Simon Pulse, 2006.
"It'll be a clash of cultures, a true mestizaje. I’ll call it a waltzteca," exclaimed the choreographer to the awkward cluster of Mexican-American teens assembled for quinceanara dance instruction. A clash of cultures is exactly what readers encounter in Malin Alegria’s cheeky young adult novel, Estrella's Quinceanera. The book has all the essential ingredients for teen readers hungry for a book about boys, parties, clueless parents, annoying siblings, and the ups and downs of adolescent friendships. This formula feels fresh, however, through the voice of fourteen year old Estrella, or "Star" as her private school friends and teachers call her after stumbling over the Spanish pronunciation.
Estrella’s mother has her heart set on throwing the traditional coming-of-age fifteenth birthday party but Estrella can't bear the thought of a puffy gown and mariachi band. It just doesn't seem to fit in with her new life at the private school where she is on scholarship, not to mention the fact that her parents and friends disapprove of the boy she really likes. She struggles with her identity and asks herself: is she a vendida (a coconut) - brown on the outside and white on the inside? Estrella's authentic voice and sweet self-awareness will keep teens reading; and careful readers can even pick up little history lessons here and there as Alegria makes reference to the Brown Berets, the UFW boycotts, Cesar Chavez, and trade politics with Mexico.
Alegria uses a clever device to begin each chapter by choosing a Spanglish word or phrase and providing a dictionary definition in Estrella’s own words. Chapters leading off with, for example, "la cucaracha", "cholo" and "mal de ojo" give the reader a heads up on the action while providing some cultural context. The flavor and sound of modern barrio life in Northern California waft throughout the novel: soccer matches, taco shops, automania, and palatero bells contrast sharply with the Hummer-driving, Diet Coke- swigging, Abercrombie models that populate Willow Glen, the fictional 'hood where Estrella's rich friends Sheila and Christie and the handsome, but lecherous Kevin live. Girls will read on to see whether Estrella reconciles with her homegirls and allows her new friends a peek into the rich life she lives in her Mexican American community.
Alegria's book deals with the age-old theme of real friends accepting you for who you are: but adds a modern Latin twist to the story. Girls will love the pop culture references; all the drama via cell phone rings true. In the end, the birthday party Estrella puts together on her own has a little something for everyone... just like Estrella’s Quinceanera.
Kristen O. Daniel