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To borrow a phrase from old school Madames, Ernessa T. Carter put her foot in her debut novel 32 Candles.  Filled with splendid prose, a loveable main character and a tear-jerker ending, 32 Candles is one of the best 2010 fiction releases thus far.

Carter’s movie-worthy novel is set in a tiny all black town in Mississippi where Davidia lives with her alcoholic, abusive and promiscuous mother.  Her dark complexion and unkempt afro place Davidia at the bottom rung of social life for her entire academic career. Taunted with the nickname Monkey Night, she feels resigned to being “black and ugly” for eternity. Classically cheesy Molly Ringwald movies like Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club serve as molds for her secret fantasies involving the super popular, rich and handsome James Farrell—the star quarterback of her high school.  In addition to her love of ultra white romantic comedies, Davidia also loves The Color Purple. It’s her favorite book because it features a dark-skinned black woman who comes out on top in the end.

After a dramatic public humiliation orchestrated by James’ evil sister Veronica, teenage Davidia hitchhikes to Los Angeles and reinvents herself as Davie,  a sultry lounge singer.  She keeps her fro too, only it gets bigger, healthier and glamorous. Her poor, but happy life is interrupted when James swoops in, lavishing her with attention, gifts and great sex, completely unaware that she was the much derided Monkey Night of his high school years.

32 Candles centers on Davie’s struggle to heal her deep psychological wounds and hold on to James—her fantasy love come true.  Davie tries her best to keep their shared past from James, but eventually it comes to light and that’s where even more drama comes into play.

Carter does an excellent job with depicting Davie as a relatable, lovable, vulnerable character. Far from being morally pristine, Davie is presented with huge, can’t-miss-them flaws that are equally intriguing and endearing to the reader.  Whenever she is in the power position, she plays her cards accordingly.

One of the best things about Carter’s writing is her ability to mesh the literary and chick lit genres. She includes scrapbook worthy sentences like “His accent was smooth, polished, like he ran all his words under a faucet for a couple seconds before letting them fall out of his mouth.” But then she also has the impossibly romantic moments that are the hallmark of chick lit.

Carter is an impeccable writer and storyteller who offers Madames of all races a thoroughly enjoyable tale about love, redemption and gestational fortitude.

P.S. I don’t normally write in first person for this column, but I unabashedly *heart* 32 Candles!  I cried real tears at the ending. If this book does not become a movie, I will be highly disappointed.  Can’t wait for Carter’s next book.

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