Response: 32 Candles

24Mar14

Ernessa T. Carter’s first novel, 32 Candles, gives the 80s teen movie trope a twist by making the heroine’s struggles sharper and more real than anything Molly Ringwald ever had to deal with. The only bright spot in teenage Davie’s life are Molly’s movies, but even they can’t blunt the terrible consequences of living with a relentlessly abusive mom, and being bullied at school every day. Finally, after a prank that goes too far, Davie runs off to California and completely reinvents herself, eventually becoming a nightclub singer. That might sound like a pretty happy ending, but when her long lost high school crush shows up and falls madly in love with her, Davie has some tough decisions to make. Like, for starters, whether to tell him who she really is.

Image taken from Campus Circle - click through to read review.

Image taken from Campus Circle – click through to read review.

Spoiler alert: Davie makes some pretty lousy choices, to the point where you wonder how this book can possibly deliver a happy ending. It works, though, and it works because Davie is a three-dimensional character with the ability to grow, not a two-dimensional princess waiting to be rescued. Carter demonstrates that you don’t just get a happy ending in this life: you earn it, by being willing to work on yourself, own up to your mistakes, and–something sadly lacking in modern literature–atone for the things you’ve done wrong, then make them right again.

I loved this book because Davie isn’t waiting around to be rescued. She’s making her own choices. But she’s also feeling the consequences of those choices, and that’s what makes her far more interesting to me than most chick lit types, who are only focused on shoes, makeup, and finding The One. Davie wants to win at LIFE, not just at romance, and although elements of her past make it hard for her to figure out how to do that, figure it out she does. The supporting cast of characters is also interesting in that friends and enemies are not as clearly defined as they are in most chick lit tales. Davie’s relationships with people grow and change as she does, and people who were once close fall away as she learns to make better, healthier decisions for herself. Even old enemies have a way of becoming new allies once Davie gets her act in gear. 32 Candles is a lot more like the way many women actually live and move through the world, and a lot of people will be able to relate to all the feelings and events that go into Davie’s transformation.

You know that, in the end, she’s going to get the guy, and I have to admit, I cried some happy tears over how the last few pages. But it’s the journey that makes this story’s ending so meaningful: all the best fairy tales have tough obstacles, and if there’s never a dark night of the soul, how can you properly enjoy the sunshine? That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it; fans of chick lit who want to see how a non-traditional princess finally wins both her prince and her crown will really enjoy 32 Candles.

 

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