Award-winning Puerto Rican author Alexis Daria shares with the world an irresistible story with Latinx characters at the forefront. Besides having a stunning cover, “You Had Me at Hola” is the perfect mix between comedy, drama and an abundance of steamy romance.
After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodríguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow — until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez.
With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.
Jasmine is a dynamic character with a strength and drive that is admirable. Anybody who has ever experienced self-doubt will be able to relate to her. Her very public breakup with “rock star playboy” McIntyre leaves her destroyed, but it sends her on a path of growth and healing that is refreshing for any reader to see. Her internal struggle will echo as familiar to those that find themselves in Jasmine.
Ashton, Jasmine’s love interest and brooding co-worker, is reserved and quiet compared to the leading lady of the story. He happens to make a first impression through a not-so-meet-cute that is beyond memorable due to the reader’s privilege of being able to see his thoughts through a dual point-of-view narrative. This elevates the book to another level, because it goes beyond being a romance novel and provides depth and culture to the narrative.
“You Had Me at Hola” was reminiscent of classic romances such as “Notting Hill,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but it has the added twist of an ensemble cast of diverse multicultural characters. It is a delightful read with many layers that are fun to unpack and easy to digest as it explores show business and the entertainment industry from the eyes of underrepresented groups. One of the constant remarks about the industry was how Jasmine’s work environment celebrated Latinx heritage. The television show was respectful of its cast and crew with heritage from different Latin American countries.
Another key highlight is that the book does not fetishize its Latinx main characters, especially when they engage in sexual activity. They are not treated as hot Latin lovers. Instead they are people learning to love, trust and have fun. There are plenty of passionate scenes throughout the book, but Daria builds up to it with a slow-burn pace full of so much pining that would make any rom-com lover go crazy over Jasmine and Ashton’s chemistry.
The novel also embraces talks of mental illness, instances of stalking and the hardships of stardom through a lack of privacy by offering an in-depth narrative beyond the romance. Daria also explores the multiple facets of growing up within a specific culture through Jasmine and Ashton’s interactions with their own families, which all come together beautifully in the end.
If you’re a fan of telenovelas, soap operas and romantic comedies, this should be your next read. You can purchase “You Had Me at Hola” here. Follow all of the Shuffle book shenanigans and more on Twitter and Instagram.
Josie Meléndez is a Puerto Rican screenwriter and film critic. Named an emerging content creator by NALIP and an emerging journalist by TIFF, she is also the founder of the Film Posers podcast, a platform hosted by four Boricuas dedicated to analyzing film and television from their cultural perspective. Meléndez is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association.