I’ve already told folks on my FB and Twitter networks that I loved 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter.
In those short formats, I haven’t gone into a lot of detail about why I enjoyed the story of Davie Jones, the heroine, so much.
Here’s the long format answer.
I was on p. 46 when I told my S.O. that 32 Candles is in the family with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Bluest Eye.
Carter’s work belongs in such company because she is, like Angelou and Morrison, telling the story of a little Black girl’s coming of age and finding her beauty. (Well, in the case of The Bluest Eye, we can debate Pecola’s finding her beauty, but that’s an entire discussion).
32 Candles brings us the more recent experience of a Black girl growing up in the 80s and Carter renders her and the small Mississippi town she grows up in wonderfully. And it is not at all a wonderful experience for Davie. The kids in town call her Monkey Night because of her dark skin. She has a painful and dangerous childhood and one of the ways she escapes is through watching Molly Ringwald movies, including 16 Candles.
I won’t reveal much more about what happens next – I think the surprises in the book are best left for you to discover. Because I hope you go and read this book.
As I followed Davie’s story, I considered how the novel would fit in to a class I’d love to teach one day. The class would be focused on depictions of Black girls in coming of age novels. (And yes, I’m the kind of person whose fantasy life includes imagined course development).
I’d teach 32 Candles with:
The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
Leaving Atlanta, by Tayari Jones
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor (or maybe one of her other books)
I’m sure there are other titles, but the ones above, combined with the critical and socio-historical reading, would make an interesting course covering the contemporary Black girl in the novel. Maybe I’d include memoirs as well. I'll have to think about that some more.
But back to the topic at hand. Read 32 Candles. It’s worth it.