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?
A few months ago when Don’t Date Rosa Santos was released, a few wonderful Latinx book bloggers organised for people in the book community to post a photo of themselves wearing yellow to celebrate the release of Don’t Date Rosa Santos. (Yellow is one of my favourite colours to wear, so naturally I was more than excited to participate!) And I think that sort of thing perfectly encapsulates the story in Don’t Date Rosa Santos: communities coming together to do something great and celebrating all things yellow – sun, summer, and sunny people. Beyond that, Don’t Date Rosa Santos is also a great story about Cuban-American teen Rosa, whose family is cursed by the sea. When her home is at risk of gentrification, she and her community band together to save their small sleepy costal town called Port Coral.
A SUMMER-Y CONTEMPORARY ABOUT FAMILY AND IDENTITY
Although this book has been shelved as a romance, I think Don’t Date Rosa Santos is more than a love story. Rather, I think Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a fantastic and intricate portrait of a teen girl’s life, particularly during a time where she has to make big decisions that will not only change her life but also may define her as a diasporic Cuban-American teen. The story explores her family life – her only family are her abuela who is a pillar in their sleepy town and her mother, who was never a permanent fixture in her life. In a way, it’s an generational story about Latina women, the burdens they carry, and their hopes and expectations of each other. It’s also a story about family curses – Rosa’s family were claimed by the sea, and thus her family don’t venture near the marina – and how they can shape you and your family.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos also places significant weight on identity, and Moreno’s explorations of identity were heartfelt, heart-aching, and poignant. And not just cultural identity – it’s about how our decisions and our choices define who we are, and how discovery of new things and taking risks can also shape the people that we can become – if only we gave them a chance. Importantly, Moreno blends her exploration of identity with her emphasis on family – and how the relationships across the three generations of Santos women have defined each other and themselves, and how the relationships we have with family can shape who we are and the people that we can become.
CAPTURES THE MESSINESS OF DIASPORIC IDENTITY
Different things in Don’t Date Rosa Santos will speak to different people, but what really spoke to me was Rosa’s exploration and experience with her identity as a diasporic Cuban-American. Though I’m not Cuban and cannot speak on the experiences that Cuban’s uniquely feel given their history and experiences, I really related to Rosa’s complex and messy feelings of straddling two of her identities: both her Cuban heritage and yet being born away from Cuba.
In particular, I really connected with Rosa’s feelings and her desire to understand her Cuban identity better. With her grandmother not being forthcoming with experiences in Cuba, an important factor in Rosa’s college decision-making process is whether they have an exchange program that will allow her to visit and study in Cuba. I also really related with Rosa’s perception of Cuba as a ‘home she’s never had’; it’s this feeling of connection to something and has immense meaning to you, even though you don’t know it well, and it can be such a messy feeling to work through. Moreno empathetically explores Rosa’s complicated and conflicting feelings, and I really loved that Rosa’s identity was explored in a gentle, kind, but authentic way.
THE YA ‘SLICE OF LIFE’ YOU NEED
What I loved about Don’t Date Rosa Santos and made it stand out among other YA contemporaries is its really poignant illustration of how life is just a series of ups and downs. Exploring a plethora of what makes life beautiful and painful, this is the kind of book that follows mundane everyday events but will give you pause to contemplate how these simple things can have great meaning. The joy of the wind in your hair at sea, the anticipation of taking a chance, the hollowness of the absence of someone you love, and also the pain of loss. Don’t Date Rosa Santos may not be a particularly long book, but Moreno expertly and elegantly captures the complexity of life.
A quick note about this book however: this book may have its soft and wholesome moments, but it is not a soft and wholesome book. Though this book is full of light and love, this book also explores very confronting topics that brush on death and pregnancy. Something devastating happens in the final arc of this book, which has a pivotal role in Rosa’s character arc and other story developments, but having being told that this was a ‘soft and stress-free’ book made me feel blindsided (not a fault of the book, however). In saying that, this disclaimer doesn’t mean that I think Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a bad book at all! I loved that the story went where it did and ventured into tougher themes because it aligned with its overall theme of life and how it’s not always what we expect.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Quite frankly, I am so glad that this book exists. Don’t Date Rosa Santos is the YA contemporary that Latinx readers deserve, and I hope to see more wonderful stories by Moreno. Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a story that is brimming with life and love, and an effortless choice if you are planning your summer reads.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A Cuban-American teen fights back on gentrification of her home, falls in love, and contemplates her family and their curse – all in the summer before college.
Perfect for: Readers who are looking for a Latinx read; readers who love YA contemporary with depth and meaningful themes; readers who like stories about family.
Think twice if: You are not a fan of contemporaries or character-driven stories.
Genre: young adult contemporary
Trigger/content warning: death of a loved one, discussions of pregnancy, grief
I want to thank the amazing Latinx book bloggers who were passionate advocates for Don’t Date Rosa Santos and encouraged me to pick up this book! Thank you so much Cande from Latinx Magic, Adriana from Boricua Reads, and Santana from Santana Reads for lovingly yelling about this book – y’all are amazing and I appreciate what you do for the Latinx reading and writing community.
- Have you read Don’t Date Rosa Santos? What did you think about it?
- What is a great book written by a Latinx author and is about Latinx characters?
- What is your favourite contemporary?