32 CANDLES by Ernessa T. Carter

I just finished a book and I really don’t know where to start with the review. The book was 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter. It’s kind of an odd book, which is why I am having trouble figuring out what to write.

Here are some things about 32 Candles to get started:

  • It is about a poor African-American girl named Davidia growing up in Mississippi with a horribly abusive mother who sleeps with the men of their small town for a living.
  • As a result of her mother’s abuse and bullying by her classmates, Davidia stops speaking entirely.
  • Davidia is obsessed with John Hughes movies, and longs for a “Molly Ringwald ending” for herself.
  • Davidia is also obsessed with the cutest, richest boy in school, who barely knows she’s alive.
  • Davidia escapes from Mississippi before end of high school and moves to LA, where she goes by Davie.
  • Davie’s life in LA turns out to be pretty good, but her high school demons revisit her several years later.
  • Davie, who seems sweet and innocent, really isn’t, at least not all of the time.
  • Does Davie get her Molly Ringwald ending? We don’t find out until the end.

32 Candles sounds like chick lit, I know, but it’s more serious than that. It’s twisty and funny and most of the time unpredictable. Davie is frustratingly flawed, but she’s also entertaining and compelling. Carter’s cast of characters is quirky without being stock players. She clearly knows LA and show business, and portrays a realistic (to me, anyway) view of life as a struggling actor and the fickle nature of fame and success.

I enjoyed reading 32 Candles. There is enough good here that it’s a worthwhile read. It didn’t hang together as cohesively as I’d have liked, I think because it feels like many books in one. There’s the sweet chick lit side, and the darker side of Davie, and then the improbable overlay of the John Hughes canon, which Carter threads throughout the book. As much as I love John Hughes movies (and Sixteen Candles in particular), the references felt forced. Maybe it’s because I found Davie’s love of Hughes’ lily-white movies a little hard to believe. Would a girl with her rough upbringing really have related to, or aspired to be, the wealthy suburban white kids from Shermer High or Jake Ryan’s post-dance party? I’m not sure.

I listened to 32 Candles on audio. It was performed by Adenrele Ojo, and she did a wonderful job of inhabiting Davie. I can’t imagine Davie with a different voice – Ojo conveyed her tough side as well as her vulnerability with equal passion. The audio went quickly and I felt invested and involved the whole time.

I guess I got over my writer’s block about 32 Candles. It’s an odd book, yes, but it’s still a good read.

Depressing-0-Meter: 5 out of 10 (due to Davie’s bleak childhood)