Malín Alegría begins each chapter of her funny first novel with a definition of a Spanish word. Chapter One's entry succinctly lays out the dilemma of Estrella Alvarez, age 14:
quinceañera...1. traditional party (one that I refuse to have). According to my mom, a girl's fifteenth birthday is supposed to be the biggest day in her life. The quinceañera is like a huge flashing neon sign for womanhood. Back in the olden times, it meant that a woman was ready to get married and have babies. 2. The way I see it, it's just a lame party with cheesy music and puffy princess dresses.
Estrella lives in the San Jose barrio but attends a fancy private school for girls on a scholarship. Her school chums are rich and Anglo, and Estrella, who is working-class and Mexican-American (she would say American), knows, just knows that her new pals would find a quinceañera celebration to be the height of tackiness. She doesn't even have to ask them. Oh, and her parents embarrass the living daylights out of her, too. Then there's that boy, the one who dresses like a cholo, a guy from the 'hood. He is so cute, but Estrella's dad has told her that she cannot date until she turns the ancient age of sixteen.
As a girl with feet in two worlds, Estrella must reconcile her past and present, but I won't spoil the party by saying how she does it. The closeness of family, even when they drive you crazy, is an underlying theme, and Alegría writes with wit and a flair for drama. I mean it as a compliment when I say that I can see the characters from Estrella's Quinceañera in a television show. I'd watch it!
I recommend this book to teenage girls and fans of programs like "My So-Called Life." I finished it long after the deadline for the 48 Hour Book Challenge, so I can't count it in my final tally. Está bien—that's okay.