NY: Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, April 2006
I've never been a fourteen-year old girl but my daughter was, and she didn't want a quinceañera, and that was that. Based on a recent NY Times article on over the top 15añeras ("I got a Lexus" one 15 year old exults), Sister Chicas (that I reviewed two weeks ago, in La Bloga), and Estrella's Quinceañerea, I'm relieved not to have been through all this.
But Estrella Alvarez' mother and aunt immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico during their adolescent years and as a result they never could afford a fancy fifteenth birthday. Thus, as the two sisters sit at a neigbor girl's fancy dress extravanga, all they can talk about is how wonderful Estrella's quince will be.
Estrella, on the other hand, not only does not want a quinceañera of her own, she wants little to do with her old neighborhood and its culture. Estrella is the neighborhood's academic superstar. She rides the bus from her Alum Rock neighborhood across San Jose to the fancy academy where Estrella is the only Mexican in class. Estrella's two new best friends have rich parents who give credit cards and carte blanche to spend to their hearts' content.
Not only is Estrella estranged from her neighborhood and enthralled by the abundance found in the Anglo school, the fourteen year old has dumped her two constant friends from the neighborhood.
Enter a hunky looking cholo, Speedy. A pest in fourth grade, Speedy turns Estrella's heart to thoughts of her first kiss. Until her Anglo friends get a look at Speedy and decide he's not good enough for their friend Estrella.
Things go from bad to worse, with identity crises, puppy love, and cultural gaps. But Malin Alegria keeps matters well under control, carefully driving her novel in the right direction. Eventually, Estrella will make things work out. The friends will reconcile. The hugely expensive quinceañera will be put aside for a traditional up-from-the-bootstraps event that gives fresh meaning to the concept of homegirls, friends, cultura, and teenage angst.
This is a good book to give a little girl, say a twelve year old whom you want to get ready for the big family pachanga when she turns fourteen. She'll see it isn't so bad, making a mother happy while learning to make one's own decisions. She'll see events of the moment that seem so ponderous, can be fit into perspective even a 14-year old will understand.
It's a worthwhile point for kids to learn. And if the parents would read the book there would be several dinner table discussions to bridge the gaps families don't realize have begun to loom large.
There's a certain optimism to children's books that I love. Young readers will enjoy Estrella's Quinceañera. It's a straightforward telling from a child's point of view. Alegria doesn't try to pack her story with slapstick or local color for its own sake. The author wants her reader to focus on the growing up part, and that's probably the best thing an author can do for a young reader.
What a great week it's been, gente. We'll turn the corner into June with a monton of books to read. Until next week, read! raza.