Title: Once Upon a Quinceañera
Author: Monica Gomez-Hira
Release Date: March 2nd 2021
TW: slut shaming and sexual harassment
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**
“Carmen Aguilar just wants to make her happily ever after come true. Except apparently ‘happily ever after’ for Carmen involves being stuck in an unpaid summer internship! All she has to do is perform! In a ball gown! During the summer. In Miami.
Fine. Except that Carmen’s company is hired for her spoiled cousin Ariana’s over the top quinceañera.
And of course, her new dance partner at work is none other than Mauro Reyes, Carmen’s most deeply regrettable ex.
If Carmen is going to move into the future she wants, she needs to leave the past behind. And if she can manage dancing in the blistering heat, fending off Mauro’s texts, and stopping Ariana from ruining her own quinceañera Carmen might just get that happily ever after after all.”
Monica Gomez-Hira debuts with Once Upon a Quinceañera, a story about forgiveness and growth. Carmen Aguilar cannot catch a break. Just short of earning enough credits to graduate, she’s forced to intern over the summer for Dreams Come True, a princess party company that caters to children. Not a bad gig until her aunt hires the company for her bratty cousin’s quinceañera. Family drama is hard enough to deal with but now Carmen’s sort of ex-boyfriend is back in town stirring up feelings she’d rather see stay buried. Then there’s Carmen’s current crush Alex, who is finally showing interest in her. Maybe her summer won’t be as disastrous after all.
Once Upon a Quinceanera has a strong lead character who is made more relatable by the way she stumbles when it comes to her personal relationships. On the surface Carmen is prickly and abrasive. She isn’t an easy person to get along with and can be unforgiving in her views of other people. When you dig a little deeper, it becomes apparent that Carmen is not this way by accident. Much of her tough exterior is the result of how other people see and treat her. Guys think she’s easy, her peers whisper behind her back, and even her aunt thinks she’s a bad influence. Carmen is defensive because it’s the only way she knows how to protect herself and when there aren’t a lot of people on her side, she has to be her own advocate, something that doesn’t always come easy to her.
Family plays an important role in this debut, but like in real life, family can be complicated. Carmen has a really close relationship with her mother and if asked about her father, would say she doesn’t care that he left, but deep down it hurts. Her Tía Celia severed their relationship years ago. Carmen hides behind her anger instead of fully acknowledging how much having another adult in her life reject her stung. Her cousin Ariana has always been a thorn in her side; she always gets her way and leaves Carmen feeling inadequate. All of these relationships have their ups and downs as Carmen grows as a person, she learns to see her family members in different ways even if forgiveness doesn’t come easy to her. I really enjoyed seeing Carmen and Ariana’s relationship evolve. They don’t realize until later that the jealousy they were harboring against one another is actually something they have in common. Neither of these young women is faultless when it comes to their rocky relationship, but it was so rewarding to see them be there for each other in the end.
I did find issues with how the sexual harassment in the novel is handled. Carmen is sexually harassed by a former boss and is forced to find another job to complete her high school credits. We never really explore this and even though I didn’t find it unrealistic that Carmen would very quickly move on from this, as a young adult novel, I think it’s important to not be flippant with these subjects and they should be addressed head on. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the love interest storyline. Carmen is torn between two different boys, but it was difficult to root for either one of these characters. It often felt like the two were more interested in marking their territory than giving Carmen the space she needed in order to figure out her own feelings.
Once Upon a Quinceanera is a reminder that life can surprise you if you open yourself up to its many possibilities and that it’s never too late to begin believing in yourself.
★ ★ ★