I picked a bad bad bad time to start reading Ernessa T. Carter’s 32 Candles.
I was exhausted, but I figured I would read a few pages before going to bed. An hour later, I reluctantly threw in the towel and forced myself to go to sleep even though all I wanted to do was keep going. I started reading as soon as I woke up, but about 2/3 of the way through, I had to go somewhere and knew I wouldn’t get a chance to finish the book until the following day.
Torture, I tell you. Torture. Because once you start this book, you do not want to put it down.
Growing up in Mississippi, Davidia Jones always knew she was ugly; everyone from her mother to her classmates told her so. She was an outcast in every sense of the word: the community shunned because of her promiscuous mother, and after a brutal beating from her mother, she voluntarily became mute, refusing to speak even outside her home. Aside from being addressed by a cruel nickname by her peers, Davidia eventually settled into a routine of comfortable invisibility at school and loses herself in her favorite movie, Sixteen Candles, at home.
Then the Farrells, of the Farrell hair products empire, move into town and turn Davidia’s life upside down. She immediately falls head over heels in love with the popular, charismatic James Farrell. James is oblivious to her but his two sisters aren’t, and they take a special glee in making her life hell. When things go too far, Davidia impulsively decides to run away to LA, where she does away with Davidia and recreates herself as Davie. Over the years, Davie blossoms into a sexy, assertive woman…until her past comes back to haunt her.
If there’s one word I’d use to describe this book, it’s “cinematic.” There are tons of references to movies entrenched in pop culture, particularly those by John Hughes (although Davie also has a bit of a Carrie moment). A lot of it takes place in LA, where beautiful people abound. And semi-neurotic Davie Jones is straight out of a romantic comedy (albeit a smarter, wittier rom-com than the cringe-worthy fare you find in theaters these days). It’s hard not to root for her, even when she’s at her most delusional.
I cannot stress enough how enjoyable this book is. Carter has created a character most young women can relate to. Davie is imperfect–in fact, sometimes, she does things that are downright vindictive–but she’s also smart, quirky, and independent. However, she’s still emotionally stunted by what happened to her when she was younger, so it takes her a long time to recognize that and mature accordingly. The situations she finds herself in, particularly those involving relationships, are situations that most people experience at one time or another. No matter how “out there” some of the plot twists get, it isn’t hard to see parts of yourself in Davie.
It was so great to read a well-written, fun book about a woman of color. Much as I adore depressing literature, it was refreshing to finally come across a book that I can wholeheartedly recommend to friends who prefer lighter books with characters they can relate to. Davie, with all her coming-of-age neuroses, offers just that. 32 Candles is one of my favorite reads so far this year.
This book was released on June 28, 2011 by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins. This review was part of the TLC book tour for 32 Candles; you can go here to see the full list of participants. Ernessa T. Carter blogs at fierceandnerdy.com, so check it out!