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Cuba 15by Nancy Osa
Synopses & Reviews
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.
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 th
Violet Paz, a Chicago high school student, reluctantly prepares for her upcoming "quince," a Spanish nickname for the celebration of an Hispanic girl's fifteenth birthday.
Violet Paz has just turned 15, 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. This is Nancy Osa’s first novel.
From the Hardcover edition.
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