This modern retelling of Carmen is full of sultry sensuality, color, and rhythm. And uniquely from other adaptations of Carmen, it has a bittersweet coming-of-age young love theme layered into the mix.
Soledad is a teenage Latina in Miami, being brought up by her Cuban grandmother (“Mamacita”). Soledad is single-mindedly dedicated to dance, and dreams of going professional one day. Jonathan Crandall is the horn captain for a drum and bugle corps. The corps is looking for a female to play Carmen to add spice to its all-male performance in the upcoming summer tour. Jonathan has always had a crush on Soledad; this is his opportunity to approach her with an offer to play the lead. Dancing in this venue will help expand her repertoire, and she agrees to join the troupe.
“Taz” (short for Baltazar) is a sexy Spanish soccer player whose team is also on the same tour as the drum and bugle corps. And Taz falls for Soledad as well.
How does it come out? Well, if you know your opera, you know that Carmen has an unhappy ending. But Ferrer very cleverly transforms that tragedy into metaphor, giving the reader something much better to take away, which is in fact more thought-provoking than the blunt ending of the opera.
Some of the prose might be considered overwrought, but I think it works, because it fits with Soledad’s passionate personality. Whether she is happy or sad, talking or dancing, she displays emotional intensity. This passage when she and Taz are dancing at a club on a night all the performers have a break is illustrative:
“Responding to his smile, matching him step for step, my hand sliding across his chest and hooking around his neck. Two parts coming together into beautiful, organic movement. Everything sensual and arousing and heart-stopping about really dancing with another human being.
And with every turn, I moved in even closer; with each beat, my body swayed more seductively, learning the contours of his body, inviting him to learn mine. Realizing with the tiny part of my brain that was still operational that one of his hands was splayed across the middle of my back, the other tangled in my hair, the tips of his fingers brushing my neck while both of my arms rested on his shoulders.
Pull away, that tiny part whispered, but I couldn’t. Not as long as I could feel the subtle bunch and shift of muscle beneath cotton warmed by his body’s heat – could keep playing my fingertips through the ends of his hair. …”
The rhythms demanded, she said, that they
“…linger over the movements and savor each beat like they were bits from a juicy, sweet mango on the hottest day of the summer.”
Or, as Jonathan put it less floridly,
“You were practically fucking him on the floor.”
Evaluation: I loved how the author reworked Carmen to make the ending transformative, and I loved the affectionate look at the Miami Cuban culture. The author does an excellent job in portraying jealous, possessive attachment and the mixed response it can elicit. There is plenty of tension in this book, and plenty of heat. It is a paean to passion of all kinds. This book is YA, but not PG.
Sound Track: What else but “When the Stars Go Blue,” sung here by The Corrs with Bono:
Published by St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010