The high price tags on many quinceañeras, bar/bat mitzvahs, and other coming-of-age celebrations are a testament to the value Americans place on these rites of passage. Whether preparing for a prom, a graduation, a religious ceremony, or a secular party, teenagers and their parents from all cultures and backgrounds crave a picture-perfect transition to symbolic adulthood. Because these ceremonies blend enduring values with constantly shifting styles, resources on this topic range from classic books to trendy apps. Overall, however, they tend to fall into one of three categories: how-to titles on creating a celebration, anthropological and historical explorations of a custom, and stories following the experience of an individual.
How-to titles address practical questions families may have about their ceremonies. What should a teen girl wear to prom? How can parents throw a fabulous quniceañera on a budget? What kinds of crafts or activities would be right for a graduation party? These resources can be targeted at parents, teens, or whole families. To keep up with current trends, information in this category needs to be recent and fresh. Electronic resources and apps shine here.
Anthropological studies cover primarily the history and meaning of a ceremony. They offer little or no practical advice about managing such a celebration but instead explore how that ritual came to be in its current form. What is its wider cultural significance? What historical events or figures have influenced it? What effects does it have on those who celebrate it now? These titles often have an academic perspective and so tend to be print monographs. They are also more frequently aimed at parents, teachers, and scholars than at the transitioning teen and also remain relevant longer than how-to titles.
Stories of individual experience may provide some practical inspiration and historical or cultural background, but their primary goal is to create an emotional connection with one person or family experiencing a life-changing moment. While rites of passage can be exciting, they can also be times of great stress and anxiety. What will a transition to adulthood mean for a teen’s relationship with her family? What about romance and sex? How can a family cope with the pressure of the party itself—the fear of being in the spotlight, the peer pressure to have a celebration that is both impressive and meaningful? By delving into another person’s experience, readers can explore their own emotions and concerns and perhaps come to see their own event in a new way. The space required to create this empathy is best created in a full-length book or film and can be found just as meaningfully in fiction as in nonfiction. Coming-of-age stories have an element of timelessness, and the best ones are not necessarily the most recent publications.
Audrey Barbakoff is Adult Services Librarian, Bainbridge Island Library, Kitsap Regional Library, WA, and a 2013 LJ Mover & Shaker
The literature on rites of passage also contains some compelling absences. The stereotypically all-American celebrations of sweet 16 and graduation, though perennial favorites in movies and on television, do not receive nearly the amount or quality of attention paid to culturally specific rituals such as quinceañeras and bar/bat mitzvahs. The notable exception is prom, which suggests that it remains a powerful secular rite of passage with meaning for both teens and adults.
Despite this need for diversity, many minority perspectives remain underrepresented. High-quality literature that focuses on or is explicitly inclusive to African Americans, LGBTQQ teens, teens with disabilities, and even homeschoolers is rare. However, the need for these perspectives is made clear by the volume of information shared informally via social networks or brief self-published works. As American teens seek out ways to mark their journey to adulthood that are significant to them individually and culturally, one hopes the publishing world will respond with a greater variety of materials.
Anderson, Ann. High School Prom: Marketing, Morals and the American Teen. McFarland. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780786467006. pap. $35.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the 1980s, Seventeen Magazine, and undead Halloween costumes may not appear to have much in common, but all have a place in the history and culture of prom. In an interesting and well-researched way, Anderson delves into the impacts of prom from its inception through the present. While the language and pop culture references are geared toward adults, images of fashion and advertisements from the early 1900s to the present are a treat for all ages. Anderson also includes a chapter on the experiences of minority teens. (LJ 10/1/12)
Mark, Mary Ellen. Prom. Getty Pubns. 2012. 164p. ISBN 9781606061084. $49.95.
A stunning, unique look at prom through the lens of a Polaroid. This coffee-table tome contains 127 black-and-white photographs of prom couples from across the United States from 2006 to 2009. The images are complemented by quotations and a DVD of interviews with the teenagers pictured. (LJ 4/1/12)
Metz, Lauren. The Prom Book: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need. Zest. 2013. 160p. ISBN 9781936976287. pap. $16.99.
For Metz, a Seventeen Magazine alumna, prom planning begins in February. This comprehensive guide includes budgeting, workouts, appointments, and more, as well as advice for the night of the party itself. The strongest and most up-to-date book in this area.
Now We Can Dance: The Story of the Hayward Gay Prom. color. 33 min. Laurie Wills, dist. by Hayward PL, www.youtube.com/channel/UCGl1fXAsfd40IbeN4EkOcsw; firstname.lastname@example.org. 2012. DVD $10 donation.
This half-hour film, created by teens with the support of librarians, explores one of the country’s oldest gay proms. The Hayward, CA, gay prom began in 1995 and has become a community feature that attracts hundreds of teens each year. With most other resources focusing primarily on the experience of heterosexual teens and traditional proms, this film is one of the few to appeal directly to LGBTQQ youth. Production values are mediocre, but the frank discussion of these prom-goers experiences—in which prejudice, fear, and suicide attempts exist side-by-side with concerns about dates, dresses, and photographs—makes this an important resource for gay teens. Available on DVD and streams in full for free at vimeo.com/78440574.
Senning, Cindy Post & Peggy Post. Prom and Party Etiquette. HarperCollins. 2010. ebk. ISBN 9780061966682. $9.99.
For proms and other elaborate secular and religious celebrations, the number of details and the pressure to achieve perfection can seem infinite. The Post dynasty, still one of the most recognizable and trusted names in etiquette, can provide some clarity. The scope is wider than other manners books and includes a discussion of post-prom sex. Only currently available as an ebook. (LJ 7/10)
Alvarez, Julia. Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA. Plume: NAL. 2008. 288p. ISBN 9780452288300. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101213407.
Available in English and Spanish versions, this reprint of the 2007 original, which is out of print, follows the experiences of several quinceañeras (the name for the celebrant as well as the celebration) as a lens through which to examine the experience of immigration, Latina culture, and coming of age. The author also reflects on her own experience as a Latina immigrant and as such this book remains one of the most enjoyable anthropological works on the topic, despite its age. (LJ 7/07)
Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles, and Other Quinceañera Stories. Morrow. 2007. 352p. ed. by Adriana V. Lopez. ISBN 9780061241925. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780061860201.
These stories personal experiences of 15 Latino writers will speak to girls who may not see their own imperfect lives reflected in the glossy world of quinceañera magazines and advertisements. Poverty, dysfunction, drugs, and the angst of teen relationships do not disappear for the party; instead, these stories celebrate life in the midst of all its messy, tragic, funny realities.
McCormack, Caren McNelly. The Fiesta Dress: A Quinceañera Tale. Two Lions. 2009. 40p. ISBN 9780761462361. pap. $7.99.
With so much focus on the quinceañera herself, both before and during the actual celebration and in topical literature, younger siblings can easily feel left out. This picture book may ease the tension, helping siblings feel like a valuable part of the process. Eva’s little sister Lolo overcomes her jealousy and saves the day when she rescues Eva’s dress sash from the family dog. (SLJ 3/09)
Quinceañera Magazine. biannual. $3.50/issue. www.quinceanerasmagazine.com.
As a measure of its popularity, this online magazine and website for the quince girl had 274,000 “likes” on Facebook as of January 2014. For keeping up with the hottest new styles, e-resources such as this have an edge on traditional printed media. Girls and their families can visit this site as a one-stop shop for multimedia inspiration, shopping, planning tools, and more.
QuincePix; iOS and Android.
QuincePix turns every smartphone-toting guest into an event photographer and projectionist. Any photos guests take through it will automatically be shared with the quinceañera and can even be projected as a live slide show at the event. The resulting album can be shared across most major social media platforms. The app is free to download and for guests to use. Organizers are charged $50–$100 for three events, making this pricey for an app, but cheap compared to a professional photographer.
Biers-Ariel, Matt. The Bar Mitzvah and the Beast. Mountaineers. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781594856723. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594856730.
Jewish or not, many teens will identify with conflicted 13-year-old Yonah, who rejects a traditional bar mitzvah. Instead, his family creates its own rite of passage: a 3,804-mile bicycle ride from the Pacific coast to Washington, DC. With a growing number of teens coming from multicultural backgrounds, resources on crafting an individually meaningful celebration can only become more important. For a fictional take on teens finding their own paths, try Paula J. Freedman’s My Basmati Bat Mitzvah.
Hilton, Rabbi Michael. Bar Mitzvah: A History. Jewish Pubn. Soc. Jun. 2014. 360p. ISBN 9780827609471. pap. $30.
Rabbi Salkin (see below) has described bar/bat mitzvahs as “contemporary Judaism’s best-known and least understood observances.” This academic history traces the roots of the modern rite back to its origins in 13th-century France.
Praying with Lior. 2 discs. color. 87 min. Ilana Trachtman, dist. by First Run Features, www.firstrunfeatures.com. 2007. DVD UPC 720229913140. $24.95.
Teens with disabilities, especially developmental disabilities, do not see themselves equally represented in rites of passage resources. This award-winning documentary bucks the trend by placing Lior Liebling, a bar mitzvah student with Down syndrome, in the spotlight. The audience gets to know Lior as a unique individual, not simply a person with a disability. Yet at the same time, his experience is a reminder that all children deserve and can have access to these important markers of adulthood.
Salkin, Rabbi Jeffrey K. Putting God on the Guest List: How To Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah. 3d ed. Jewish Lights. 2005. 224p. ISBN 9781580232227. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781580235570.
This classic bar and bat mitzvah title has lost none of its relevance; along with the ebook, it has been published as a youth version, For Kids—Putting God on Your Guest List (2d ed. ISBN 9781580233088. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781580236867). While teens may get caught up in the excitement of the party or frustrated with the significant amount of study required, parents and rabbis continue to turn to this book to bring meaning back to this religious ritual. (LJ 8/92)
Tikun Korim; iOS/Android
A bar mitzvah is a celebration and a rite of passage, but the bar mitzvah himself knows it is also something else: very hard work. This event marks the first time the student will read publicly from the Torah. To prepare, he spends months memorizing the words, meaning, and tune of his portion. This app eases the process by keeping written passages, trope marks, and professional audio recording (Ashkenazi and Sephardic) at his fingertips. Torah, Haftorah, and Megillat Esther are all included. The student can even send recordings of himself to his teacher. Parents will appreciate less schlepping to tutoring sessions and can focus instead on shepping naches.
Frandsen, Betty Rae & others. Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her? Surviving Away from Home. 2d ed. Aspen West. 2004. 324p. ISBN 9780961539016. pap. $16.95.
There is a reason this is a perennial favorite gift for the grad who already has three copies of Oh, the Places You’ll Go. This practical guide has simple recipes, laundry tips, and more basic life skills for youths on their own for the first time, whether they are headed off to further education, the military, or the workforce.
Undroppable; undroppable.com; YouTube.com/Undroppable
One of the most poignant ways to understand graduation is through the lens of those who struggle to reach it. Jade Roeper lost her home in a tornado. Cynthia Gallardo endured domestic violence. Brandon Lane was on his way to life as a criminal. Filmmaker Jason Pollock explores the many issues that force teens to drop out of high school but in a powerfully uplifting way; he celebrates the students who are “undroppable,” who persevere and graduate despite overwhelming obstacles. This project aims not only to educate but also to inspire at-risk students to stay in school. The interactive social media documentary can be experienced on YouTube and Tumblr and to a lesser extent Facebook and Twitter, formats that have helped it grow into a viral movement, with featured students appearing on The Ellen Show, Upworthy, Huffington Post, and more. A feature-length film, with Usher as an executive producer, is expected in 2014.
Wheelan, Charles. 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. Norton. 2012. 128p. ISBN 9780393074314. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393084573.
“Don’t make the world worse.” Popular social scientist, author, and commencement speaker Wheelan takes a lighthearted tone to deliver serious advice to new graduates. Although targeted toward college graduates, his insightful words will also resonate with high school seniors.
Devil’s Playground. color. 77 min. Lucy Walker, Stick Figure Prods. 2003. DVD UPC 720917534923. $24.98.
The popularity of Amish fiction is bound to create some curiosity about Rumspringa, a tradition in which Amish 16 year-olds explore life in the outside world before deciding whether or not to permanently commit to their home community’s lifestyle. This Emmy-nominated documentary follows several teenagers through especially dark Rumspringa periods, rife with drugs and sex. While fascinating, note that it is not necessarily representative of the wider experience of this milestone. (LJ 4/1/03)
Marling, Karal Ann. Debutante: Rites and Regalia of American Debdom. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. (CultureAmerica). 2004. 224p. ISBN 9780700613175. $24.95.
Although debutante coming-out parties have waned in popularity in recent years, in some areas of the country and some ethnic and cultural groups they remain an important ritual. They also hold an important place in the history of American teens coming of age. This title, though from an academic press, is accessible enough for popular readers; academic users may prefer Evelyn Ibatan Rodriguez’s more scholarly Celebrating Debutantes and Quinceaneras: Coming of Age in American Ethnic Communities.
The National Rites of Passage Institute (NROPI); ritesofpassage.org
NROPI supports communities and organizations in the creation and execution of African-centered rites of passage. The website offers information and videos on creating these rituals in a variety of settings, both faith-based and secular. A Learning Center also contains articles and links to recommended reading and research. NROPI charges for its courses and services but not for the information on its site.
This image-based social network has taken off in popularity, especially with middle-aged women. In short, it is an ideal place to swap ideas with legions of mothers whose children are engaged in the same rituals. Party-planning ideas and fashion tips abound. While useful for most occasions, Pinterest is especially helpful for graduations and Christian confirmations, as high-quality celebration-planning books in these areas are scarce, and Pinterest has a significant amount of related content.
Pro Party Planner App; iOS and Android
Whatever the occasion, nearly all celebrations share organizational needs. Guest lists, checklists, budgets, and thank-you notes need to be tracked, and Pro Party Planner handles them all in one app.