Moving back to the Phonics Challenge:
I for interconnected — Read a romance that is part of a series.
Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamer, published in 2019, is the beginning of her Dreamer series. Each story will feature one of a group of friends who grew up in New York City and are a part of the Afro-Caribbean community that has immigrated to the U.S.
This first book focuses on Ernesto Vasquez, who owns a food truck that features the cuisine of the Dominican Republic, from which is family emigrated. Ernesto has world class training but he’s hungry to feature the food he grew up with, on his own terms. He’s been running a food truck in the Bronx, but in order to stand out even more, his mother encourages him to leave his friends and big city life behind and relocate to Ithaca, New York, where she has been living and knows his food would be unique. Nesto takes her up her proposal, and while just beginning to make a splash in Ithaca, he meets Jude Fuller. Jude works at the local public library. He’s a quiet, serious person who’s dedicated to getting books to underserved and rural communities. When he and his friend Carmen try out the new food truck in town, Jude feels an immediate spark with the truck’s proprietor and realizes he is the same man who had flirted with him during an earlier, brief encounter. Jude and Nesto’s friends notice their interest in each other and encourage them to become better acquainted. However, there are both people and personal obstacles that stand in the way of their relationship as well as each of their individual successes. First, a bigoted woman with influence in the town tries to interfere both in Jude’s quest to fund a program for a bookmobile and with Nesto’s food truck which is in competition with her own son’s business. But more significantly, each man carries his own demons and baggage that stands in the way of their happiness. For one, Nesto is all-consumed with making a success of his business which has led him to put every relationship he’s ever been in second to his career. As for Jude, he comes from a very narrow-minded, evangelical family that basically disowned him once he came out and, since then, he’s never felt like he belonged or would mean anything special to anyone. How can these two people connect, when their needs almost appear to be at cross-purposes?
For the first 100 or so pages, I found this book to be a very nice, but not terribly remarkable, small town romance. Of course, with so many of the characters being people of color and with the protagonists being gay, that *was* different. However, the obstacles just seemed pretty routine, especially the rather uninspiring, small-town bigot, and even Nesto’s drive to succeed which made his focus so narrow. What I ultimately found compelling and emotionally riveting was Jude’s backstory and journey. Once we learn about his family’s abandonment and are swept up in the drama as he decides to reconnect, the book really took off for me. It’s not that Nesto’s journey wasn’t interesting, but having such loving family and friends made his obstacles – which mostly came from outside forces – more bearable and easier to imagine him overcoming. Jude’s boogeymen – so to speak – were both internal as well as devastatingly sad. I was happy to see that Nesto was ultimately able to support Jude but I think we could have used a little more groveling. That being said, if you’re a foodie, you will definitely enjoy the many descriptions of Dominican cuisine that will leave you looking for a close substitute. I’d give this story a B.
The Alphabet Variation Challenge – 12 down, 7 to go (A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, S …)
The Phonics Challenge – 4 down, 15 to go