Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Available Through The Book Depository: Don’t Date Rosa Santos
Summary: 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?
My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½
My Thoughts: Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a magical, character-driven, but above all beautiful YA Contemporary debut that takes you on quite a journey! Rosa Santos explores the dynamics of her family, its complexity, love, and choices as she finalizes her university plans before school ends!
Moreno’s debut has left me a mess of emotions & I’m not entirely sure how I’ll recover 😭✨
Don’t Date Rosa Santos was just one of those books I knew I had to read in 2019! Coming from a Latinx background, I was incredibly excited to be anticipating a YA Contemporary debut that felt like it would be a story of magic, family, love, grief, but full of new beginnings and journeys– I got that and more! 🧡🌸✨
Through a lush and all-around lovely 1st person POV, we follow Rosa in her town of Port Coral, Florida where she lives with her Mimi (grandmother) and takes part in the town-wide Spring Fest ,which is a sort of a yearly homecoming and supports local businesses, but now she’s joining to help the town save their harbor for this year’s festival!
Not only that, but she also decides to help plan a wedding too, between locals Clara & Jonas that’ll take place during the festival!
For 3 generations of Santos women, they’ve been no stranger to their curse and trouble with the seas. Mimi lost her husband and Rosa lost her father! So when Rosa begins falling for her planning partner in the Spring Fest, Alex Aquino, she’s constantly worried of what will go wrong, but takes a chance anyways!
Moreno seamlessly weaves this internal journey Rosa undergoes to better understand the curse that’s haunted the women in her family, her culture, and herself as she finds the courage to do things she never thought she would–meet a boy, fall in love, go out to sea, and confront her fears head-on to find her happiness and purpose as the days wind down for her to pick the university she’ll attend in the fall!
Through the writing, you not only get this full scope of the fictional coastal/small town of Port Coral, but also its vibrant community, and the many businesses and quirks that make it a beautiful and unique place to live! There’s an intimacy and familiarity that grows on you as you read more about the town!
Moreno crafted a story that was wholly familiar to me and found myself noting passages, phrases, or other moments that I could relate to so much: the chisme 😂✨, the power of caldo, the reference of honey & ginger to cure a cough (for me & my family we use onion!), and YES even the food such as platano chips, ceviche, tres leches cake, & so much more! Also, coming from a Latin-American background, I love discovering expressions from other Latinx cultures & now I’ll never forget tiki-tiki!!
The Santos are all too familiar with the locals around town theorizing they are bad luck and because of that, Rosa didn’t really expect any other outcome, because it had happened to two Santos women already. This journey allows her to try and find her own luck in this internal place of grief and secrets.
I found Moreno explored this idea that when we hold onto grief or events that have caused us pain, it can seem like it’ll be never-ending, which can be difficult to overcome. However, there’s an underlying theme that I found not only Rosa, but also Mimi & her mother learned was that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about these things and know that bonds between family is something strong that’ll help us get through!
The plot is so memorable and I can’t put into words how immersed I was in each page from Rosa with her best friend Ana-Maria, pondering over her college decision to not disappoint Mimi (because she wants to go on an abroad trip to Cuba), the festival/wedding planning, her development with Alex & so much more! The story kept me compelled with each and every page and I loved following Rosa’s journey of growth!
The inclusivity & diversity in this novel is beautiful from the representation of Cuban culture, prominent characters throughout the story who identify as gay, Rosa who is bi, also Afro-Latinx and Black characters!
Additionally, Moreno explores a lot about diaspora in the Latinx community, which I hadn’t ever really seen with such depth in a YA Contemporary before!
“Enough. I was still trying to work that one out…Always caught in between…Never quite right or enough for either…” (107).
Throughout the novel, Rosa wants to find more connection to her Cuban roots, though she has found some of it in Port Coral, she’s eager to know more! The secrecy from her Mimi only creates fear for her, worried she’ll upset Mimi when she asks or mentions her study abroad trip to Cuba!
Family is such a huge part of this novel and Moreno explores it with so much depth and complexity, through each of the Santos women! Mimi & Rosa’s mother, Liliana, have a relationship that’s filled with so much history and heartache. With that, it was both beautiful and heartbreaking for Rosa to uncover more to their stories, although they were hesitant to share! Mimi doesn’t put up with any nonsense when it comes to Liliana and they both are at odds throughout the story, but I love how the events of Port Coral bring them closer than ever and allow them to slowly move past their grief little by little.
Similarly, there’s so much depth to the relationship Rosa has with Mimi and her mother! Rosa remembers a time when her mother said they’d always find a home together and that, for a time, was Port Coral. As her mother moves around from town to town to keep up with her painting, Rosa doesn’t have much faith her mother will stay for long. However, Mimi has laid the roots for Rosa to feel like she truly can be a part of Port Coral, she takes care of her, offers her advice, and wants her to be her very best!
I loved uncovering and exploring the stories of the 3 Santos women! I’m honored to have followed such wonderful characters!
Through Rosa’s POV I just loved the energy and spirit she brought to the story that made Don’t Date Rosa Santos such a heartwarming, uplifting, and wonderful book as a whole!
I could relate to her a lot, from her anxieties of trying new things, her determination when it comes to things she’s passionate about, and her bullet journaling!! 😂💞
Now onto Alex and Rosa–what else can I say but they were the best?!?! Their dynamic and development was heartwarming to read and I loved how they both learned to take chances with each other in different ways! Alex was just the best–he appears to be intimidating in the beginning but we learn he’s just a quiet sailor/baker!
When we uncover more about Mimi’s past in Cuba and unlock more of the story as to why, it reminded me of my grandparents as well (because something similar happened) that just made this book feel even more vivid and close to home–I was not expecting it!!
All of the characters and vibrant town of Port Coral captured my heart, as did this story as a whole and I’m sad I reached the end!! There’s so much life and depth to these characters and this beautiful world that Moreno crafted–I loved it so much!
My only very minor gripe was the pacing in a couple parts, but aside from that, this book was absolute perfection!! It’ll stick with me for a long time and has easily made it onto my list of favorite YA Contemporary books!
Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a magnificent YA Contemporary that you don’t want to miss! From the beautiful writing, following Rosa’s journey, and the themes explored from family to love and loss. The plot will captivate you as will the characters! This is a magical novel about finding your place in the world know when it seems odds are stacked against you. But no matter what, the underlying message is…you’ll always find a way!