Corpus Christi author Diana López ventures successfully into young-adult literature with Confetti Girl (Little, Brown, $15.99 hardcover), the story of Lina Flores, a middle-school teenager who’s finding out that despite all those fantasy representations of the heart, “real hearts are reddish purple—like bruises. No wonder it hurts to love.”
Once upon a time, all was well in the Flores household, until the unexpected death of Lina’s mother. To deal with his loss, Lina’s father buries himself in books.
Next door, the Cantus are not faring any better. Lina’s best friend, Vanessa, must bear with her mother’s self-prescribed therapy after her divorce: making confetti-filled cascarones out of eggshells. Every day.
The girls are able to tolerate their parents’ coping mechanisms at first. Then, Mr. Flores begins to pressure his daughter to excel academically (“Why does he have to turn everything—even a volleyball game!—into a vocabulary lesson?”), and Mrs. Cantu begins to impose her distrust of men on her daughter (“Delicate flowers have no business hanging out with weeds”).
Because Lina and Vanessa are at an age when boys are more interesting than school, they devise a plan to pursue their own romantic interests by fixing up their single parents with each other. But the plan soon turns sour when Lina’s crush on “the best-looking egghead in Corpus Christi” doesn’t develop as smoothly as Vanessa’s. When Vanessa begins to choose her new boyfriend’s company over Lina’s, Lina is left “feeling like a sitcom that’s been cancelled for a snazzier show.”
In addition, Mr. Flores and Mrs. Cantu end up being a better match than the girls expected, and this makes Lina realize that she hasn’t quite dealt with her mother’s absence—or her father’s, for that matter—these past few years. Suddenly, she feels abandoned, neglected and cheated by all those she loves.
These hard lessons, however, become navigable through the series of coping devices Lina adapts: the list of wise dichos her mother taught her, and a fabricated plot summary of a book she never read, in which she’s able to detail her heartbreaks and anxieties. Eventually, Lina makes sense of her chaotic adolescence and she’s able to transform her rotten-egg days into colorful cascarones.
Young readers will be able to identify with Lina’s many moods, good and bad, comic and sad; there are as many moments of levity as there are serious tones, making Lina’s story true-to-life and endearing. And López weaves Lina’s bilingual and bicultural upbringing into the narrative seamlessly, giving young Latina readers an added element to connect with.
Confetti Girl is a satisfying read that belongs in the distinguished company of such young-adult Texana titles as Claudia Guadalupe Martínez’s The Smell of Old Lady Perfume.