equally high, especially when Marisol finds herself falling for an ex-cop involved in the case. Is he feeding her info to help her out or to set her up? As the secrets of her sexual past resurface, her perfect plan begins to unravel. Marisol must outwit the Central Robbery detectives and outrun the vicious pimp who firebombed her clinic. She will need all her Lower East Side street survival skills to save her clinic, her team and her own skin.

FIRST PLACE WINNER: International Latino Book Awards:

FIRST PLACE WINNER: Independent Publisher Awards:

“UPTOWN THIEF is…a page-turner we can dive into for an escape from poverty, sexism and racism, but also a rallying cry to toss out those systems and rewrite the rules.” -Washington Post


Trade Publications:

“Our lady with the heart of gold is bold…she knows what’s important and tells her staff, ‘But as long as the female [ass] outearns the female brain, there are gonna be sex workers who need our clinic.’ De León, who teaches poetry at the University of California, Berkley, has written a first novel loaded with heart. Marisol is totally dedicated to her cause, but the author is wise to not make Marisol a saint but rather deeply flawed….this new author’s hard-hitting tale is a welcome addition.”

Library Journal Reviews

…de León’s urban adventure combines sexiness with compassion. Marisol is an interesting Robin Hood, and her struggles to help her friends and family, as well as realistic stories of women in shelters seeking refuge from dangerous men, will resonate with readers. De Leon offers erotica with an engaging plot and emotional and social depth.

— Amy Alessio, Booklist advance review

“Marisol and her band of Merry Women are robbing from the rich to help the downtrodden women in her health clinic. Though she is living a life of crime, she has a heart of Gold. You find yourself cheering her on while biting your nails hoping she’ll win out in the end.”

– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars


“Aya De Leon squares a seemingly un-squarable circle, melding romance novel with social critique.”

-Jean Yang, Jacobin Magazine

“Aya de Leon…delivers a fast-paced thriller.”

Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News

Uptown Thief “isn’t the sort of book I’d usually choose to read: it combines what should be an unbelievable heist plot alongside the stories of a range of sex workers and Marisol’s personal life. I agreed to read it because I’ve included Aya de León’s blog posts in my In the Media round-up and I think her pieces on feminism are interesting and thought-provoking. I’m glad I did; I was gripped throughout the whole book. This is a fast-paced tale, cinematic in style, with a clear vein of smart thinking with regards to women and sex – whether for work or pleasure.”

-The Writes of Woman

Author Reviews:

“Uptown Thief is a smart, sexy, sizzling good time of a novel–a daring and irresistible blend of high-voltage action and deeply human storytelling. The women in this book blaze so brightly, you could almost burn your fingers on the pages.”

-Carolina De Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango

“Uptown Thief is a lyrical riot…where corruption lurks in the most unlikely places….A harmonic heist drives our lovable, despicable heroine, Marisol through Manhattan’s upper crust as she discovers the true meaning of sisterhood among thieves.”

-Antonia Crane, author of Spent and co-author of the screenplay The Lusty

“Staking out space for women of color in the heist-fiction genre, Aya de Leon’s smart, sly writing is a knockout.”

-Andi Zeisler, Editorial/Creative Director, Bitch Magazine

“Aya de Leon is a feminist writer to watch.”

-Sarai Walker, author of Dietland

Uptown Thief is a revolutionary novel in disguise, a page turning, plot twisting adventure in feminist class warfare…Aya de León has crafted a story every bit as sneaky and flirtatious as its feisty protagonists. Uptown Thief carries its radical intentions like a switchblade in a rhinestone clutch. You’ll be so swept up, you won’t even notice the blade slide home til it touches your heart.”

-Dr. Aurora Levins-Morales, author of Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas

“Uptown Thief takes you on a wild ride…a twisty, fun read with snappy dialogue and winning characters, but what really makes it stand out is what it has to say…about the sex trade in America….a refreshing take on the classic heist story, with a team of smart, beautiful women taking on the roles of George Clooney and his buddies in Ocean’s Eleven. Also: it has lots and lots of sex…”

-Heather Young, author of THE LOST GIRLS

“It’s the new OITNB. A story of women’s hustle, women’s relationships, women’s worldmaking. It cries out for a TV series….UPTOWN THIEF offers the realest breakdown of sex work economies I’ve ever encountered in literature, TV or film. [It’s also] the ultimate grown-up love story. From the soul-killing choices of children trapped in abuse and poverty, to the messy, dirty, complicated choices of adults struggling to hold together family and community in brutal economic times. “

-Shailja Patel, Amazon bestselling author of MIGRITUDE

“This Robin Hood story of a feminist, independent madam (for lack of a better word) gave me a perspective on the sex industry that I’d never seen before. Marisol is a take-no-prisoners boss who respects her employees and allows them to have control over their bodies and their work, despite their position as sex workers. It gave me insight into how this profession could be….The story itself is fast-paced and titillating (the sex scenes are steamy!) as Marisol protects those she loves and takes revenge on those who treat women poorly (or worse). The action scenes are tense and exciting, and this is definitely the novel for those who want some excitement in their lives!”

-Jennifer Brown, author of MODERN GIRLS

“Marisol Rivera…the superhero the world needs now….go read the book! It’s a blast.”

-Andrea Dunlop, author of LOSING THE LIGHT

“Hot sex, suspense, safe-cracking, and social justice: Aya de Leon’s Uptown Thief  has all of this and more as Marisol, a super-thief, trick-turning Wonder Woman in indestructible  high heels, robs the evil rich to give her sister sex workers healthcare, safety, dignity, and  401K’s. De Leon has a sharp ear for dialogue, a penchant for sizzling descriptions, and a talent  for revealing the upside of an underworld where crime is not only a necessity; it’s the only  option if you want to survive.”

-Mary Mackey New York Times bestselling author of The Village of Bones

 Reader Reviews:

“Can not put down Aya de Leon’s UPTOWN THIEF. Get it if you’re into smart, complex, rule-breaking women. Or if you just read books.”

-Lorelei Lee, writer/porn performer



Barnes & Noble


puffy CS cover promo


puffy: people whose hair defies gravity

puffy is a children’s book of text and photographs featuring kids, teens, adults, and families with naturally puffy hair.  It is designed to provide children of African heritage and other puffy-haired kids with positive images.  The Project was started by writer/performer/educator Aya de Leon to share a book she had created for her own daughter with other families and children.

“This universal crowd-pleaser is a joyful celebration of natural black hair. Rhyming text accompanies photos of smiling adults and children who sport puffs, twists, knots, locks, curls, and cornrows. The sweet refrain “puffy here/puffy there,/yay! I love my puffy hair” will be fun for small children to repeat. It’s a perfect choice for one-on-one sharing or for storytime.”

School Library Journal

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Aya wins first place Independent Publisher Awards for UPTOWN THIEF, THE BOSS, THE ACCIDENTAL MISTRESS

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