Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Joaquin is an out and (mostly) proud gay high school junior of Mexican descent living in Austin, Texas. His parents are divorced and he lives with his father, who’s a full-throated supporter of Joaquin and his sister Carmen, who attends college, but is home for the summer. The relationship between Joaquin and his mother is strained, because she seems to be excessively critical of her children–they could always try harder, do better. Particularly, Joaquin feels like his mom is always after him to “tone down” his gayness, but he’s an introverted artist who’s never even had a boyfriend. How loud could he be?

Sensing that Joaquin needs a bit of cheering up, and to really give him the family support he needs, Joaquin’s dad and Carmen offer to throw him a “queerceañera,” a big party to celebrate his seventeenth birthday, and his coming out. It’s a twist on the “quinceañera” that all his female cousins and Carmen had when they turned fifteen. Joaquin’s not exactly thrilled with the limelight, but he also has fond memories of his family all being united in celebration. In the post-divorce life, there isn’t a lot of call to have the extended family get together, and he really feels like Joaquin could use that support. Maybe his mom would be really involved and they could find a way to connect that doesn’t involve her backhanded comments about his behavior or his grades.

One big wrinkle is that Felix, his mom’s godson, is staying with her over the summer to take some coding classes. Joaquin and Felix grew up together–were each other’s first kiss several years ago–but Felix’s family moved far away from Austin shortly after their kiss and Felix ghosted Joaquin. Joaquin had such a huge crush on his dearest friend, and felt crushed when Felix blocked his calls. But, seeing Felix now after several years is totally uncomfortable, because Felix is beautiful, gay, and newly single. He’s also the golden boy Joaquin’s mom brags about, creating more conflict between them. Joaquin’s all set to hate Felix, but he can’t. Because Felix is so awesome and really wants to support Joaquin’s life, goals, and queerceañera. In fact, he lies–just a bit–to Joaquin’s mom, insisting they’re in a relationship, and Felix will escort Joaquin at the queerceañera in the traditional chambelán role.

This obviously puts Joaquin in a weird position. He knows his mom will support him more if she thinks Felix is involved, but does he want that kind of lukewarm support? And, Felix is a terrible flirt and totally hot. Joaquin’s afraid playing fake-boyfriends will cause him to fall back into crushing on Felix, only to have him not feel the same. Or worse, ghost him when the summer coding workshop is over and Felix returns home.

I was super excited to read Queerceañera, and I’m glad to say it really was adorable. It is a fabulous story that had me right inside Joaquin’s head the whole time. His problems, while they aren’t enormous, are valid and relatable. No teen wants parents who don’t love and support them fully, and Joaquin’s relationship with his mom is fraught with insecurity–not all of which is him being “sensitive.” In truth, her microaggressions are toxic, and he’s struggling with going low contact, like Carmen already has, or no contact at all. I could empathize with his plight, and I loved how the other people around him understood his issues. The budding romance doesn’t overwhelm the family dynamics, and the navigation of all the party planning, and friendships getting stretched in different ways was also super relatable.

If you don’t know a lot about Mexican culture, that’s okay. Quinceañeras are a THING and, where I live, the families spend nearly as much on a quinceañera as a wedding. This book celebrated that beautiful experience with a coming out twist that had me cheering. Joaquin’s a great character and so is Felix. I liked both of them, and had a great time watching them connect in ways that were truly supportive.  I definitely recommend this story for fans of YA queer romance, and readers who like Latin culture celebrations.