¡CARAMBA! by Nina Marie Martinez


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Never calling themselves Latinas or Hispanics or hyphenated anythings, the Mexican-Americans in a southern California town enjoy the hell out of pretty much everything in a slangy, self-assured debut.

Best girlfriends Natalie Stevens and Consuelo “Sway” Gonzales Contreras, a couple of cuties in their 20s are at the heart of things in this confection, but they share the stage with a fairly large cast of ghosts, whores, evangelical mariachi musicians, day laborers, transvestites, and a volcano as an eventful summer elapses in Lava Landing, a community miles from the news but not far from the Mexican border. Nat and Sway work, not too awfully hard, in a cheese factory, spending their off-hours shopping, getting their hair done, cruising in Nat’s Caddy convertible, flirting, and problem solving. One problem that’s stumped them so far is Consuelo’s fear of public transportation, a phobia linked to the tragic death of her father Don Pancho, who met his end one boozy evening back in Mexico when his truck stalled on the railroad tracks. Don Pancho’s ghost pops up time and again, seeking help getting out of Purgatory and visiting the many ladies in his earthly life. While the girls put their agile minds to Don Pancho’s problem, their friend and grade-school classmate Javier, a virginal, born-again musician, tries to reconcile his lust for the loose and lovely Lucha with his religious code, and Lulabelle, Javier’s mum, tries to decide whether to break her decades-long pact with the devil and give up all the household maintenance and yard break she’s been getting from studly day laborers in trade for her sexual favors. True-Dee, everybody’s favorite beautician, has all she can handle seeking advice from agony aunts about a sex change, organizing her annual Tupperware party, and, finally, getting involved with a gang of crypto-vulcanologists. Everybody dances when there’s a little bit of time, and there’s always something interesting to eat. It’s all totally inconsequential and a great deal of fun.

Chica-lit to be savored in small bites.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-375-41375-8
Page count: 366pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2004


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