Swoon. Delivering sweet, seaside romance, Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a moving coming-of-age about family, heritage, and what lies beyond the ocean.

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?

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I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that lived up to its comp titles so perfectly. I first saw Don’t Date Rosa Santos pitched as Jane the Virgin meets Gilmore Girls, and that’s strikingly accurate.

JANE THE VIRGIN gif

(Sometimes OwnVoices and diverse books get comped to the nearest popular work with characters with similar identities to simplify marketing, which is why my eyebrows went up at the comparison to Jane, one of my favorite shows of all time and by no means representative for every single story featuring Latina characters.)

But Rosa Santos completely fit the bill. We’ve got the multi-generational Latina household (with characters that echo some traits of Jane, Xiomara, and Alba) in a Stars Hollow-meets-Miami tiny coastal town, complete with town meetings, resident gossips, and deliveries by bicycle. It’s sweet and clever and buoyantly youthful. One part romance, one part coming-of-age, and one part heartwrenching portrait of a child of diaspora.

GILMORE GIRLS gif: town meeting

If you can’t tell from the cover and the… everything, this is a textbook-perfect summer read. Expect gorgeous prose, clever dialogue, mouth-watering food descriptions, a diverse cast, and a healthy dose of magical realism.

~ Rosa ~

How can you not root for Rosa? She was engineered in a lab to be likable to me. Clever, bookish, sweet and clumsy, Rosa is a rather intense young lady, but one I don’t mind following around for a story.

JANE THE VIRGIN screen cap: young jane

This characterization feels very deliberate. Rosa’s type-A approach brings her lots of success, yes, but it also complicates her approach to romance, her relationship with her mother, and most of all, how she feels about her identity.

When Rosa is working so hard to figure out who she is and where she belongs, what is she to make of the complexities and mysteries of her heritage? Don’t Date Rosa Santos is an unexpectedly direct, raw portrait of Rosa’s struggle to understand what it means for her to be Cuban-American.

~ The Romance ~

This book is going to become my new touchstone for bad-boy love interest, which is surprisingly tricky to pull off in YA without going completely off the rails.

Goodreads screen cap.
Text reads:
"Katie landoll is 34% done with Don't Date Rosa Santos.
So you're telling me... YOU'RE TELLING ME that Rosa and Mr. Tatoos McBrooding have to WORK TOGETHER to plan a SEASIDE FESTIVAL WEDDING so that they can SAVE THE TOWN???
This. Is. So. Precious."

In the last few years, I’ve seen a lot of supposed “bad boy love interests” that are actually abusive relationships or straight-up enemies-to-lovers romance with characters that do literally evil things.

So it’s nice to see this done well. The tension doesn’t come from the fact that Alex has done something horrible or is a destructive person. It’s not that he is bad, it’s that he’s bad for Rosa. He’s the boy with tattoos of the sea on his arms–the last person little miss sea-curse should be with. But she can’t help it.

I’d contrast this with the characters in Erin Hahn’s You’d Be Mine, which I also loved. Clay starts out as a “bad boy” that Annie shouldn’t date because of his bad reputation, but it becomes clear that there’s more than that at play. Clay has serious problems to deal with before he should be dating anyone.

Alex, on the other hand, is a functioning human person who gives every indication he would treat Rosa with respect and affection. This keeps the romantic storyline light, which is good, because other parts of the story are carrying some serious emotional weight.

~ A Love Letter to Diaspora Teens ~

Many debuts are the “book of the author’s heart.” Most authors work on their debuts for years before even getting a deal, and they pour their soul into it. So it’s not unusual for a debut to feel personal and heartfelt. But this book… oof. This book came straight from Moreno’s heart onto the page without stopping for coffee.

You absolutely must read the acknowledgements at the end of the book. Nowhere is the level of care Moreno put into this book more apparent than in those final pages. Where she might have put a dry list of people to thank, Moreno just opens her heart. It was honestly moving.

GILMORE GIRLS gif

~~~

Content warnings for Don’t Date Rosa Santos include:

Character death, death of a family member, death of a parent/parent figure
Alcohol abuse

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