Cuba 15

Cuba 15

3.6 49
by Nancy Osa

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In this story about family and identity, Violet Paz learns about her Cuban heritage and navigates her family’s diverse opinions to form her own in preparation for a quinceañero to celebrate her fifteenth birthday.

Violet Paz has just turned fifteen, a pivotal birthday in the eyes of her Cuban grandmother. Fifteen is the age when a girlSee more details below


In this story about family and identity, Violet Paz learns about her Cuban heritage and navigates her family’s diverse opinions to form her own in preparation for a quinceañero to celebrate her fifteenth birthday.

Violet Paz has just turned fifteen, a pivotal birthday in the eyes of her Cuban grandmother. Fifteen is the age when a girl enters womanhood, traditionally celebrating the occasion with a quinceañero. But while Violet is half Cuban, she’s also half Polish, and more importantly, she feels 100% American. Except for her zany family’s passion for playing dominoes, smoking cigars, and dancing to Latin music, Violet knows little about Cuban culture, nada about quinces, and only tidbits about the history of Cuba. So when Violet begrudgingly accepts Abuela’s plans for a quinceañero–and as she begins to ask questions about her Cuban roots–cultures and feelings collide. The mere mention of Cuba and Fidel Castro elicits her grandparents’sadness and her father’s anger. Only Violet’s aunt Luz remains open-minded. With so many divergent views, it’s not easy to know what to believe. All Violet knows is that she’s got to form her own opinions, even if this jolts her family into unwanted confrontations. After all, a quince girl is supposed to embrace responsibility–and to Violet that includes understanding the Cuban heritage that binds her to a homeland she’s never seen.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"The charismatic narrator of this funny first novel doesn't know much about her Cuban heritage when her grandmother offers to throw her a quincea ero," said PW. "The heroine and her wacky family and friends keep the fiesta moving at a lively clip." Ages 12-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Violeta Paz has just turned fifteen, and her Cuban grandmother takes it for granted that her beloved granddaughter will celebrate this milestone with a quinceañera, the grand coming-of-age festivity and cherished tradition that welcomes a girl into womanhood in many Hispanic communities. Violeta, American-born of a Cuban father and a Polish American mother, has scant knowledge of her Cuban heritage. Because even the slightest mention of Cuba brings sorrow and bitter memories of Fidel Castro's communist revolution to her father, the subject is avoided. Violeta really has no interest in such unfamiliar customs; however, after many discussions and with mixed feelings and great trepidation, she finally goes along with her doting grandmother's wishes. Osa's tale about a warmhearted, fun-loving family, a teenager's typical ambivalence about different cultures, the stress of dealing with high school demands and pressures, a budding romance, and how an imaginative, high-spirited young woman handles some thorny issues and does some growing up in the process, rings true and makes for an entertaining story with some hilarious moments. This reviewer's only quibble is that Spanish words and phrases are used liberally in dialogues, but translations are not always provided. A glossary is sorely needed. This marginal acquisition will fit best in areas with large Hispanic readerships. Other books on this traditional birthday celebration include Quinceañera Means Sweet 15 by Veronica Chambers (Hyperion, 2001/VOYA Ocotber 2001) and Elizabeth King's richly illustrated Quinceañera: Celebrating Fifteen (Dutton, 1998/VOYA February 1999). VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M J (Readable without serious defects; For the YA with aspecial interest in the subject; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2003, Delacorte, 256p, Culberson
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2003: Fifteen-year-old Violet Paz is caught between the old world of Cuba and her father's family, and the modern world of her freshman year in high school in Chicago. In Cuba, 15 is a turning point for young women, who celebrate their quincea±ero with a grand coming-out party where they are introduced as adults to the community. In Violet's circle of friends, no one has ever had such a celebration, and Violet doesn't want one either. As her abuela and her mother start planning in earnest, including searching for the perfect pink dress and finding ways to solicit party funds and supplies, Violet's initial reluctance turns into curiosity about her heritage and the land her grandparents fled so many years before. She takes a closer look at her family—her grandparent's broken speech, the domino tournaments, Tito Puente on the stereo—and creates an original comedy performance for competition as part of the school's speech team. As she struggles in her Spanish class, she decides to learn more about Cuba through a research project and even attends a peace rally with her activist best friend Leda, an act that puts her quince party on the line. Violet's appreciation for her family and their traditions grows as her skit becomes more and more polished. After she meets with Se±ora Flora, party planner extraordinaire, Violet realizes that the quince is really a statement about herself, and she decides to make the fiesta her own. The world becomes her stage as Violet embraces both her heritage and her individuality. Readers not only learn about the culture of Cuba, but also brush up on their Espa±ol as Osa skillfully stitches two worldstogether. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2003, Random House, Delacorte, 277p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Michele Winship
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-Violet Paz, a 10th grader in suburban Chicago, spends the better part of a year preparing for her quincea-ero, the celebration of her womanhood, that her Cuban grandmother longs for her to experience. While her attention to the plans and her understanding of what the event means wax and wane in her consciousness, she turns her family's personal foibles and social extravagances into fodder for her speech team's Original Comedy competition. She wittily points up the bizarreness of her father's sartorial choices, her little brother's peskiness, her mother's quest to open her own restaurant, and the family's devotion to dominoes. She also struggles to make sense of traditions-including formal gown and waltzing-that are foreign to her life. Violet's father, born in Cuba and brought to the U.S. as a baby, refuses to discuss his native culture with his children, and Violet becomes increasingly anxious to learn more about her roots. Her two best friends are more than simply foils; they provide texture, humor, and tension to the story. In addition to speech team and family affairs, Violet's year includes a first crush and first date, each of which resolves pleasantly. Among the many strengths of this book are its likable and very real protagonist and her introduction to the nexus of politics and family. Too much goes on in this first novel, but the characters are so charming that while readers are in their company, the experience is interesting and engaging rather than frustrating.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This funny and tender chronicle of Violet's 15th year of life takes place in Chicago, but focuses on Cuban culture. Her family foists the quincea-era party, a marking of the passage from girlhood to womanhood, on Violet. She recoils from the idea of pink dresses and public performance but reluctantly agrees. Over time, while working on a stand-up comedy routine about her "loco" family, Violet becomes excited to be a quince, and grandmotherly genius solves the pink-dress problem. An appreciation of the absurd undulates through Violet and through the book itself. However, in conflict with the adult responsibilities her family promises are their refusal to discuss Cuba and their fury when Violet researches it. Conquering this problem is her real challenge. While the writing is choppy, with sentences falling awkwardly, there's heart and humor underneath all the same. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“Violet’s hilarious cool first-person narrative veers between farce and tenderness, denial and truth . . .”—Booklist, Starred

“Cuba 15 will make readers laugh, whether or not their families are as loco as Violet’s.”—The Horn Book Magazine

A Pura Belpré Honor Book

An ALA Notable Book

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults

A Booklist Top Ten Youth First Novels

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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1 MB
Age Range:
12 Years

Read an Excerpt


What can be funny about having to stand up in front of everyone you know, in a ruffly dress the color of Pepto-Bismol, and proclaim your womanhood? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not when you’re fifteen—too young to drive, win the lottery, or vote for a president who might lower the driving and gambling ages. Nothing funny at all. At least that’s what I thought in September.

My—womanhoods—hadn’t even begun to grow; I wore a bra size so small they’d named it with lowercase letters: aaa. Guys avoided me like the feminine hygiene aisle at the grocery store. And I never wore dresses. Not since I’d left school uniforms behind. Not ever, no exceptions. You’d think my own grandmother would remember that.

She didn’t.

“Eh, Violet, m’ija. I want buy you a gown and make you a ’keen-say’ party,” my grandmother said early that September morning in her customized English, shrewdly springing her idea on me at breakfast.

“Sounds good, Abuela,” I said as I buttered my muffin. “Except for the dress.”

Just Abuela, my little brother, Mark, and I were up; Abuelo, tired from traveling, was sleeping in, and Mom never got up until after Mark and I had left for school. Thrift store worker’s hours. Mom ran the Rise & Walk Thrift Sanctuary, a used-clothing shop in the church basement that operates on donations. Their motto is “The Threads Shall Walk Again.” Dad was on the early shift at the twenty-four-hour pharmacy inside the Lincolnville Food Depot, a combination grocery store/bank/hairdresser/veterinary hospital/pharmacy/service station. All they needed now was a tattoo parlor.

“What’s ’keent-sy’?” Mark asked, adding, “I want one too!”

“The quince,” said Abuela, “this is short for quincea-ero, the fifteenth birthday in Cuba.” She pronounced it

“Coo-ba,” the Spanish way. “Is a ceremony only for the girls,” she added, shaking a finger at Mark, who tipped his cereal bowl toward his mouth to get the last of the sugary milk at the bottom.

He swallowed. “That’s sexist, Abuela. Only for girls.” He tried another pass at his cereal bowl, but it was empty. “I know, because last year in my school on Take Your Daughters to Work Day, Father Leone said sons got to go to work too. So I got out of school!”

Abuela, looking starched somehow in one of Mom’s old terry cloth robes, her silver hair in a bun, raised an eyebrow and gave a wry smile. “This is equality, yes?”

She often says yes when she means no, and vice versa.

“The quincea-ero, m’ijo, this is the time when the girl becomes the woman.”

Mark, who was eleven then, shied away from any discussion that even hinted at having to do with body parts or workings. He turned corpuscle red, a nice counterpoint to his royal blue Cubs baseball cap, which he wore all day every day during the pro season, except in school and church, until the end of the last game of the World Series. The fringe of his dark hair stuck out in a ragged halo around his face. He immediately lost interest in the quince party. “Nevermind, countmeout,” he mumbled.

Abuela didn’t notice. “The quince is the time when all the resto del mundo ass-cepts your dear sister as an adult in the eyes of God and family. And she, in turn, promises to ass-cept responsabilidad for all the wonders in the world of adults.”

Responsabilidad. This sank in as deeply as the Country Crock into the nooks and crannies of my half-eaten English muffin, and raised a red flag. This quince party could be some sort of trap. “What if I don’t want to—ass-cept more responsibilities?” I asked, mindlessly mimicking Abuela’s pronunciation.

Mark slipped away, leaving his empty cereal bowl and milk glass on the table.

Abuela sat down with a tiny cup of sweet, black coffee. “Responsabilidades—how do you say? These come with the territory, chiquitica.” She downed her coffee in one shot.

I pointed to Mark’s dirty bowl. “How about his responsibilities?”

She shrugged and motioned for me to clear his place.

“Now that’s sexist,” I grumbled, stomping off to the sink with Mark’s dishes and my own.

Abuela said something that rhymed in Spanish, then translated: “The bull cannot make the milk, and the cow alone cannot make the bull.”

I kissed her, shaking my head, and left for school. There’s no sense arguing with the fundamentals.

Leda Lundquist stood waiting for me outside Spanish class. My friend Leda is as slim as a sunflower and admirably as tall, though not quite as seedy. She has long, straight, pale-pale blond hair and white-white skin with just the faintest glow to indicate that blood does run through her veins.

“Yo, Paz,” she said to me at the door, with her usual lack of finesse. “Come away with me this weekend.”

“Don’t you have a boyfriend for that, Leed?” I asked, sweeping past her and into the last row of seats.

Leda set down her gym duffel and books and sat beside me, braiding her hair into an orderly rope. She wore a giant turquoise tie-dyed T-shirt as a dress, belted with a rolled-up bandana. Rubber flip-flops and a pink plastic Slinky on one arm for a bracelet completed her back-to-school look. “I have got the perfect fund-raiser for you—for us—to go to Saturday afternoon.”

I groaned. “No way,” I said, before she had a chance to state her case.

“C-U-B-A” was all she said, and she waited for my reaction.

I raised my eyebrows in a let-me-have-it look.

“The Cuba Caravan’s coming through town. Isn’t your dad going? There’s gonna be a dance, and a send-off, and—”

I shook my head no, and harder for no way. I didn’t want to stir up that kettle of Caribbean fish. The subject of Cuba was best left unmentioned around Dad. “Forget it, Leda,” I said, wondering how many times I’d been caught up in this constant refusal of invitations since we’d first met. With the Lundquists’ raft of causes, most weekends offered at least one political demonstration for the family to enjoy.

“—and even a raffle, Paz, what could be better than that? Besides . . .”

She paused.

“Besides what?”

“Well . . . if we stand around long enough, you might meet some hunky Cuban guys at the salsa dance . . . and I could top a thousand bucks in the walkabout fund.”

Aha. The true motive. Leda was speaking of the European adventure fund that her parents pay into every time she goes to some activist thing with them—double if she brings a friend. By the time she turns eighteen, Leda plans to have enough money to traipse across Europe and several other continents, solo.

Which was why we, lofty sophomore creatures that we were, presently found ourselves in the back row of Se-ora Wong’s freshman Spanish class, trying not to be noticed. It had been Leda’s idea to take the first year of each language offered at Tri-District High so she’d be able to speak a little of the native tongue no matter where she roamed. Last year, merci beaucoup, it had been French. I didn’t care which language I learned, so I tagged along for the fun of it.

Se-ora Wong, diminutive but not fragile, ruled with an ironic fist. “Leona, Violeta, could you find it in your hearts to join the rest of us?” she asked, calling us by our Spanish-class names, hitting just the right note of sarcasm. She went on to show the class the same list of easy nouns that Leda and I learned last year at this time: casa, sombrero, estudiante—only last year it was in French.

From the Hardcover edition.

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