This summer, I started hearing great things about a new contemporary romance, You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria. I was instantly interested, in part because it highlights Latinx characters. My husband is Latino – Peruvian, specifically – and while it wasn’t quite love at first sight, we at least became friends at “hola.” In any case, I’m always looking for books I can relate to or learn from, and this seemed to tick both boxes. Plus, it’s exactly the kind of light and fun read I need right around now, and it certainly delivered!
September 15 – October 15 is Latinx heritage month, which is just one more reason to pick up You Had Me at Hola now!
You Had Me at Hola takes readers into the lives of TV actors working their way up in the film industry. Jasmine Lin Rodriguez and Ashton Suarez have been cast in leading roles on a new Netflix-like rom-com series, Carmen in Charge. You aren’t supposed to fall for your costars, but these two are inevitably drawn to each other from the start.
Jasmine has just come out of an embarrassing breakup that’s been all over the tabloids. She’s had a string of bad relationships, and she’s trying hard not to rebound… but she just really wants to love and be loved. On the other hand, she has serious career ambitions, and maybe it’d be best if she focused on that for a while instead of jumping into another relationship. Can this aspiring Leading Lady really have it all?
Ashton also has career ambitions, but he has a big secret and a past trauma holding him back. As much as he likes Jasmine, she’s a paparazzi magnet, and that could spell trouble for his secrets… and his trajectory as an actor. How can he reconcile the two competing sides of his heart?
Early blurbs of You Had Me at Hola compared this book to a telenovela that was adapted to an American series in the mid-2000s, Ugly Betty – a show that I adored as a teen. This novel, similarly, takes us to New York City, where a telenovela called Carmen in Charge is being adapted into a series for the biggest streaming company around. Alexis Daria does a wonderful job of bringing the production set to life, from the actors and directors to the stagehands and specialized coaches. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about actors, but You Had Me at Hola makes the cast and setting both fun and believable.
Jasmine is a stellar character: She’s talented, hard-working, and genuinely kind. She’s also charming, open, and loving. While she may sound too perfect, don’t worry, she also has her issues: As much as she loves love, she’s pretty unlucky in that department. She can also be impulsive and reactive, especially in regards to breakups. But on the whole, she’s a likable character that you can’t help but root for.
Ashton, similarly, is a good guy who’s caring and responsible. However, he’s hard to get close to – both for the characters in the book, and even for readers – at least, for a little while. He has walls up around him, and it takes some time to break those down. But once you do, he’s a sweet guy, if a bit awkward and overly worrisome. Despite his trust issues and legitimate fears, though, he’s good-hearted and treats Jasmine with respect, which I appreciate.
Indeed, both characters feel very real and believable. The author doesn’t throw in excessive drama for the sake of it, nor does she build up the characters’ romantic issues around them making blatantly bad or stupid choices. Ashton and Jasmine’s actions make sense for them, so when they do finally resolve them, it feels right, not forced.
Beyond the romantic relationships, You Had Me at Hola also highlights great family relationships. Jasmine has certain issues with her family, but I love how close she is to her two cousins, Michelle and Ava. (Spoiler: Both cousins will get their own books soon!) Likewise, Ashton is very close to his dad, his grandparents, and a secret someone else. This book shines a light on how close-knit and supportive families – perhaps especially Latinx families – can be.
Speaking of their families, have I mentioned that both Ashton and Jasmine come from Puerto Rican families? As such, there’s a lot of Spanish in this book – a feature I particularly love! I really appreciate the extensive inclusion of Spanish throughout; many of these are bilingual characters, and it makes them feel that much more real. It’s not quite a bilingual book, so it’s okay if you (like Jasmine!) don’t speak the language – there are enough helper lines to give you context and help you figure it out. But I appreciate that Alexis Daria didn’t dumb it down or severely minimize the use of Spanish. As a person who speaks a fair bit of Spanish – in part thanks to my Peruvian husband – I was excited to find how much I understood, and I enjoyed the extra chance to practice my language skills.
Another thing I loved about You Had Me at Hola is how diverse the cast is. Nearly every character is Latinx, many of them biracial. Jasmine herself is part Puerto Rican, part Filipina. This diversity extends to the cast of their TV series. While none of them are main characters here, there are also several family members and actors who bring LGBTQ+ diveristy, including a trans man and a nonbinary character.
Alexis Daria also highlights the importance of consent, even as an actor. Early in You Had Me at Hola, Ashton and Jasmine work with an intimacy coordinator to make sure they’re both comfortable with and during the intimate scenes they shoot together. This is a fairly new but important role in real life, and it was great to see it included here.
Readers are lucky to get two stories in one here. In addition to everything going on with Jasmine and Ashton, every now and then we get a chapter that’s a scene from one of the episodes they’re filming. We get a chance to see what’s going on with Carmen and Victor, respectively. It makes the book more fun and immersive in its TV show setting.
As much as I enjoyed You Had Me at Hola, I admit that it took me a bit to get into it. The first 60 pages or so felt a bit slow and, at times, cheesy, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters at first. Luckily, the latter 75% of the book was much more engrossing – I could hardly put it down!
Sometimes the stakes didn’t feel high enough, and I had a hard time understanding why Ashton was so overly afraid and cautious. But a mention in the epilogue made it make more sense for me. In fact, the epilogue was a terrific end to the book that tied some things together in a fun and smart way.
In spite of a slightly rocky start, I ended up really enjoying You Had Me at Hola. It’s fun and highlights believable, kind-hearted characters. It offers up diversity and TV drama – and a healthy dose of Spanish! – wrapped up in a feel-good romance. That cover was enough to convince me, but the story inside was just as good.
I’m also excited to learn that You Had Me at Hola is the first in a new trilogy! The next two books will be about Jasmine’s cousins – her Primas of Power – Michelle and Ava. I can’t wait to read the next one, due in 2021!
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