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Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA Hardcover – August 2, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 2nd printing edition (August 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670038733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670038732
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,352,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Skillfully blending memoir and social science, Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) explores the quinceañera, the coming-of-age ceremony for Latinas turning 15. She spent a year researching and attending quince celebrations, finding out what rituals are favored and what they mean to the girls. She researched what the gowns and photo sessions cost. She interviewed people working in the quince industry, from party planners to cake bakers. After all, with more than 400,000 American Latinas turning 15 every year, and with the average quinceañera costing $5,000, the financial, if not the cultural importance of the quince should not be underestimated. Alvarez structures her book around one particular girl's ceremony, from the dreamy planning stages through the late hours of the actual, dizzying affair. By intercutting the party narrative with stories from her own youth, Alvarez reminds herself—and readers—that at some point we were all confused, histrionic adolescents. Both sympathetic and critical, she doesn't dismiss the event as a waste of hard-earned savings or as a mere display of daughters for the marriage market; nor does she endorse it as the essential cultural tradition connecting Latinas to their roots. Instead, Alvarez wants readers to focus on creating positive, meaningful rites of passage for the younger generation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Best-known for her best-selling novels How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and ÁYo!, Julia Alvarez draws on her past to create a hybrid sociological study, memoir, and cultural critique. Reviewers praise her open-minded exploration of this treasured fairy-tale ritual, but they note Alvarez's mixed feelings about quincea–eras. Do they bring immigrant families closer together and provide a valuable cultural reference point? Or is the excessive cost too burdensome on families, especially considering that the money could be spent on higher education instead? Alvarez's lively bits of family history illuminate the challenges of the immigrant experience, and while she doesn't reach any firm conclusions, she raises many questions worth asking.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

More About the Author

Julia Alvarez has bridged the Americas many times. Born in New York and raised in the Dominican Republic, she is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist, author of world-renowned books in each of the genres, including How the García Girls Lost their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies, and Something to Declare. She lives on a farmstead outside Middlebury, Vermont, with her husband Bill Eichner. Visit Julia's Web site here to find out more about her writing.

Julia and Bill own an organic coffee farm called Alta Gracia in her native country of the Dominican Republic. Their specialty coffee is grown high in the mountains on what was once depleted pastureland. Not only do they grow coffee at Alta Gracia, but they also work to bring social, environmental, spiritual, and political change for the families who work on their farm. They use the traditional methods of shad-grown coffee farming in order to protect the environment, they pay their farmers a fair and living wage, and they have a school on their farm where children and adults learn to read and write. For more information about Alta Gracia, visit their website.

Belkis Ramírez, who created the woodcuts for A Cafecito Story, is one of the most celebrated artists in the Dominican Republic.

Customer Reviews

There were many things I was hoping to learn from the book.
Pearl Barley
I would have liked to learn more about Monica and her story throughout the book instead of some irrelevant information that Alvarez included.
If my encounters' answer was too vague (not to mention obvious), Alvarez's response was way too deep.
Kendra Perrin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Kendra Perrin on September 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I just finished the book Once upon a Quinceanera by Julia Alvarez. I picked it up, hoping to gain more insight into the rituals and religious significance of the quince. When I've said this to people, they almost always tell me something to the effect of, "oh, that's easy. It's a hispanic girl's coming-of-age." Yeah. No kidding? I'm looking for a little more depth here.

If my encounters' answer was too vague (not to mention obvious), Alvarez's response was way too deep. It was not so much about the celebration itself, but more of an examination of the issues adolescent girls face in the US in general, compounded by the additional issues particular to young latinas. It was a very interesting study in the success and failure of said girls, feminism minus man-hating, and the pros and cons of the quinceanera. But not as an outsider looking in. Alvarez herself had a difficult time finding the balance between being the good Dominican girl, and pursuing her own dreams and interests-loyalty to la familia, pursuing her education and being an intellectual, staying afloat professionally in a male-dominated time where it was difficult to be hispanic, let alone a woman.

Though it was not what I was looking for, I liked it. Though I myself am not hispanic, I found myself identifying with Alvarez throughout the book. It was interesting and entertaining.

Big Box Pro Video Productions
Corpus Christi, Texas
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Y. Morales on April 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a student at the University of Maryland in College Park and read this book for an American Studies class. We had to choose a book to write a review about, but the book had to be a testimonio of sorts. I chose this book because I thought it would be interesting to learn a little more about the Quinceanera tradition. I am a Latina myself and I cannot say that I knew a lot about the history of the tradition before reading this book.
The book was an eye-opener when it comes to the life of young Latinas growing up in the United States today. I am one of them and even I did not realize some of these things. I did not know that Latina women are at the top of the statistic charts when it comes to high risk behavior like drugs, alcohol, and teenage pregnancy. Alvarez does an amazing job of using the Quinceanera tradition and showing various themes throughout the book. For example, what does a Quinceanera instill in a young Latina? When one thinks about it, it really does encourage the young to girl marry, have children, and be a devoted wife and mother. It does not really encourage the girl to be truly independent and value things like education. Even the father of the young girl who Alvarez follows in the novel mentions this when he says that, "Years ago, you hoped to be able to give your daughter a wedding. Today, though, you don't know if they are ever going to get married or just live with the guy like they do here. Why not give them something like that while we can?" And that something for them is the Quinceanera.
I really recommend this book, especially to young Latinas growing up in the U.S., it is great in terms of learning a lot more about the history of the Quinceanera. However, the book is truly great at showing how difficult it truly is to be a young Latina coming of age in the United States.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Award-winning novelist Julia Alvarez has turned her gift for human analysis toward some very real young people in ONCE UPON A QUINCEANERA, a probing and utterly readable look into the tradition of the "quinceanera," the coming-of-age party celebrated by Latina women around the globe.

In the wake of MTV's success with sweet 16 shows (in which young girls and their families spend wedding-sized amounts of money on a party where the bling outweighs any cultural significance the occasion might have) and the growing cost of a decent Bat/Bar Mitzvah in these concerned-with-wealth times in America, Alvarez looks at families, native and immigrant, who are still living below the well-to-do line and yet spend upwards of a year's mortgage payments or college tuition to make sure that their young daughter enters the "adult" world in style.

It's not just the money that disturbs Alvarez. Having come to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic around the time that she would have celebrated her own coming-of-age, she watches anxiously and sometimes enviously upon girls who don't seem to understand why this tradition is so important to young Latinas. Viewing it only as that --- a giant bling-filled party to impress their friends --- takes away from the rich traditions built into the ceremonies of the quinceanera: the changing of her shoes from flats to heels during the party, signifying her march into adulthood; the doll she carries, the last vestige of childish pursuits she's allowed to enjoy; and the church ceremony, where her grown-up responsibilities are acknowledged before God and the community.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Aunt Jo on April 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I graduated from a women's college, where I was surrounded by young women who were told, and who believed, that we could be anything we wanted. "There are stories in our heads about who we must be and what we can do, and these stories drive our lives," Alvarez states in "Once Upon a Quinceanera." Unfortunately, according to this book, the message that young women are receiving has narrowed. Conspicuous consumption, the celebration of "native customs" while simultaneously trying to assimilate into the mainstream culture, the celebration of a girl's physical appearance with little regard to developing her intellectual capabilities--all of these are disturbing threads in this book. Alvarez weaves her own experiences as a transplant from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. into the fabric of the book, providing not only a glimpse at a contemporary quince but a look through time from the 1960s to the present. Read this book whether you are Latina/o or not, and consider what our society is teaching young girls. Where do they find their value? What contributions can they make to society? What doors are open for them? For what are they praised and rewarded? Alvarez ends the book with a desire to gain wisdom from other women; may we hope the same for our young women before it's too late.
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