I landed on 3 stars for Natalie Caña’s A Proposal They Can’t Refuse. I knew there were going to be some family hijinks, because the blurb promises that Kamilah and Liam are forced into a fake engagement because their grandfather’s are threatening their dreams. I wasn’t expecting the heavy-duty unhealthy family dynamics. Caña writes an engaging story with well drawn characters. I had a hard time putting it down. But I screamed a few times because the there were moments where family members seemed to genuinely dislike each other.
Kamilah Vega and Liam Kane were best friends as children. Their grandfathers were good friends and together they owned a building in the Paseo Boricua neighborhood in Chicago that housed the Vega family’s restaurant and the Kane Whiskey Distillery. Their friendship fractured when they were young teens. Liam suffered a trauma and began pushing everyone, including Kamilah away. Now they avoid each other. Kamilah has been trying to talk her parents into updating the restaurant to compete with the new restaurants being brought in by gentrification. Kamilah sees the Puerto Rican community being pushed out and the neighborhood becoming white washed. She wants to adapt, her parents would rather go out of business than change. Her grandfather still owns the restaurant, and if he agrees to let Kamilah make changes, the parents will go along.
Liam has been working towards raising the profile of Kane Whiskey and feels like he is on the verge of accomplishing that goal. Grandfather Kane however, has been diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and has decided not to seek treatment. The Kane and Vega grandfathers have decided to force their grandchildren to marry and use the things Kamilah and Liam want as leverage. Kamilah and Liam decide to fake and engagement to get what they want without actually getting married. Lots of lying and manipulating is happening on all sides. Please don’t think that Kamilah’s parents and brothers are innocent victims in this. They take every opportunity to tell Kamilah that she’s wrong and incapable.
I really liked Kamilah and Liam opening up to each other, the food descriptions, the whiskey descriptions and the non-familial friendships. I likes Kamilah and Liam’s friends a lot. In fact, by the end of the book, the only person I thought had any moral high ground was Kamilah’s friend Sofi. I would have liked to have seen Kamilah apologize to Sofi, instead of to her parents. All families are dysfunctional to some degree, but the Vegas and the Kanes felt more dysfunctional than loving. By the end, I was no longer inclined to be charmed by the grandfathers.
All of that said, I would definitely read another book by Natalie Caña. If she can keep me reading through that toxicity, I’d like to see what she can do with a family that doesn’t secretly hate each other.
CW: cancer, grief, abandonment, shaming, trauma, past death of parent and grandparents, off page death of character.
I received this as an advance reader copy from Mira Books via NetGalley. My opinions are honest and voluntarily given.