Miss Quinces Review

By | Monday, May 09, 2022 Leave a Comment
Suyapa has a summer assignment to complete an autobiographical comic for a zine she and her friends are putting together for school in the fall. She feels stuck, though, because she can't think of anything with her life that might be interesting enough to write about, especially when all her friends get to do cool stuff. In fact, they'll all be going to camp in a few weeks while Suyapa will be dragged along to visit a bunch of relatives in Honduras for a month. Once down there, she does enjoy talking with her abuelita, but is frustrated and annoyed with all her other relatives who keep trying to drag her into doing things she has no interest in. Suyapa then learns that her mother has, in fact, planned a quinceañera over Suyapa's explict objections. They eventually reach a compromise where Suyapa will go through with the ceremony if her mother allows her to go to camp once they get home. Much of the book then follows Suyapa's prepations -- learning formal dances, choosing clothes, etc. -- but this is eventually sidelined when he grandmother dies, and it comes out that her mother never registered her for the camp and bookings are now closed. At the wake, Suyapa learns more about her family history and agrees to continue with her quinceañera, arguing that her grandmother didn't want her family to mourn but have a party anyway. The family is able to change some of the details of the ceremony to better fit Suyapa's personality, and she's able to complete her comic assignment on the plane back home, writing about the fun she ended up having with her family.

As a very white, very male American, I am not overly familiar with quinceañeras, and that's one of the reasons I picked up the book to begin with. I knew of them before now and their significance in some Latin cultures, but I was pretty ignorant of any specifics of what goes into them. Kat Fajardo does an excellent job of detailing all that by also making Suyapa only nominally aware of the preparation details; while her sister had hers a few years earlier, Sayupa essentially only saw the end result and was too young to have had much involvement in the planning. So any readers that are unfamiliar with things can learn along with Sayupa, and those who are familiar will likely identify with having had to learn that themselves.

I also quite liked the art throught the book. Miss Quinces is, I believe, Kat Farjardo's debut graphic novel and she avoided what I see in many debut graphic novelists in that they still seem to be getting comfortable with the mechanics of drawing an extended narrative; their figures often feel stiff and their backgrounds lacking in detail. Fajardo's figurework does feel fluid, and the environments are rendered with enough clarity that you do always get a sense of place. Sayupa's bedroom and home feel very distinct and different than her Honduran relatives' ones for example.

The basic story isn't overly complicated. Sayupa doesn't understand (and therefore get along well with) her various family members, but as she comes to learn more about them, she gains a greater appreciation for them. Throw in some general rifts, and you've got plenty of opportunity for conflicts and resolutions. Most of that is handled pretty well, but I felt there were two pieces that didn't quite work. One is that Suyapa is told repeatedly by several members of her family that she needs to stop caring what other people think and just do her own thing... except she spends most of the book capitulating on this quinceañera that she never wanted to do in the first place. So the message seems to be more: do your own thing except when it comes to your family. Her family does allow her to put her own spin on some of the traditions, but we see the comic that Suyapa put together for school at the end and she doesn't actually mention the quinceañera once. She talks about enjoying time with her family, particularly her abuela, but the quinceañera itself was ultimately not for her.

The other bit that didn't quite work for me is the turnaround Suyapa had for her entire family. As I said, at the start, she didn't really get along with them, except for her grandmother. We do get some moments of reconcilation with her mother and her older sister, but not with any of the rest of her family. She gained some understanding of two people, and she's now okay with everybody. Fair enough for her mom and sister, but I don't feel like anyone else earned it. I guess you can kind of assume Suyapa had similar moments with others, but given the number of relatives Suyapa has, I don't feel like two was enough to stand in for everyone.

Despite those issues I had, the book actually reads well. I am, as I noted, coming to this very much from a white male perspective and I realize my issues could just be from some cultural differences. I mean, the very notion of quinceañeras didn't even hit my radar until I was well into adulthood, so there could be some other familial mores at play here that I'm ignorant of. In her afterword, Fajardo notes that (sadly unsurprisingly) she didn't see many positive representations of Latinas in media growing up and Miss Quinces is precisely the type of thing she would've liked to have had available back then. The story showcases a life very different from my own and I'm very grateful for that as I'm able to learn more about people with different upbringings and where they're coming from. So to those who want to see more of what it's like to grow up being Honduran-American and to those Honduran-Americans who never see themselves in books, take a look at Miss Quinces. It came out just last week, but I'm already keeping an eye out for whatever Fajardo has coming out next.
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