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. 🙂
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.