Sixteen Candles Revisited

Ernessa Carter ’99’s novel is a new take on the old film

by Aimee Swartz ’98

Ernessa CarterIt’s been twenty-six years since the iconic coming-of-age film, Sixteen Candles, was first released, and, with its shy, gawky heroine played by Molly Ringwald, it may seem like an odd source of inspiration for a new novel. But author Ernessa Carter ’99 felt the moment was perfect. “There isn’t much air time for the awkward girl these days. I wanted to capture the beauty and romance of awkwardness,” she says.

Carter’s first novel, 32 Candles (HarperCollins, June ’10), is an homage not only to Sixteen Candles, but to all of the ’80s teen characters Ringwald played—but with a twist. “Instead of another story about a girl who has it all, minus Mr. Right, I wanted to write about a real woman struggling with identity and choices,” she says. Carter’s heroine, Davie Jones, is a poor African American girl growing up in a small Mississippi town. Her life changes after watching Sixteen Candles and other Ringwald films, and the actress becomes Davie’s inspiration. Davie vows to escape to Los Angeles to create her own Hollywood ending—an ending fit for her beloved Ringwald. Fifteen years and many Tina Turner songs later, it appears that Davie may get her wish.

An English major at Smith, Carter holds an MFA in dramatic writing from Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and new daughter Betty. Carter is working on her next novel, The Awesome Girl’s Guide to Dating Extraordinary Men, which centers on the adventures of three Smith alumnae. “It takes place over two years,” says Carter, “and I hope it will be a commentary on modern-day feminism, the dating-advice industry, and living in Los Angeles.”

Spring ’10 SAQ