The very first time I ever sat down and ended up writing a book, it was because of Castle. It was most of the way through season 3, and I was very invested. The characters felt fresh and fleshed out and interesting and the story of Castle and Beckett coming together was one that the audience got taken on in a way I feel is rarely captured on TV. And then they hooked them up, and as so often happens, possibly because TV writers are inherently unhappy people who couldn’t recognize a happy relationship if it blew up in their faces, instantly jump the shark. I remember being so incensed with how they dealt with the whole situation that I sat down to rewrite it, and over a couple of weeks the characters and plot and setting changed so much that there was literally nothing left of Castle, and ended up being a book length story set in the dark ages and my first real foray into writing long form fiction.
Reading this book felt a lot like that to me. Like Sosa had grown up with The Wedding Planner, a movie with terrible writing only barely saved by JLO acting her heart out. Maybe, like me, Sosa saw the potential for a great story there, hidden under a character that at least superficially resonated, sat down to write it, and when she looked back up, there was literally nothing left of the inspiring source material except that the title character is also a beautiful Latinx woman that works as a wedding planner and a superior story in every way.
Plot: Carolina is a wedding planner who was dumped at the alter three years before the book starts in earnest. She has to find a new office or new work because the place she can’t afford her office space anymore (because there is a significant lack of protection for commercial renters in most jurisdictions so arbitrary and severe rent increases are common, not because the business is suffering, which is refereshing). By chance, a hotel magnate is looking to hire a full time wedding planner for her hotel as a way of differentiating their business model and offers Carolina a chance to interview. This is a 5 week interview process which involves working with a marketing team the hotel magnate is also trying on for size. Only, plot twist! That team is the guy Carolina was dumped by and his brother (who had convinced him to dump her). Not wanting to work directly with her ex, she agrees to work with the brother and shenanigans ensue.
lowercasesee reviewed it briefly in March, which is what put it on my radar. She didn’t like it and I totally agree with the reasons she gives. The book is stuffed with tropes and cliches (there is never any traffic! They randomly get enrolled into a couple’s retreat by accident!). There are emotional leaps that don’t feel earned, particularly at the climax of the story. We’re not really treading any new ground here, outside of the celebration of Brazillian culture in a genre still painfully too white and American/British.
One minor (un)spoiler: the major tension point introduced at the very beginning – the rift between them and their families caused by Andrew standing Carolina up on their wedding day, is never really resolved and barely explored. Ever. At all. This, to me, is by far the biggest miss in the book. It could have given it the emotional core and stakes I think it needed to move it from Light Beach Book you read once and promptly forget to something on the keeper shelf.
Still, I liked this book. While it is, for the most part, a pretty light read with slapstick humor and the kind of crazy, silly situations that only ever happen in rom coms, it’s handled with heart and thought. Carolina and Max do their best to have open, honest conversations. Even when they’re talking through the project, their relationship, or sex, they try their best to be open, honest, and forthcoming (wink wink). There’s a tiny bit of prank war stuff at the beginning that I wish either got leaned into more or taken out entirely because of how tacked on it feels, but on the whole these two talk like adults. I often finish a romance and think that even if the writing was good and the story was overall great, that in the real world a couple like that wouldn’t make it. Here I think Sosa really gave them the bones of what it takes to make a real go at a relationship, which is often the more non glamorous stuff that rarely makes it into romance novels.
The fact that Carolina’s family is Brazillian and Max is a local white boy never comes up as an issue also makes me very happy. Being in an interracial relationship myself, I cannot tell you how sick I am of A Very Special Episode stories about people who find love across racial lines and are defined in no other terms. Like, can’t people have other shit going on? Can’t it just be that they like each other, happen to be of different backgrounds, and are happy to to be exposed to new things without making it into a Whole Thing? Like, wouldn’t you learn Portuguese and eat spicy food and try capoeira to date someone that looks like JLo? Or even just because those things are cool full stop? Come on. Be honest.
That said, Sosa obviously doesn’t ignore the realities of racism in the west. Carolina’s emotional journey is inextricable from her identity as a Latinx woman living and working in the US, and her resolution isn’t so much about pushing past those but Max realizing that much of how she interacts with the world is necessarily filtered for her safety and creating space for her to feel safe enough to share more of herself in private. This is probably one of the best ways in which that kind of tension has been resolved in at least my recent memory, and the book gets huge points for it.
The writing is sharp and funny, the dialogue between Carolina and Max is great, but even better is the dialogue between Carolina and her family. Seeing her struggle with being a second generation American who doesn’t speak Portuguese fluently and the shame she feels over that is crazy bang on and gave me flashbacks to trying to explain my job to my grandmother in broken Russian. It’s these little things that make these characters feel real and their struggles meaningful.
This likely won’t be anyone’s Book of 2020, but if you’re looking for something light and sweet, but not stupid or patronizing to the reader, and one that celebrates love across cultural lines without locking the story to being about nothing but that, this is really great book to pick up.
Pro tip: do not read this book without food on hand. You will regret it.