You Had Me at Hola
If Jasmine Lin Rodriguez has learned anything from her string of loser exes it’s that she’s better off alone. Take her latest breakup from a superstar musician – it’s gotten her splashed across tabloid covers, blown up her social media accounts and left her hounded by paparazzi . None of those things are the hallmark of a serious actor and Jasmine is desperate to make the leap from soap operas to meatier, more meaningful roles. Being cast as the heroine Carmen in a bilingual ScreenFlix (think Netflix) telenovela is just the break she needs.
Ashton Suárez needs this telenovela, too. He’s been playing heartthrob heroes in telenovelas for years but his last gig not only had him playing the villain, they killed him off before the final episode. He has always been in the finale, and his early death in the last show has him wondering if he’s also looking at the death of his employment. Too many people depend on him for him to be a has-been at this point in his life. Fortunately, a last minute cast shakeup has landed him the male lead Victor, a role that could re-launch his career.
The last thing either of them needs is a workplace romance with all its attendant possible problems but sometimes the last thing we need is the one thing we desperately want.
You Had Me at Hola is a steamy showbiz romantic-comedy with a plot worthy of a soap opera. Brimming with charming, eccentric secondary characters and Latinx culture and pride this is an entertaining tale of love and television which will delight fans of the author.
Reviewers Maggie and Caroline had a socially distanced conversation about the novel and are here to share their thoughts.
Maggie: I’ll admit it – I’m not a fan of soap operas or telenovelas. Do you watch either of them?
Caroline: I don’t watch them, but I love them as a setting. My favorite romance of all time, Again, by Kathleen Gilles Seidel, is set on a soap. I love how the cast is in it together for a long haul, and how the drama the characters go through gives interesting things for the actors to work with.
Maggie: I loved that book! I picked up this one because I’ve heard great things about Alexis Daria and also because I love verbal plays on famous movie lines. What drew you to the novel?
Caroline: I read Daria’s Dance-Off books and loved them. Stone and Gina from Take the Lead are one of my favorite slow-burn couples.
Maggie: If I had to pick one word to describe heroine Jasmine it would be sweet. She struck me as a genuinely nice, friendly, caring person. The meet cute moment (Ashton spills coffee on her!) displayed that so perfectly – she could have been angry at what happened but she handled it with such grace. What did you think of her?
Caroline: I liked Jasmine and her professional competence. I appreciated that she handled the coffee spill rationally, not by flipping out, like a lot of heroines seem to do these days. I felt like the device of a list is overused, though.
Maggie: True – I’ve read two list books in the last month, where the heroine writes a life goals/relationship goals list and then immediately breaks it because of luv.
I kept picturing actor Diego Luna whenever I read about Ashton, even though Diego is Mexican and Ashton is Puerto Rican. Ashton started out as a very strong character. I loved how he could be awkward, the way he wore old man (guayabera) shirts and his love for his family. I was especially impressed with Ashton’s take on life in show business, the way his career had had ups and downs, and his having to balance his need for a steady income with his desire to do this work and his attempts at balancing a personal and private life. What did you think of him?
Caroline: I don’t typically picture people, but I got a very “silver fox” vibe off of Ashton. Maybe like Chilean actor Cristian de la Fuente with his beard? Ashton does start as a strong character, but for me, his concerns about his son’s safety came across as irrational rather than protective. It became deeply frustrating to watch Ashton freak out about his fame endangering his son while simultaneously pursuing prominent roles. Did this bother you?
Maggie: I did feel he overreacted to what the text refers to as The Incident, although I could certainly appreciate his fears. And I’ve certainly read enough interviews with celebrities who aren’t necessarily fearful but who are intensely private and who will often say that they are selling their work, not themselves.
It takes a while for our two leads to move into a romantic relationship. Once they did I would call it more heat than sweet – meaning they were moving more on chemistry than they were on a deep, emotional connection. Would you agree with that?
Caroline: Generally, I love slow burns, but I agree that their slow-burn time wasn’t spent well enough. The author didn’t use that time to build a strong foundation.
Maggie: I’m Puerto Rican and could relate to Jasmine’s experience with her culture a lot. The big family, the way traditional roles are venerated, the part food plays in celebrations and even in everyday life. The cousin relationship tends to be an important one in Hispanic families. In this story, Ava and Michelle, Jasmine’s cousins aka The Primas of Power, are her closest confidants and the primary secondary characters.
I also know people like Ashton and his family, who are all about the Island and the importance being there plays in their lives. While we don’t see as much of Ashton’s family I loved what little we got to know of his father Ignacio. I thought this aspect of the text was handled very well.
Caroline: I appreciate that Daria transcends the stereotypes of ‘sassy girl squad’ and ‘zany old lady’ with Jasmine’s cousins and grandma, who could easily have been crammed into those niches. His dad’s great! (I’m getting old when the heroes’ dads start doing it for me…)
The most interesting representation element was the language. Recently, bilingual/multicultural authors have advocated for treating non-English words the same as English words, which means not italicizing unless the English word would be italicized, too: “Hola, Ashton,” not “Hola, Ashton,” or the Primas (not Primas) of Power you mentioned.
I liked it. Non-native English speakers play a major role in my life, and I’ve lived as a non-native speaker in other countries, and this felt natural and authentic. Did you like it, or did it bother you?
Maggie: It works fine for me either way.
Ultimately, You Had Me at Hola had charming moments but in spite of its meet-cute start, the romance didn’t work for me. I never felt a strong connection between Ashton and Jasmine, and some of her behaviors at the end of the book – especially those regarding her professional life – had me thinking she wasn’t quite mature enough to be in the kind of relationship Ashton needed. I also felt the resolution was rushed. I’m giving it a B-.
Caroline: I think B- is fair. I actually had fewer concerns about Jasmine than I did about the superficiality of Ashton, who concealed his son from the woman he was in love with and clung for decades to The Incident without introspection. His sudden ‘Oh, wait! I could do this differently!’ felt too abrupt. Also, the romance/chemistry aspect wasn’t what it needs to be to warrant a higher grade.