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     The second of the Quinceañera Club Novels, Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over, was released recently in early July by Grand Central Publishing and I had the opportunity to review the sequel, the second time for author Belinda Acosta. I’ve got to hand it to her, she took a risk as I was impressed with her debut novel, Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz and its effortless and genuine bicultural, bilingual qualities, that the sequel would have to be not just as good, but better. And again, Acosta delivered! This time with a focus on biethnic relationships and the trials and tribulations that differing ethnicities bring to a relationship and family. Moreover, Acosta adds a worthy tangential social message, one that most readers, not from the El Paso area, would not have any knowledge, but to those aware of border politics and tragedies would definitely recognize and stop to consider, if for a moment. The tragic and exasperating situation of the Women of Juarez is not one to take lightly as these women are strangers, nevertheless our sisters and friends. Don’t misunderstand, this is a fun, yet deep, read. A cultural read that is enlightening with a peek into the differing and similar customs of two cultures, a living mestizaje of ethnicities.

     “Only one girl gets to be the prom queen, and you might not get married, but everyone turns fifteen.” The turning of age in any culture garners wonder and curiosity from others. “Quinceañeras can be expensive. Why is it so important to you to have one?” Fancy bridal-like dresses, tuxedos, limos, ballrooms, banquets, the list can go on and on as to the emergence celebrations orchestrated for both girls and boys alike within diverse cultures. The one commonality among all traditions is the familia. It is certain that all family members get involved, or want to get involved, in the planning and decision-making for the special day. Just my two-cents quickly turns into, “Oh, we could plan the whole thing!” Sisters, Strangers, and Starting Over is a harmoniously orchestrated vibrant celebration of family, particularly the biethnic, non-traditional families of today.

About the Novel

     Sometimes the family you’ve lost can lead you to the family you need. When Beatriz Sánchez-Milligan turned her back on her troubled sister, she ushered in a lifetime of regret. So when the niece Beatriz never knew she had appears on her doorstep–announcing that her mother has died–she can’t help but see fourteen-year-old Celeste as a chance to redo the past… despite her own family’s objections.

     But Celeste is skittish around her new family. She can feel the tension radiating from her uncle and cousins and, despite her aunt’s enthusiasm, is hesitant to share her dreams of the traditional quinceañera she and her mother had been planning. Overwhelmed, Celeste does what her mom did years ago: she vanishes. Terrified the past is repeating itself, Beatriz scrambles to uncover the mystery surrounding her sister’s life and death, and build a future in which the niece she dearly loves is truly part of her family.

About the Author

     Belinda Acosta has written and published plays, short stories, and essays. As a journalist, her work has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, The Austin Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, The San Antonio Current, and AlterNet. Her short story Tortilla Dough appeared in Saguaro, a publication of the University of Arizona in 1992. In 1993, she produced, directed and performed in a multi-media dance-theater performance of La Llorona. National exposure came in 1995 when she read her personal essay Gran Baile, on Latino USA – the Radio Journal of News and Culture, carried on National Public Radio.  Acosta received a Master of Fine Arts in Writing from The University of Texas in 1997.  She lives in Austin, Texas and is the TV and media columnist for The Austin Chronicle.