Published by Disney-Hyperion on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Rosa Santos is cursed by the sea-at least, that's what they say. Dating her is bad news, especially if you're a boy with a boat.
But Rosa feels more caught than cursed. Caught between cultures and choices. Between her abuela, a beloved healer and pillar of their community, and her mother, an artist who crashes in and out of her life like a hurricane. Between Port Coral, the quirky South Florida town they call home, and Cuba, the island her abuela refuses to talk about.
As her college decision looms, Rosa collides - literally - with Alex Aquino, the mysterious boy with tattoos of the ocean whose family owns the marina. With her heart, her family, and her future on the line, can Rosa break a curse and find her place beyond the horizon?
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
There are always a few books every year that, from the very first page, you know are going to land among your favorites of the year. Don’t Date Rosa Santos was one of those such books for me. It’s a gem of a YA contemporary that deals with identity, history, family, culture, and home, set against the whimsical backdrop of a tiny Florida beach town. Add in a swoony romance, a generations-long curse, a deeply likable and relatable MC, and some excellent representation, and I was SOLD.
Let’s first talk about Rosa, our main character and the sweet baby angel overachiever of my heart. Rosa is one of those characters who I read about and was immediately like, oh, yep, this is a real person I completely would be friends with. She reminded me SO much of high-school-Madalyn. At the start of the book, Rosa is facing two huge projects: deciding where to go to college, and saving her hometown’s annual festival, Spring Fest. She’s intensely driven, a little type A, and a lot magical in the way that all cool women are. She is intensely loyal to her family, friends, and home. And even though I don’t share Rosa’s Cuban background, I empathized deeply with her feeling of having one foot in two different worlds and never quite feeling like “enough” to belong in either of them.
So much of this story is a love letter to the idea of home. Port Coral is Rosa’s home, but she also feels intensely connected to Cuba despite the layers and layers of family secrets and shame and history that country holds for the Santos women. That being said, I thought Nina Moreno NAILED the small Florida beach town setting with Port Coral. My parents live on a tiny Florida island, and that very specific vibe was so present throughout the story. Port Coral is very much a community where everyone supports one another and they work toward common goals together. The portrayal of Cuban culture in Don’t Date Rosa Santos is one that I know many of my Cuban American friends hold dear. Family also plays into the idea of home, and the women in Rosa’s family were all incredible. Mimi in particular has my heart forever, but I also loved exploring the complicated dynamic between Rosa and her mother. Of course, friends often function as found family, and especially so for immigrants. Rosa’s best friend, Anna, and her family were a pleasant surprise I didn’t expect going into this story. All of Rosa’s friends felt true to life and exactly like a real group of teenagers.
Though it’s not a central part of the story, per se, I loved Rosa’s romance with Alex. It was romantic and swoony and allowed Rosa to reckon with a few of Rosa’s deep-seated perceptions about herself and her relationship to the world around her. I appreciated the way the “curse” of the Santos women played out, too.
Nina Moreno’s writing is lyrical and lovely without feeling too over-the-top. I’m so impressed that Rosa Santos is her debut novel, because she was able to capture a lot in this relatively short gem of a book. It’s a love letter to Cuba, to children of diaspora, to family, and to home. I cannot wait to read more from Moreno in the future!
Have you read Don’t Date Rosa Santos? If so, let’s discuss!