Monica Gomez-Hira’s debut YA novel, Once Upon A Quinceañera, explores the ways in which a quinceañera can make, break, and shake families together and apart.
Carmen Aguilar is an 18-year-old teenager working an unpaid internship as a party princess impersonator in Miami, Florida. After her company gets hired to perform at her estranged cousin’s quince, she must reckon with family members she has not spoken to in years. At the same time, Mauro, a boy from her past, unexpectedly reappears in a way that she could have never expected—as her coworker. As her cousin’s quinceañera looms ahead, Carmen faces a multitude of complicated decisions, all threatening to crash down on her at any second.
This book will definitely take anyone who has had or has attended a quinceañera into a nostalgia filled adventure. Carmen’s family is fierce and felt familiar as memories of my own quince. The long hours spent looking for the perfect dress came swelling up from the recesses of my brain.
It isn’t just her family that’s fierce; Carmen’s inner thoughts are brash, impulsive, and unabashed. She’s not afraid to let the reader know exactly what she feels in the moment. She is full of teenage angst and jokes. The book shines brightest when Carmen talks about her memories and how she has processed her emotions. There is one particular scene where she talks about the scents of jasmine and rose that gives insight into how memory and smell are often connected.
Still, because of the dramatic nature of the book, some of the characters and scenes within it needed more development and depth. At times, we saw tiny glimmers of that, but those moments disappeared too soon. The novel presents Carmen as someone with a very distinct voice and sometimes that voice got lost in what was happening in the plot. Having more moments of quiet introspect from Carmen could have helped elevate some of the responses and actions that she took towards other characters within the novel. Doing so may have also helped strengthen the core romance of the book, as it was somewhat unclear, especially in the first third, why Carmen’s feelings were so intense.
While intriguing in premise and entertaining to read, Once Upon A Quinceañera is a mixed bag of treats, full of quince party moments that are sure to send many readers down memory lane.
Once Upon A Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira released on March 2, 2021. Read our interview with the author here.