Book Review: Once Upon a Quinceañera

Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira


Carmen Aguilar is prepared to grin and bear it for this summer. Literally. As a party princess for Dreams Come True, she’s got to smile and make nice for toddlers and more in order to complete her internship and get her high school diploma. Then her awful ex-boyfriend becomes her coworker, the Beast to her Belle. And her company is hired to put on her estranged cousin’s quinceañera. Carmen is determined to succeed. She is going to smile and dance and be the best damn princess ever.

People say a lot of things. You of all people know that. What matters is what people do, and what they have done, and that’s how you know what to expect.

Okay, this one made me bawl a little (a lot) at the end.

It was definitely good, although not quiiiiiite what I was expecting.

Based upon that blurb, I was anticipating a more light-hearted YA contemporary romance with lots of shade/homage to Disney and their princesses and a little insight into womanhood and feminity, not a book that was going to take my heart and rip it into a million pieces and then sew it back together.

Carmen is a girl with baggage and walls. She has had to build those walls to protect herself, from the assholes who catcall her on the streets to the former classmates who treated her like a whore.

Most of her issues stem from a single instant—three and a half years ago, she dated a boy named Mauro, who incidentally happened to be the son of a very famous photographer. The boy promised his dad would take photos of her for her quince, and Carmen told her younger cousin, who told everyone. Then, after the rumor blew up, Carmen came to Mauro’s party, found him with another girl, her 12 year old cousin got drunk and took video of everything, and Carmen called the cops on the party. As a result, Mauro was sent away and Carmen was blamed for everything. Her aunt—who had been funding a small dinner for her quinceañera—revoked the funding and Carmen built her walls.

In addition to all this backstory—the beginning is a little rough due to the immense backstory that has to be handled—Carmen is dealing with her mother and aunt’s complicated relationship. Her aunt married her mom’s ex-boyfriend, and Carmen’s dad was a rich boy who ended up being a fling, and her wealthy aunt looked down upon her “trashy” mom as a result, and continuously insinuated Carmen would be the exact same.

And of course, Carmen constantly feels like her aunt is slapping her in the face. Carmen had been denied her right of passage into womanhood, refused even a small, private quinceañera instead of the semi-traditional over-the-top blowout many girls experience, and to see her cousin get everything she was denied get quite literally rubbed in her face was a lot for one girl to handle. Not including the fact that she had to dance with her ex-boyfriend while her cousin gets jiggy with her crush.

Okay, that’s a lot.

Carmen is a girl whose hurt translates to her rebuffing everyone. She’s overwhelmed with jealousy and anger—angry at the world for being unfair, angry at her family for forsaking her, angry at the misogynistic wedding photographer who torpedoed her first internship and her ability to graduate, and jealous of her cousin who has everything handed to her on a silver platter with no consequences.

Over time, as her past comes back to haunt her—literally—Carmen begins to grow as a person, and let her walls break down.

While Mauro was pretty much a single-dimensional character devoted to all things Carmen (with little agency of his own), Carmen’s cousin Arianna was an interesting character. I wanted more of her personality to come out, but I did like how she was juxtaposed against Carmen, and how her own anger at that night was shown. And how the two cousins eventually breached their past hurt and anger.

However, the part that made me cry was the very end.

Where Carmen realizes that while you can’t change the past, you can move past it, and you can forge new relationships with people. And that sometimes true family was right there all along. I wish Carmen’s mom and Enrique had more page time, because when they were on page, they sparkled.

Anywho, overall this was about a girl’s second chance, and how she found her own happily ever after, even if that looked nothing like what she had anticipated.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review

Once Upon a Quinceañera releases March 2, 2021 from HarperTeen

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