Alumna celebrates belated Quinceañera with debut novel

Belinda Acosta, alumna of The University of Texas at Austin’s Michener Center for Writers and longtime columnist for the Austin Chronicle, debuts as a published novelist this month with the release of “Damas, Dramas and Ana Ruiz,” the first of two books she has written for Grand Central Publishing’s “A Quinceañera Club,” a new series which will explore Mexican American life and culture.

What is a quinceañera?  In the Hispanic culture, it’s a girl’s 15th birthday party, a coming-of-age celebration much like a sweet sixteen, but with much deeper religious and social significance.  Belinda, who was born in Nebraska to a mother from South Texas and a father from Northern Mexico, had never attended one before she signed the book contract.  She threw herself into researching the ritual, attending quinceañeras, going to trade shows, talking to other Latinas about their experiences, and reading such books as Julia Alvarez’s “Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA.”

The result is a book that smartly and deftly explores questions of family relationships as well as cultural identity.  Acosta, who regularly reviews TV and other media in her weekly column, found inspiration in such shows as the hit OC, which combines story lines of teenaged characters with those of adult characters and appeals to viewers of widely differing ages.

Set in San Antonio, Texas, the novel tells the story of Ana Ruiz, a working professional and mother of 14-year-old  Carmen. Carmen blames her mother for their father’s recent abandonment of the family, and Ana plans the party as a means to reconnect with her angry daughter, but things go terribly awry. Author Joy Castro lauds Acosta’s deft portrayal of the “psychological tensions that the quinceañera moment provokes in mothers who are forced . . . to face their own aging at exactly the moment they’re supposed to be celebrating their daughters’ beauty and maturity.”  Belinda seamlessly weaves Spanish and Spanglish into her prose, giving the novel a lively and authentic voice.

In addition to her column and freelance reviews, Acosta is also a playwright and essayist whose work has appeared in Poets and Writers and aired on Latino USA.

A book release party is planned on August 18th at Cuba Libra (409 Colorado) from 6 to 8 p.m.—complete with cocktails, cupcakes and dancing, a sort of belated quinceañera for Acosta herself.  On August 25, she will read and book sign at 7 p.m. at BookPeople, on the corner of West 6th and N. Lamar.