Bestselling Alvarez (Saving the World, 2006, etc.) uses the phenomenon of Sweet 15 parties for Latina girls to explore issues of…herself.
Originally, the quinceañera was a party thrown to celebrate a girl’s passage into marriageable womanhood when she turned 15, which is—or was until recently—the legal age of consent for females in much of Latin America. The parties are lavish affairs, with the dresses tending toward puffy and the ambience tending toward princessy. The specifics are extremely malleable, however, with traditions from Cuba and the Dominican Republic thrown into the Latin American mix. Like any marketable cultural phenomenon, the celebrations have been seized upon by the party industry; gown makers and planners stand ready to help parents spend thousands of dollars they don’t have, while conventions and a trade magazine advise the professionals. Alvarez inserts herself into a number of quinceañeras (which she then melds into one for dramatic purposes), trying to figure out why the phenomenon has taken off in America in recent years and what it says about the Latin American experience. Unfortunately, the girls themselves are hardly illuminating: “It’s like part of my culture” is a typical quote. Alvarez is no help either, using the topic of quinceañeras primarily as a creaky springboard to launch into windy, maudlin ruminations on growing up as a Dominican immigrant in Queens. With such a narcissistic narrator, it’s no surprise the girls were less than forthcoming.
Might appeal to those who enjoy MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.