32 Candles is a smart and warm romantic comedy that I think would appeal to males as much as females.
The story is narrated by Davidia “Davie” Jones, who was brought up in poverty with in small, insular Glass, Mississippi. Her mother was an alcoholic and a prostitute, she had no father, and the kids in school made fun of her because of her dark skin, calling her Monkey Night and taunting her by making monkey sounds when she would pass by them. Even though she was in love (from afar) with the rich quarterback, James Farrell, he didn’t know she was alive, and so Davie watched Molly Ringwald movies and daydreamed about how it would be if she “got the guy.” But after a particularly brutal beating by her mother and a particularly awful humiliation by kids in school (led by James’ hoity-toity high-yellow sisters), she runs away, catching a ride with “Mama Jane,” a truck driver, to Los Angeles.
In LA, Davie has the opportunity to remake herself, and become what she has always wanted to be. She has a fight on her hands, however, because the Davidia she was – timid, angry, and revengeful – is always trying to make a comeback.
Discussion: I loved the honesty of this book. I adored the loving, lesbian mother-figure (Mama Jane) who takes care of Davie, and I loved Mama Jane’s hilarious miserly nephew who eventually becomes Davie’s father figure. Corey Mays, the clueless but sweet football player, is another well-drawn, appealing character. In fact, all the male characters are terrific, except, ironically, for the object of Davie’s obsession – James Farrell, who never gains much definition. He seems almost like the “American Graffiti” iconic figure of the tantalizing blonde in the T-Bird (played by Suzanne Somers in the movie), who no one really knows but who inspires the boys to be more than they are. For me though, the absolute best part about this book is that the heroine is a dark-skinned, non-hair-straightened black woman who, in spite of being picked on by other kids and growing up thinking she was ugly, ends up turning into the swan.
Davie is far from saintly however, and this not only adds to her deliciously snarky in-your-face sass, but enables the author to send her, eventually, on a journey of self-awareness and atonement.
Evaluation: This entertaining amalgam of The Ugly Ducking and the John Hughes/Molly Ringwald Eighties oeuvre of films is a delight.
Published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010