Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno – ⭐⭐⭐
A lovely blend of realism and modernity with believable magic and superstition. It leaves you with a wholesome feeling, optimistic despite it all.
For a blend of modern concerns and cultural influences, for a style of magic that might make you question your own beliefs, for perfectly timed jokes and references wound with community ties that go deep
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?
It took me a while to get through this. It also took me a while to like Rosa. The “saving the town” premise felt far too easy towards the start, and even by the end it felt like more of a footnote, a carry objective to learn about the characters. The title also sells the book short, making it sound like a light and flighty read when it actually carries a lot of weight and an important experience.
The writing kept me reading though, as the language is absolutely gorgeous, with startlingly powerful imagery and lines that you have to re-read a few times to savor.
There were definitely some laughs in here, as well. The reference to Pitbull from the veijos caught me off guard and totally cracked me up!
The deeper exploration of identity builds towards the end, and that’s what I found myself most interested in. Rosa’s conflict over her family history and her unknown Cuban roots weave into every aspect of her life. Her attempted romance with a sailor is not the star of the story, but rather a well constructed foil to learn more about Rosa. I was surprised but impressed by that decision; romance typically gets shoved between the lines of a book, whether it’s beneficial or not to the story overall.
The magic was such that I could accept it. It felt perfectly reasonable to imagine these charms and incantations working; that Rosa’s mother truly did drag a storm with her wherever she went. This grows from a story about a girl trying to get a boyfriend and decide on a college, to a story of multiple generations and the way their shared grief affects each of them differently. The ending was absolutely perfect, and I’m grateful I got to taste it.
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