I received Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It was a lovely read and a nice vacation from sheltering in my house. There are a couple of heavier things about it that I’ll get into later. Since both come up early in the book, there won’t be spoilers.
Luis is a third generation Cuban American Key West native and like his father, brothers, and sister a member of the Key West Fire Department. His captain has just made him take some days off, which has left him grumpy and angry. Sara has flown into Key West for a week of vacation with her parents, siblings and their spouses. Her long distance boyfriend is supposed to join her, but he flakes. Rather than admit her now ex boyfriend stood her up, she asks Luis to pretend to be her boyfriend for the week. Let’s all agree that in real life asking a man you’ve known for three minutes in a parking lot to pretend to be your boyfriend is a terrible idea and could get you murdered. But this isn’t real life, this is a fantasy and in this fantasy we know Luis is a great guy and he and Sara will fall in love. But in real life, don’t do that.
The fake dating a stranger trope can be a lot of fun, and Oliveras uses it well. Luis and Sara getting to know each other gives us an in to getting to know them and establishing the characters we will focus on later in the series. Oliveras’ writing evoked the colors, smells and feel of Key West. Even though Spring is edging into Summer here in Texs, it’s been a rather colorless Spring. Island Affair was a lovely read.
Content warnings: eating disorder, deaths as a result of car accidents in the past.
Where I feel cautious about this book is in the places where I lack familiarity about sensitive things. One of the main characters is in recovery from an eating disorder and has to deal with her family’s concern. I am unqualified to judge whether Oliveras handles this well. I didn’t read anything that concerned me, but I wouldn’t recognize a problem because I don’t have experience with eating disorders. What I do have familiarity with are the ways friends and family react to a stigmatized illness. The way Sara’s family occasionally overwhelmed her with their concern felt very similar to my experience with friends and family after I had a particularly bad bout of depression.
Luis has a couple of areas where I, again, do not have the experience or perspective to make judgements – He is Cuban American and a firefighter/EMT. The author has a Puerto Rican/Mexican American heritage. I have enough friends from enough areas of North, Central, and South America to know that the Spanish speakers of the Western hemisphere are not a cultural monolith. I read Island Affair as being loving and respectful towards Cuban American culture, but I wouldn’t be the one to know if there were harmful stereotypes. If you are concerned about her portrayal of Cuban American characters check out some other reviewers.
The way Luis handles the tragedy in his past and how it affects his present is again an area where I can have empathy, but lack experience. Luis is forced to take time off after he was called to a car accident where someone died. There isn’t a lot of discussion about the specifics of Luis’ behavior, only that his captain wants him to take some time. Maybe the lack of detail is for the best. Oliveras makes it clear that Luis latches on to Sara partly to avoid dealing with his own issues, but part of the tension between them is Sara’s refusal to need rescuing (except for the fake boyfriend part).
I enjoyed this book, and I think I enjoyed it even more after thinking about it. It has a nice mix of escapism and heft. I’m looking forward to seeing where she takes the rest of the series focusing on Luis’ brother and sister.