Book Talk: Earnessa Carter Delivers with “32 Candles”
By: Alisa Hyman
“So you’ve probably heard of this thing by now. It’s called life. And it’s hard. Even when it looks easy, it’s hard. That’s pretty much everybody’s situation, and it was mine, too. And on top of the usual business of life, I was ugly…”
Davida Jones is the poster child for a hard-knock life.
Born in a poor town in rural Mississippi, Davida is ugly and dark-skinned, and called Monkey Night by the kids at school, who tease her for her nappy hair and thrift store clothes. Her mother, Cora, is the town whore who has slept with every man in town. Cora despises and ignores Davida, and only touches her and pays attention to her long enough to beat her. The townspeople either hate or ignore Davida; the women hate her because her mother sleeps with their husbands, and the men ignore her for fear of being recognized as her mother’s late-night visitors. She has no friends, she has no idea who her father is, and, at a very young age, she realizes that life is and will always be one difficulty after the other.
After Cora delivers one particularly brutal beating when she was 6, Davida stops speaking completely. She’s smart in school, though, and she knows that college is her escape to a better life, and a place where she can discover her voice again. Securing a full scholarship to college is her sole focus… until the Farell family moves to town. Heirs to the Farell Fine Hair empire, James, Tammy, and Victoria Farell are everything Davida and her peers are not- rich, attractive, well-dressed, and articulate. Davida immediately falls head over heels in love with James Farell, and this love- and the borderline obsession- she feels for him forever changes the trajectory of her life.
This was, without a doubt, one of the best books I’ve ever read. I picked it up and swallowed it whole, neglecting a sink full of dishes, a graduate school deadline, and two of my favorite reality shows to read it. It was engaging from the very first paragraph. Carter tells a story about the struggle for self-identity, overcoming immense personal struggles, revenge, atonement, and coming of age, things to which almost everyone can relate. Davida wasn’t just likeable; she was believable. The clear, honest first person narrative perspective from which the story is told allows the reader an opportunity to really know the main character. I rejoiced at her successes, I marveled at her strength, and I mourned her sadness. I also really enjoyed the way Carter handled the Black culture and Black experience. Nothing about life for Davida or any of the other characters was cliche or predictable. She told the story of people who overcame difficulties and struggles to achieve individual levels of personal success.
Not every book is meant to teach some amazing life lesson. Every book won’t change your life, or offer some groundbreaking revelation. Some books are just meant to live through, and to enjoy. 32 Candles is one of those deliciously enjoyable novels that’s easy to get lost in and almost impossible to put down. My recommendation: Read it. Thank me later.
Alisa is a mother, an entrepreneur, and a high school English teacher turned freelance writer who loves all things literature and sports, 90s hip-hop, and Sunday brunch. Her dream is to be a published, bestselling author who makes enough money to hire a weekly laundry service.