Once Upon A Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira. HarperTeen, 2021. 9780062996831
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3
Genre: Realistic fiction, romance
What did you like about the book? Carmen manages to graduate from high school, but not without a caveat: she must complete a summer internship to receive her diploma. She signs up to work at Dreams Come True! with her best friend Waverly, acting as an administrative assistant and filling Belle’s dress at princess birthday parties while Waverly takes on Cinderella. Unfortunately, the regular Beast quits and his replacement is Carmen’s ex, Mauro. Mauro’s also quasi-responsible for the cancellation of Carmen’s quinceañera. She and her mom couldn’t afford the celebration, so the tab was being picked up by wealthy Tía Celia, until Carmen took her little cousin Ariana along to a party at which alcohol was consumed; also the same party at which Carmen discovered Mauro cheating on her with a blond. That’s all 3 years in the past and she hasn’t seen Mauro since then. Now to smooth things over, Tía Celia hires the Dreams crew to dance at Ariana’s quinceañera, which promises to be a show-stopper. With as many irons in the fire as several seasons of an average telenovela, this first time novel features a lively look at Cuban-American Miami, a close and interesting mother-daughter relationship, a solid female friendship (with Waverly) and best of all, the craziness of working as an ersatz Disney princess. I enjoyed Carmen’s prickly personality and the irony of disavowing “happily-ever-after” while acknowledging how it weighs on the expectations of both little girls and adult women. Almost everyone in the book is LatinX, although Waverly is White.
Anything you didn’t like about it? Too long! The slight plot can’t support the massive backstory, much of which never gets addressed anyway. I personally never like the use of done-her-wrong-and-then-they-reunite in young adult fiction. Carmen was “wronged” at age 14! And then reunites with her true love at 17! What works in adult rom-coms becomes ludicrous in teen fiction. Mauro as a character veered toward icky; he cheats on Carmen, dumps her, then acts territorial once they reconnect. I loved the adventures of the Dreams workers and thought Gomez-Hira could have centered the whole book on that, although I had to suspend disbelief; Disney would have slapped an injunction on that enterprise within 5 minutes of stumbling across its website.
To whom would you recommend this book? Romance fans who are looking for LatinX characters and are intrigued by the quinceañera celebration. For a deeper, funnier, and more nuanced romance with Latinx characters and a novel angle (in this case, food trucks), I’d recommend The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo.
Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries. I would offer this to older teens. Carmen and Mauro consummate their relationship in the Dreams’ van after his romantic, do-it-yourself quinceañera do-over; there’s also the insinuation that it’s not Carmen’s first time “hooking up”. There’s also some teen drinking.
Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, realistic if you genre-fy
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: November 4, 2021