Desert Isle Keeper
American Love Story
Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers, a series about a group of four Afro-Latinx friends who live and work in and around New York, seems to get better and better with each book. American Love Story is the third instalment and I loved it. It’s complex and romantic while remaining grounded in reality; the two leads are principled men who come from completely different worlds and their HEA is hard work and hard won; the secondary characters are well-rounded and the relationships between them well-written, and I loved the romance, which is intense, sexy, angsty, tender and superbly developed. On top of all that, the author tackles some difficult topics – institutionalised racism among them – and takes a long, hard look at the immigrant experience in the US, and does it so skilfully that the reader is completely drawn into the world she has created. There are no info-dumps or soapboxes here, just a damn good story that isn’t afraid of telling some unpleasant truths while also telling a tale of love, friendship, shared experience and shared ideals.
Around a year before this story begins, Haitian born Patrice Denis, a Black economics professor and activist, met Assistant District Attorney Easton Archer, and the insanely hot chemistry between them led to some insanely hot hook-ups. At the end of his visit to Ithaca (to help his friend Nesto (American Dreamer) set up his business) Patrice went back home and that was that – except now, he’s accepted a tenure-track position at Columbia University, and even though he strenuously denies it when his friends tease him about his having moved to Ithaca because he wants to reconnect with Easton, deep down, Patrice can’t help but admit – to himself – that there is perhaps just a tiny kernel of truth to their teasing. But anyway, it doesn’t matter. Even though Patrice is completely captivated by Easton all over again the moment he sets eyes on him once more, there’s no possibility of anything long-term happening between them. They’re too different; he a black immigrant who has worked doubly hard for everything he has, Easton from a background of wealth and white privilege; he a long-time activist for racial justice, Easton part of the system which is failing people of colour so badly. No, being with Easton would mean compromises Patrice just isn’t prepared to make.
Easton is still desperately attracted to Patrice, and senses the reverse is true, but he remembers Patrice’s tendency to keep him slightly at a distance and to close himself off when things get too heavy, so Easton doesn’t push. He makes his interest clear and waits for Patrice to come to him – which Patrice eventually does, and they resume their physical relationship, but this time, they start to spend time together out of bed as well as in it, and to Easton’s delight (and Patrice’s confusion) start to get to know each other properly, talk about some of the issues that have arisen between them and are building a real relationship. The connection between them is as strong as it ever was, and they take care to communicate with each other, but even so, it’s not easy or simple. Patrice can be very judgmental, and holds everyone –including himself – to an incredibly high standard, not taking time for himself, feeling he doesn’t deserve to be happy while there is still so much of the good fight to be fought. He’s passionate in his beliefs, and he’s right to be angry about the injustice faced by Black and Brown people on a daily basis – but he’s also exhausting to be around, and his desire for perfection takes a serious toll on his relationship with Easton, who feels like he’s constantly treading on eggshells around him:
“I can’t be in a relationship where I’m constantly one mistake from being iced out.”
The big external conflict in the story comes when the local police in start performing more traffic stops than usual on young men of colour. Easton is every bit as furious about what’s going on as Patrice is, but is in a tricky situation. He wants to talk to the sheriff and make it clear the situation is unacceptable and must stop, but he’s ordered to take a softly-softly approach by his boss, who doesn’t want to rock the boat and lose the support of local law enforcement. Easton is a good man and a highly respected lawyer who cares passionately about justice and has built a reputation for aggressively prosecuting cases of sexual assault and domestic violence; he wants to see the officers responsible for the stops receive more than a slap on the wrist and to suggest that the department should have some anti-racism training. But his hands are tied and he’s forced to sit back and wait. Patrice recognises Easton’s frustration and appreciates his desire to do more, but he doesn’t have the luxury of being able to wait and see, a fact that’s brought home to Easton in a forceful and scary way.
Patrice and Easton are two complex, flawed and very well-realised characters, and while there’s no question they care for each other deeply, the author doesn’t gloss over the difficulties inherent in their relationship. In spite of their intense and powerful mutual attraction, Patrice feels, deep down, that being with Easton will mean having to compromise his beliefs, while Easton struggles under the weight of expectation placed upon him by those around him, including his incredibly judgmental father and his boss, who is trying to persuade him to run for DA. Much as he wants to be with Patrice, he slowly comes to the realisation that he can never live up to his expectations and that he can’t be in a relationship with someone who won’t meet him halfway.
“I can’t keep getting pushed away every time things go awry. My parents have made me feel like I wasn’t enough, my whole life. I can’t do that with you too…”
Both men learn new things about themselves, each other and the world around them as a result of their association. Easton, who has worked hard against injustice, comes to see there’s even more he can do, while Patrice has to learn that his insistence on perfection isn’t having a good effect on those around him and that he needs to achieve a better balance in his life if he’s not to run himself into the ground. When the novel ends, it’s clear that Patrice and Easton are in it for the long haul, and committed to making things work between them – and work it is; American Love Story is quite possibly the only romance I’ve ever read that ends with the central couple acknowledging that that work is just beginning.
As with the other novels in the series, there’s much to enjoy in addition to the complex, well-written romance. The supporting cast is strongly characterised and the relationships between them are brilliantly drawn; these guys would do anything for one another and know they have each other’s backs, no matter what. Ms. Herrera has created a group of relatable, engaging individuals and continues to portray their experiences as immigrants to the US with incredible insight, showing clearly what they bring to the table and their passion for what they do.
If you’re already following this series, then you’ll need no encouragement from me to pick up American Love Story as soon as it’s released; if you haven’t, then it can be read as a standalone (all the books in the series can), or you could just hop back to American Dreamer and start there. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.