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Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA

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Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a ?phenomenal, indispensable? (USA Today) exploration of the Latina ?sweet fifteen? celebration, by the bestselling author of How the Garc?a Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies

The quincea?era, a celebration of a Latina girl?s fifteenth birthday, has become a uniquely American trend. This lavish party with ball gowns, multi-tiered cakes, limousines, and extravagant meals is often as costly as a prom or a ...

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Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA

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Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a “phenomenal, indispensable” (USA Today) exploration of the Latina “sweet fifteen” celebration, by the bestselling author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of Butterflies

The quinceañera, a celebration of a Latina girl’s fifteenth birthday, has become a uniquely American trend. This lavish party with ball gowns, multi-tiered cakes, limousines, and extravagant meals is often as costly as a prom or a wedding. But many Latina girls feel entitled to this rite of passage, marking a girl’s entrance into womanhood, and expect no expense to be spared, even in working-class families. Acclaimed author Julia Alvarez explores the history and cultural significance of the “quince” in the United States, and the consequences of treating teens like princesses. Through her observations of a quince in Queens, interviews with other quince girls, and the memories of her own experience as a young immigrant, Alvarez presents a thoughtful and entertaining portrait of a rapidly growing multicultural phenomenon, and passionately emphasizes the importance of celebrating Latina womanhood.

Finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism

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Editorial Reviews

Entertainment Weekly
Alvarez's honest grappling with her caught-between-twocultures experience is compelling.
Cristina Garcia
With grace and humanity, Alvarez explores the fascinating evolution of the quinceañera tradition in the United States, responding provocatively to a tradition that charms her and simultaneously clashes with feminist sensibilities. (Cristina Garcia, author of Dreaming in Cuban and A Handbook to Luck)
Washington Post
Fascinating, exhaustively researched.
Mary Pipher
A thorough, thoughtful, and important book. . . .Bravo, Julia Alvarez. (Mary Pipher, author of The Middle of Everywhere and Reviving Ophelia)
Chicago Sun-Times
Though [Alvarez] brings a critical eye to long-held myths...each page is a love song to the cultural ties that bind generations of women from a diverse group of countries.
Seattle Times
A journey into experiencing a vital, exuberant ritual of modern Latino life...As an author, Alvarez is a terrific tour guide.
Maria Hinosa
This is not just a book for Latinas. Once Upon a Quinceañera is for all of us...especially for those of us raising daughters in America today. (Maria Hinosa, Senior Correspondent for NOW/PBS, author of Raising Raul and Crews)
Luz Lazo
In Once Upon a Quinceanera, a fascinating, exhaustively researched book about the celebration of a girl's coming of age, bestselling novelist Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accent and In the Time of the Butterflies, studies the ancient ritual that unites the U.S. Latino community and is rapidly evolving and spreading across ethnic lines…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

With a voice that is at once huskily mature and sweetly girlish and with a native sense of Spanish pronunciation and rhythm, Broadway star Daphne Rubin-Vega was an inspired choice to narrate Alvarez's examination of the Latina girl's "sweet 15" celebration, the quinceañera, a booming industry now as immigrant families in the U.S. show off their success by throwing fabulous parties for their daughters. As Alvarez interviews and observes teenage Latinas while reminiscing about her own turbulent adolescence in the 1960s, Rubin-Vega alters her sultry tone expertly to contrast the younger generation's brash American attitudes with Alvarez and other older immigrants' more skeptical views. In the second half, Alvarez's writing turns comparatively dry and preachy when she shifts from describing concrete experience to discussing her research into the development of tradition and advocating for a better support system for adolescents. Still, there's plenty to savor in this production, and anyone looking for insight into a phenomenon that will only grow as the Latino population in the U.S. increases will appreciate this skillful presentation of Alvarez's insights into the culture. Simultaneous release with the Viking hardcover (Reviews, May 30). (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Bestselling Alvarez (Saving the World, 2006, etc.) uses the phenomenon of Sweet 15 parties for Latina girls to explore issues of . . . herself. Originally, the quincea-era was a party thrown to celebrate a girl's passage into marriageable womanhood when she turned 15, which is-or was until recently-the legal age of consent for females in much of Latin America. The parties are lavish affairs, with the dresses tending toward puffy and the ambience tending toward princessy. The specifics are extremely malleable, however, with traditions from Cuba and the Dominican Republic thrown into the Latin American mix. Like any marketable cultural phenomenon, the celebrations have been seized upon by the party industry; gown makers and planners stand ready to help parents spend thousands of dollars they don't have, while conventions and a trade magazine advise the professionals. Alvarez inserts herself into a number of quincea-eras (which she then melds into one for dramatic purposes), trying to figure out why the phenomenon has taken off in America in recent years and what it says about the Latin American experience. Unfortunately, the girls themselves are hardly illuminating: "It's like part of my culture" is a typical quote. Alvarez is no help either, using the topic of quincea-eras primarily as a creaky springboard to launch into windy, maudlin ruminations on growing up as a Dominican immigrant in Queens. With such a narcissistic narrator, it's no surprise the girls were less than forthcoming. Might appeal to those who enjoy MTV's My Super Sweet 16. Agent: Susan Bergholz/Susan Bergholz Literary Services
Library Journal
Available in English and Spanish versions, this reprint of the 2007 original, which is out of print, follows the experiences of several quinceañeras (the name for the celebrant as well as the celebration) as a lens through which to examine the experience of immigration, Latina culture, and coming of age. The author also reflects on her own experience as a Latina immigrant and as such this book remains one of the most enjoyable anthropological works on the topic, despite its age. (LJ 7/07)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452288300
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/29/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 242,063
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 7.92 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia  Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is the author of the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies (a national Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Yo!. She has also published two poetry collections (Homecoming and The Other side/El Otro Lado) and a collection of essays (Something to Declare).


Julia Alvarez was born in New York City during her Dominican parents' "first and failed" stay in the United States. While she was still an infant, the family returned to the Dominican Republic -- where her father, a vehement opponent of the Trujillo dictatorship, resumed his activities with the resistance. In 1960, in fear for their safety, the Alvarezes fled the country, settling once more in New York.

Alvarez has often said that the immigrant experience was the crucible that turned her into a writer. Her struggle with the nuances of the English language made her deeply conscious of the power of words, and exposure to books and reading sharpened both her imagination and her storytelling skills. She graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 1971, received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University, and spent the next two decades in the education field, traveling around the country with the poetry-in-the-schools program and teaching English and Creative Writing to elementary, high school, and college students.

Alvarez's verse began to appear in literary magazines and anthologies, and in 1984, she published her first poetry collection, Homecoming. She had less success marketing her novel -- a semiautobiographical story that traced the painful assimilation of a Dominican family over a period of more than 30 eventful years. A series of 15 interconnected stories that unfold in reverse chronological order, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents addresses, head-on, the obstacles and challenges immigrants face in adapting to life in a new country.

It took some time for "ethnic" literature to gain enough of a foothold in the literary establishment for Alvarez's agent, a tireless champion of minority authors, to find a publisher. But when the novel was released in 1991, it received strongly positive reviews. And so, at the tender age of 41, Alvarez became a star. Three years later, she proved herself more than a "one-hit wonder," when her second novel, In the Time of Butterflies was nominated for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Since then, she has made her name as a writer of remarkable versatility, juggling novels, poetry, children's books, and nonfiction with equal grace and aplomb. She lives in Vermont, where she serves as a writer in residence at her alma mater, Middlebury College. In addition, she and her husband run a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic that hosts a school to teach the local farmers and their families how to read and write.

Good To Know

From 1975 until 1978, Alvarez served as Poet-in-the-Schools in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina.

She has held positions as a professor of creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), the University of Vermont (1981-83), and the University of Illinois (1985-88).

In 1984, Alvarez was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Currently, she is a professor of English at Middlebury College.

She and her husband run a coffee farm, Alta Gracia, in the Dominican Republic.

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    1. Hometown:
      Middlebury, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 8 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2013

    Once Upon a Quinceañera entwines the stories of a modern Latina

    Once Upon a Quinceañera entwines the stories of a modern Latina, Monica, and the author, Julia Alvarez, with information about coming of age in the United States. Alvarez tags along for the biggest event of Monica’s young life – her quinceañera. The story explores why young Latinas are being crowned princesses at their quince and then dropping out of school or getting pregnant. Alvarez combines Monica’s party with statistics and anecdotes of her own life as a Latina in the USA.
    The goal of Once Upon a Quinceañera is to find an answer to what seems to be a simple question – why are girls given a huge, extravagant party to celebrate their becoming a woman, and then becoming mothers living in poverty so quickly? Alvarez looks into many reasons that young Latinas insist on spending money they may not have on a quinceañera, which include status, tradition, and the fairy-tale feeling. The modern day quince strays pretty far from tradition, making the extravagance seem even more unnecessary. Alvarez explores every pro and con of a quinceañera in explicit detail.
    In starting this book, I was excited to learn more about quinceañeras, which I had only known the basic facts about. Once Upon a Quinceañera strips away the glamour surrounding the Latina tradition and gets into the behind-the-scenes details. Monica’s family spent more than they could afford on her party, which is not uncommon among Hispanics. As Alvarez herself did not have a quinceañera, her criticism can sound as though she is mocking the modern Latinas that “throw the house out the window” for theirs. She provides a lot of figures to support her view, which is helpful, but there is almost an overuse of references and statistics. Her opinion also tended to sway based on the information given, so it seemed like she was not sure how she felt about the subject. Alvarez also over-analyzed some miniscule details, such as comments left on a quince website, and then referenced them several times throughout the rest of the text.
    While I think the book started off in the right direction, I feel as though it strayed from the original concept, and began to include random topics, such as violence at quinceañeras, at the end. Alvarez looks into why girls even want to have this party, but then doesn’t go as in-depth into what happens to them in life afterward. Therefore, the original questions of the book were somewhat unanswered, and I felt the ending left something to be desired. Instead, the conclusion just summed up the entire story with information that had been repeated several times already throughout the book.
    Overall, this story has potential, but Alvarez needed to be more concise, and have either a stronger or nonexistent opinion on the topic. The repetitive nature made for a very disengaging book, and I was disappointed by the ending because it didn’t really feel as though it finished off the book. I think it would be better suited for someone truly interested in the coming of age of Latinas, not just a high schooler looking for an interesting read. As a non-Hispanic girl, I was expecting to learn more about this tradition, but I felt as though the author doesn’t even like the idea of quinces herself. This would be helpful to someone who needs information for a research paper, as it references many outside sources. Ultimately, Once Upon a Quinceañera had a unique concept that sparked my interest, but the execution disappointed me.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2014



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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2012

    Good For a Research Paper- not for light reading

    The purpose of the book Once Upon a Quinceanera was to inform the reader of the purpose of a Quinceanera and its pros and cons. The book did successfully inform me of these aspects of a Quinceanera, but not in a captivating way. The author failed to have one opinion throughout the book and usually tossed between liking Quinceanera’s and disliking them. Plus, she also brought up the same points multiple times and her information was not very organized. I would not recommend this book to someone of my age because it is not interesting, I would recommend it to someone older. If I knew someone that had to write a paper on the Quinceanera’s positives and negatives, then I would recommend it to someone of my age. The fact of the author being unable to decide whether she supported or disliked Quinceanera’s added a unique attribute to the book. This is a negative because I believe that authors should have a set opinion on their writing before they begin an explicatory novel.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted October 10, 2010

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    Posted October 27, 2010

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    Posted October 28, 2012

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