Do you remember planning your wedding with your mother? Do you remember the stress? Imagine instead of a bride a fifteen-year-old girl who is celebrating her arrival into womanhood. The fifteen essays in Fifteen Candles each tell a story about a particular Latina (or Latino in a few cases) and his or her experience with the Quinceanera. We Anglo-Americans celebrate Sweet Sixteen, but in the Hispanic culture, the magic digits are 15.
I grew up in Houston, Texas so alongside the pictures of the brides in the newspaper, there were also debutantes and quinces. At the time, I did not really know why these young girls were dressed up like brides. Reading this book has been a glimpse into that culture. The stories come from girls living in the southern United States, the east and west coasts, and a couple who hail from South America and Cuba.
This is basically a collection of memoirs grouped by a common theme. I have never been a short story fan (or so I thought), but I loved that I could sit down and read one of the twenty-page stories in a single sitting. I have become a fan of memoir over this last year because it’s like hearing someone’s story. As I read I find out who they are and what in their life has shaped them into the person that they have
become. The added dimension to this particular group of stories is that they are told from a teenager’s point of view (most of whom were teenagers in the 80’s just like me). Having a daughter who is getting closer to those teen years every day has made me want to be able to jump into the heads of teenagers. Reading them reminds me of my hopes and struggles as a young teen while also alerting me to what she is going to be facing herself in those years.
The Quinceanera (which is the name of the celebration, but also the title for the girl of honor) frets about dates, guest lists, her dress, her court, and her relatives. The Quinceanera celebration marks a coming of age, and these stories are coming of age stories, so there is expectedly some adult language, along with underage drinking and “romantic” exploration.
Because I know that fiction (and creative non-fiction, which is how memoir is often classified) varies widely in regard to content, I have designed a rating system, similar to what you would see at the movies, but with slightly different descriptions, to help our readers decide if a particular book would be of interest to them. You can read about it in my profile here. I would rate most of the stories in this anthology PG, but a few of them are PG-13, and at least one is R (the first one, which I found offensive, so you might just choose to skip it), but I’m so glad that I kept reading, because I enjoyed the others.
In fact, the very next story in the collection, “Love Rehearsals” by Angie Cruz, might have been my favorite. Angie gets to be in the court of her best friend’s cousin. Part of the responsibility of the court is the elaborate dance which involves organized rehearsals to learn the choreography. All of this, including the blossoming romance between her and her partner Junior, was a secret from her mom. I thought that this was such a perfect reminder of a young teen’s life:
“Embarrassment. That is how I can sum up being fourteen. I don’t mean to imply that at fourteen I was horribly embarrassed all the time. It was worse. It just waited there, lurked there, ready to strike at the least expected moment” (page 53).
If you’ve never tried memoir, but you like short stories, or if you are already a fan of memoir or stories featuring teen angst, you will probably enjoy this collection. The publisher has donated three copies of this book, so if you would like to win, leave a comment by Friday and come back Monday to see who has won.