I received the first three books in this series to review so I decided to review them all together. The reviews are a little shorter than normal but that's because it is a series review. Also since I review the books together, I avoid talking about couples so as not to spoil anything for you!
Amigas: Fifteen Candles by Veronica Chambers, created by Jane Startz, inspired by Jennifer Lopez 2010
IQ "Life as a Latina could often mean being treated like a girl-and not in a good way. If you had a brother, he got more of everything: more freedom, more attention, more cash. [...]But quinceanearas were strictly the chicas' terrain. If, every once in awhile, a girl went quince-zilla and drove her friends and family crazy, then who could blame her? The quince was so much more than a party; it was a statement about the kind of girl you were and the kind of woman you hoped to become. You only got one shot, and claro, you wanted it to be perfect." Alicia pg. 12
Alicia and her three best friends, Carmen, Jamie and Gaz (I will refer to them as the Amigas even though Gaz is a guy. More on that later), love growing up in Miami. There's lots of fun in the sun and quinceanearas! Quinceaneras are a fundamental part of the social scene in Miami and every girl wants hers to be be the best. The Amigas have attended some good quinceanearas, and many others in which the birthday was a brat/something went horribly wrong/the quinceaneara was not well planned out. While working as an intern at City Council, Alicia meets Sarita. Sarita is friendly and new to Miami, she has no idea how to plan her quince with her limited budget. Alicia decides that she and her friends should step in and help. They take over the planning of the quince, but quickly realize quinceanearas are A LOT of hard work. And of course, there must be some drama concerning romance and friendship!
I'll start off with the not-so-good. A recurring problem I had with this series was the fact that almost all the Spanish was translated, unless it was one basic word (such as hola or claro. Words such as sueno were translated. For the record, sueno [tilde over the n] means dream). So that was a minor thing that continued to tick me off. Also, I don't think this series should be called the Amigas. Nor should the quince planning business because Gaz is a guy and I thought the name was rather uncreative too. My final issue was that Alica was a character of contradictions. She would go on and on about how responsible she was and then she would turn around and do something that seemed to show that she lost all common sense (i.e. thinking it's OK to practice the paso doble while at work. I'll leave it at that).
The first book in the Amigas series, Fifteen Candles, is a fun and quick read. The setting of Miami works so well with the book and I really enjoyed reading about the quinceaneara planning process. I never had one and at first, this book made me glad I hadn't! But as I read on, I found myself being able to relate to Alicia in wishing we had had a quinceaneara. When Alicia turned fifteen her parents took her to Spain (When I turned fifteen it wasn't anything that warranted special plans, I think that's mostly because quinces are encouraged and planned out by mothers and my mother is not Latina) but she begins to regret that decision as she plans Sarita's quince and sees the end result. I have to admit, I find it hard to believe that Alicia is not popular! Alicia is very rich and yet she claims that she's not popular, nor are her friends. Alicia is the richest one in the group, and in my experience, the wealthier students tend to be more popular, but I kinda like that she's not popular just because she's rich. The writing is engaging and the characters conversations are similar to ones you may have with your own friends about fashion, summer plans and boys. While not anything spectacular, the series is off to a good start.
Amigas #2: Lights, Camera, Quince! by Veronica Chambers
Incredible Quote: "'I think you're making a big mistake in thinking that you're half Jewish and half Latina,' Javier said finally. 'In Buenos Aires, my family is all Jewish and all Latin. It's not like an Oreo cookie. You can't separate the different parts." pg. 47
In the second book in the Amigas series, we receive a lengthier look at Alicia's best friend Carmen. Amigas Inc (a quinceanera planning business) is officially open and there is widespread support for them in Miami. Carmen is turning fifteen and the Amigas decide that they must obviously throw a founder of Amigas Inc. (and their best friend) one of the best quinceanearas ever! However, Carmen has a rather low budget, so she jumps at the chance to join a quinceaneara TV competition. There are challenges thrown her way and the cameras are always following her and her crew. Soon the cameras began to reveal some secrets and shed a not-so-positive light on certain aspects of the Amigas' personalities. Not only does Carmen want to win Project Quince (they give her a budget of a thousand dollars and will throw in other cool prizes to help her overall quinceaneara), she also wants to keep her Latin and Jewish family members happy. Carmen loves fashion but instead of doing a Project-Runway themed quince, she wants to showcase her Jewish heritage since she didn't have a bat mitzvah (much to her Argentinean Jewish grandmother's chagrin). If Carmen can somehow pull off a quinceaneara that combines her love of fashion, family and pride in all aspects of her Jewish heritage, she is sure to win Project Quince. That is if all goes well and the cameras don't ruin friendships.
The story alternates (oftentimes unevenly) between the voices of Alicia, Carmen and Jamie. This bothers me because I think that if the series is going to be called Amigas and refer to Gaz as well, then we should hear Gaz's side of the story. I'm not a big fashion person and it would be nice to hear from someone who works at the Gap (and probably shops there too) instead of Vera Wang, Prada, etc. Also the three Amigas tell the story in a choppy manner. I think since this book is about Carmen, Carmen should have told the majority of the story, interspersed with Alicia and Jamie (and Gaz!). Instead the story is evenly split between Alicia and Carmen with Jamie on the side. I wasn't a fan. Furthermore, the villain is this story is utterly ridiculous. She is one dimensional and it's obvious right away that something fishy is going on. Why the Amigas took so long to realize that, I simply don't understand.
However I really liked the (rather heavy handed) message. I could understand what Carmen was going through as she struggled to reconcile all parts of her heritage and celebrate them at her quinceaneara. It was nice to learn about the Jewish faith. Carmen is not Jewish but she respects Judaism and she does want to learn Hebrew. She regrets not having a bat mitzvah, and her demanding Abuela Ruben doesn't make her feel any better by telling Carmen that she will be punished for all her sins in the next life (because she was raised in the Catholic church and never celebrated her Jewish heritage fully, this is a sin her grandmother's eyes). I could also understand why, no matter how tough the competition got, she stayed in it because her parents couldn't afford to throw her a really expensive quince and the competition took a nice load off their shoulders. With Carmen feeling torn between two cultures, I was better able to appreciate the cultural diversity of the Amigas (and Gaz). Carmen is Mexican American, Jewish and Argentinean. Gaz is Puerto Rican and Jamie is Dominican. I like that the books focus on the similarities between cultures, but I would also love to see the difference between cultures. No Spanish country is completely the same as another and that is rarely portrayed in literature. All in all, I was better able to relate to this story on a personal level. It might very well be different for someone else.
Amigas #3: She's Got Game by Veronica Chambers
IQ "it was a strange but wonderful world in which Amigas Inc. existed. A world where four fifteen-year-olds could run the hottest quince planning business in town. a world where a fairy godmother could wear skinny jeans and patent-leather pumps and be too young to drive. A world where a girl could skate her way into being fifteen, both literally and figuratively." pg. 247
Binky Mortimer is rich, spoiled and vivacious. She hires Amigas Inc. to plan the most extravagant quinceaneara they can. The Amigas were skeptical that Binky was even Latina, but it turns out, her mother (who passed away) is Venezuelan. The Amigas (and Gaz) quickly realize that planning Binky's quince could not only help them socially, but they will make a ton of money and throw a great party with an unlimited budget. However, Binky begins to grow more and more demanding and she is clearly going through some issues. Also, Jamie is struggling to put aside her prejudice against the rich for the sake of the business. she doesn't like Binky or many other wealthy people, she has a valid reason for her distrust, but she refuses to see the exceptions. It doesn't help matters that Binky's brother, Dash, is interested in Jamie, but Jamie can't get past his bank account and snooty stepmother. If Jamie can't get rid of her attitude and if the Amigas can't work with Binky and her temperamental ways, they could lose their biggest client.
The writing is still not wowing me and I felt it was repetitive. Once again, we hear about how great the Amigas are along with descriptions (yet again) of their beauty. We also have to go over the past events that occurred in the last books. This is both good and bad. The recap allows anyone to pick up any book in the series, regardless of order, but it can also bore the returning reader. While I appreciate the diversity in the Amigas' cultural background, I wish there was more diversity in their looks. They are all thin/athletic with dark eyes/hair/caramel skin. Latinos come in all different shapes and sizes and I wish that not only did the covers of the books reflect that, but so did the content within the pages. Granted, Binky is described as having blond hair and blue but her Latinism is questioned. The author also needs to SHOW more and tell less. She was constantly adding in unnecessary words to explain things. I didn't care for Jamie's backstory either. It was too much. I found it hard to believe that she would keep all that information a secret, especially when it was so recent. It simply didn't work for me. My final issue with this book is the lack of school work mentions. How can you run a quince planning business during the school year? The girls never complain about homework and yet these fifteen year olds are in honors and AP classes and running a business. Kudos to them but how do they do it? I wish that had been shared because I want to learn their secret.
I was pleased at the issues addressed in this novel. The loss of a parent, cultural bias, and classism are all addressed here. The Amigas are at first skeptical that Binky can even have a quinceaneara because they don't believe she's Latina. She doesn't "look Latina" nor does she have a Spanish first or last name. Turns out Binky is her nickname, her real name is Bianca. An interesting point is brought up by Jamie (I'm paraphrasing), her attitude is basically "doesn't matter if you have Latina blood. if you don't know anything about or celebrate your heritage, you're not Latina." I've struggled with this question myself because I sympathize with both sides. On the one hand, you are obviously Latino/a if you have Latino/a blood in your veins and no one else has the right to tell you that you are "not part of (fill in ethnic group here" simply because you don't fit in with stereotypes. On the other hand, you can't really call yourself Latina if you refuse to celebrate your heritage. Another interesting dynamic is the issue of class. We have the traditional rich-girl-who-is-clueless-about-regular-people dynamic, but we also have Jamie who doesn't want to give any rich person (not even a hot guy like Dash, Binky's brother!) a chance. We tend to only view classism as being the rich looking down on the middle/working class, but the reverse is also true. This was my favorite book in the series (however the second book gets a higher rating because by the time I read the 3rd, I was tired of the writing).
In all likelihood you will find these books to be a diverting read that provides a look at life in Miami for Latina girls during quince season. The girls are authentic and by the third book the story is mostly told by Jamie with asides from Alicia and Carmen, which I liked a lot more. I admire the Amigas drive and passion. Jamie designs sneakers and loves art of all kinds. Carmen designs and sews clothes. Alicia is all around perfect. Gaz is in a band. The girls have a variety of interests and cultural/economic backgrounds and it adds a uniqueness to the story. And you will probably walk away from these books wishing you had/attended a quinceaneara. I was pleasantly surprised by the Q&A with Jennifer Lopez in the back of the book. The questions relate to the storyline in the book and it's clear that Ms. Lopez has actually read the books (I admit, I was skeptical. I'm happy to have been proven wrong).
Disclosure: Received from publicist. Thank you!