Set in a Florida coastal town of Port Coral, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno is perfect for anyone who loves small towns, big-hearted characters and swoon-worthy love-interests. Readers are introduced to teenager Rosa Santos and her family (included the extended family that makes up the community of her costal Florida town of Port Coral). For as long as Rosa can remember, she has been caught between two eventualities: Port Coral and Cuba, home and away, belonging with her mother or her grandmother, Mimi. She desperately wants to bridge those gaps by attending a study abroad program in Cuba but can’t seem to reckon with her grandmother, who fled the country years ago in a broken boat with her husband while pregnant. Only she and her newborn daughter made it to shore.
When her own daughter fell in love with a boy with a boat, the sea stole him away too, leaving the Santos women to fear the sea and swear off men.
But when Port Coral’s marina is in trouble, Rosa must work with a mysterious boy and face her fear of the water, all while trying to figure out how she could contend with her deepest truth: her need to go to Cuba and defy her grandmother’s wish never to return. As Rosa makes lists and contingencies to save the town and help plan a Spring Fest to gather support from tourists, I fell in love with every aspect of the place. I miss Port Coral and I’ve never actually been there. Ever since I finished the book, I’ve wandered back to its sun-warmed and citrus perfumed streets.
A Latinx Practical Magic bursting with heart, this book enchanted me from page one. I was instantly drawn in to Rosa’s life, her family, and her (rightful) aversion to the sea. I loved getting to look at the town through her eyes and see it flourish as the SpringFest drew nearer and the stakes for keeping the marina rose higher and higher.
Every character she met felt like people I wanted to surround myself with. Ana, Mimi, Alex–the whole town had vibrant lively characters that I usually see in my favorite TV shows (Gilmore Girls, much?). I need Port Coral to come to life again in another book, as Rosa goes off and pursues her dreams. It also doesn’t hurt that I could practically taste Alex’s pastilitos and dulce de leche. I was inexplicably drawn to every character and their openness and kindness. I wanted to tell Rosa that I believed in her and her dreams. And when a book grabs you and doesn’t let go like that, you know it’s special.
I didn’t expect the book to be as emotional as it was—at times Rosa’s internal monologue is so light and funny that I was almost blindsided by some of the more affecting moments. And even then, it wasn’t too heavy. It was hopeful and sweet and cathartic.
And do yourself a favor and read the acknowledgements. They are as beautiful as the book itself.