Sweet Fifteen

Book review by
Norah Caroline Piehl, Common Sense Media
Sweet Fifteen Book Poster Image
Heavy-handed metaphors mar warm story.

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Kids say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Portrays a family that upholds stereotypical gender roles, but doesn't condone this particular tradition.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this glance into a traditional Latino family strikes a balance between family loyalty and personal independence.

User Reviews

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Kid, 9 years old April 17, 2011

older kids

its a approtiat book for everyone

What's the story?

Rita, a twenty-something seamstress, sews a dress for Stefanie Bonilla's quinceañera, the traditional fifteenth-birthday celebration for young Latina women. In doing so she becomes close to the Bonilla family.

Stefanie and her mother Iris are mourning the death of Stefanie's father Estefan. Rita, recognizing the girl's sadness, offers her a part-time job, and Stefanie gains new confidence. Rita also becomes romantically involved with Stefanie's uncle Brian.

When Rita invites Iris to become a partner in opening a new dress shop, however, things become more complicated. Brian, who controls Iris's money, is reluctant to grant Iris financial independence. The conflict threatens not only the Bonilla family's happiness, but also Brian and Rita's relationship. The family must come up with new solutions even as they celebrate Stefanie's traditional quinceañera.

Is it any good?

Author Diane Bertrand honestly and lovingly portrays the evolution of contemporary Latino culture. She celebrates traditional aspects of the Latino community, such as the quinceañera, while criticizing others, such as the continued powerlessness of women in many traditional families. Teen readers, however, will regret Bertrand's decision to focus on the adult Rita rather than the teenaged Stefanie. Stefanie occasionally drops out of the action while Rita's business concerns take center stage.

Romance fans might be disappointed by Rita and Brian's romance. The two fall in love so quickly that there's really nowhere for their relationship to go in the rest of the novel. Rita's relationships with her great-grandmother and with Iris are much more dynamic, and together these three women form a textured portrait of the changing face of Latina women.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the relationships between male and female characters in this novel. In what ways are the women and girls restricted? How do they resolve conflicts between traditional Latino roles and mainstream culture?

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