Desert Isle Keeper
Looking for a damn good, wonderfully steamy, thoughtfully constructed romance? Look no further – here comes Adriana Herrera with her terrific American Sweethearts.
Priscilla – Pris – Gutierrez and her best friend since childhood and on and off boyfriend Juan Pablo – J – Campos had always planned to join the police academy together and become NYPD officers. It’s a plan that’s blown apart when Juan Pablo applies to grad school instead, and leads to their friendship, arrangement and future plans falling apart.
Years later, Juan Pablo is a physical therapist with the New York Yankees, and Pris is a detective with the NYPD who also runs a side business – a sex-positive toy shop – and produces a blog and podcast that examine her feelings about her blackness (she and Juan Pablo are both Afro-Latine; Pris is also a first-generation American), sex, and queerness. When the book opens, they are heading to the Dominican Republic on a private jet to the wedding of their close friend Milo (American Fairytale). Neither Pris nor J have ever forgotten or fully gotten over one another, and the close quarters are not quashing those old flames.
Both Pris and J are in a personal state of flux. Pris keeps questioning her position on the force thanks to a child abuse case she’s working, which is being tainted by upper brass negligence and bullheadedness, plus the racism and misogyny she faces on a daily basis. The weight of her parent’s expectations and disappointment also keep her on the squad.
J, meanwhile, has been through a string of casual affairs, but none his previous partners can hold a candle to Pris. He’s been through therapy to outgrow his negative behaviors, and is trying to learn how to listen to Pris and take her needs into account.
Everyone else – from their matchmaking moms to their close friends – seems to see that J and Pris belong together. Soon, their love/hate, friends with benefits relationship begins to shift and grow. But will they be able to sit down and work out their misunderstandings and misgivings before the trip is over?
American Sweethearts has a great combination of sexy, gutsy romance between two adults who have baggage and growth under their belts, strong friendships, unbreakable family bonds and a sharp probing of social issues. It’s a brew cooked up by Herrera with tender loving care and the end result is one of the best contemporaries I’ve read thus far this year.
I liked the love language the characters use with one another – from J being so prepared for Pris’ period that he keeps the tea she uses in his house to the she has to carefully learn how to make room for him in her life. The mutual pining between them is high in quality, with a nice, slow-burning yearning that makes the book melt-in-your-palm good (there’s a scene where Pris pegs J that will leave the reader drooling). They have their reasons to avoid finally Saying The Thing and embarking on a romance; Pris is bad at giving herself over to another person, to rely on them; J has to grovel, a lot, for his horrible earlier behavior. They both come off as realistic grown-ups.
For followers of the series, we get a little extra time with Easton and Patrice (American Love Story) as well as Milo and Tom. J and Pris’ families play a big role in the book, and their moms are both delights.
The setting establishes both the beauty of the Dominican Republic and the busy, bouncing melting pot that is New York with a deft hand. American Sweethearts does a good job tackling a variety of serious topics such as sex positivity, sexism, racial and justice-based inequity, and the lives of first generation immigrants in America.
Overall, American Sweethearts is a handsome read about relatable characters you’ll root for.