32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

7th July 2011

*This book was sent to me via the publisher Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins. You can purchase the paperback from Indiebound here.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by my female African-American students is why it is so difficult for them to find books about African-American girls their age, today, who aren’t being raped and victimized at every turn. Not that those stories shouldn’t be told. But where are the great modern, everyday-girl kind of stories about women of color? Because sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered and that’s what many of my students (African-American or otherwise) want to read.

Ernessa T. Carter’s first novel 32 Candles is exactly what they, and I, are looking for, though the main character Davidia Jones is far from happy as a child. She lives in Mississippi with her abusive mother who brings home a different man every night. She doesn’t know her daddy, and she doesn’t speak. To anyone. She goes to school with classmates who call her Monkey Night. It isn’t a great existence until James Farrell enters the picture. Smooth, wealthy, and kind, James is a dreamboat, and Davidia is crazy for him. Her only real source of pleasure is watching 16 Candles with Molly Ringwald, and Davidia is sure she and James (her Jake Ryan) will have a happy ending. But it’s high school, and James’s icy sister Veronica knows something that is eating her up inside, and she takes it out on Davidia.

This isn’t a young adult novel, though. The true story lies in Davidia’s bravery in stepping away from her toxic past and falling into a future she never knew she wanted – as a lounge singer. At least that’s what Ernessa T. Carter and Davie want you to think. Because let me tell you – this book has a twist, a fun, fantastic, cringe-worthy twist that will have you cheering for Davie and shaking your head at her at the same time.

32 Candles was a fun read, but it wasn’t a cookie-cutter romance. Davie is independent. She grows up much too quickly, which I think accounts for some of her more immature and vindictive actions, but all in all, she changes and grows with the help of Nicky, the night-club-owner-turned-surrogate father and Mama Jane, the lesbian truck driver who takes Davie under her wing. I loved the characters because they loved Davie, in a way her real family never could.

Here’s my favorite quote, in a moment where Davidia becomes “Davie”:

She was Little Davidia, the girl that I had been before Cora knocked her out of me.

And man, could she sing.

I mean, she was killing this song. She was taking it home to its rightful maker and showing it off in heaven. She was letting people know that she had risen from the dead and that she was back.

Little Davidia finished the song on a long note — not because she was showing off, but because she did not want it to end.

If you’re looking for an entertaining read with a bit of romance and a mean streak a mile wide, 32 Candles is a sure thing. Plus, as a product of the 80s, the pop culture references didn’t hurt either. ๐Ÿ™‚

read this: by the pool/at home in bed/anywhere (as long as you can read uninterrupted…)

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Check out Ernessa T. Carter’s blog.

P.P.S. Don’t take my word for it: Check out the other reviews on the tour stop here.

  • You’re right…I can’t remember the last book I read about a black heroine that wasn’t being raped or beaten. I just received Sapphire’s new The Kid yesterday, case in point. Before that, The Bluest Eye. Before that, Breath, Eyes, Memory. I know Terry McMillan just published a new books, but it’s a revisiting of the women in Waiting to Exhale.

    • pickygirl

      Yep – and I’m always hard pressed when students ask me. I seek out African-American writers and stories, but it can be difficult to find one like this. I really enjoyed it. I’ve already passed it on to a woman I work with and am trying to convince my best friend to buy it!

  • (Ahhh… 16 Candles was my favorite!) Sounds like a great read with fun, original characters – and very intrigued by the “mean streak a mile wide”! Also appreciated your introduction & perspective on this helping to fill a literature gap.

    • pickygirl

      Well thank you – because students so often comment about it, I pay attention. I’m telling you – read it. I really didn’t expect what happened, though now that I think about it, there were clues.

      And I haven’t seen 16 Candles in FOREVER. I really need to watch some Brat Pack movies soon.

  • Thanks so much for this review. I’ll tell you the truth, I felt the same way growing up as your students do and I wrote 32 CANDLES, because (to summarize Toni Morrison) it was something I wanted to read, that I wasn’t finding on any book shelves. Your post really meant a lot to me.

    • pickygirl

      Wow. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. It was first and foremost a really fun, fun read. Second, I kept thinking I’m so glad I can write about this book and can’t wait to pass it on to some of those students (it’s so rare I have readers, I usually keep in touch with them).

      Congratulations on the paperback, and thanks again for your comment. Made my day. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • This sounds like a great, unique read. Plus, I love anything with 80’s references. I just added this one to my TBR stack.

    • pickygirl

      Yippee! I can’t tell you how much I love hearing those words. Because I add to my TBR stack because of you guys all the time. Hope you like it as much as I did.

  • Amy

    I skimmed your review enough to see that you enjoyed it, which I’m glad to hear as I have the book lined up to read myself ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the review!

    • pickygirl

      I was surprised to see you on the list because it doesn’t look like your usual fare, so I cannot wait to see what you have to say about it. I promise I didn’t give any spoilers. Hm. Now I’m so curious. Get to reading, Amy!

  • Pingback: Ernessa Carter, author of 32 Candles, on tour July/August 2011 | TLC Book Tours()

  • I’m thrilled to see that this book is exactly what you were looking for!

    Thanks so much for being on the tour. I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

    • pickygirl

      Thank YOU, Heather. I really did enjoy it. Thus far, you guys are two for two with your suggestions. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I loved this book and I’m glad you did too. Great review.

    • pickygirl

      Thanks Vasilly! I was so excited once you told me it was a one-sitting read.

  • Pingback: 32 Candles (TLC Tour Review) | Reading Through Life()

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