This month, my reading challenge is to read retellings of the classics. One book that was high on my list is Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana Albertson – a retelling of Romeo and Juliet – that just came out at the beginning of February. Throw in themes of gentrification and stolen taco recipes and I’m fully intrigued. This is also the first in a new series, and I already look forward to reading its companion novels.
Ramón and Julieta begins on Día de los Muertos. Julieta is a talented chef at her own restaurant, Las Pescas, which her mom had originally started. The two of them are running a pop-up at the holiday event, and while there, Julieta encounters a man with a guitarrón. He serenades her and they agree to meet up after her shift is over. They only know each other by the fake names they give: Romeo and Juliet. Eventually they end up at his place, but when Julieta sees a magazine cover framed on his wall, she figures out his true identity: Ramón Montez, the son of the man who stole her mom’s fish taco recipe in the 1970s. The man who then turned that into a successful franchise restaurant that has locations all over the country, now selling cheap food and selling out Mexican culture. Julieta leaves Ramón confused and alone.
Imagine both of their surprise when he shows up at her restaurant the next day after buying the entire block where it and other shops are located. Ramón’s father plans to replace Las Pescas with a new Taco King, and raise the rent on all the other shops so much that they will be forced out. Julieta and her mom respond appropriately: They kick their new landlords out.
However, Ramón and Julieta still have an attraction to each other, and when they have to spend time together working on the restaurant transition, they start to understand each other more. In particular, Ramón begins to realize how negatively his family’s company will impact the Barrio Logan community. Julieta explains where she and other Mexican Americans in her neighborhood are coming from. The Montez family business has turned into a gentrifier – or gentefier, since they themselves are Mexican American and destroying their own peoples’ communities.
They also start to genuinely like each other. Indeed, both Julieta and Ramón are realistic characters, flawed but good qualities, too. Julieta is more relatable, and though she does have some negative attributes, most of her story arc focuses on circumstances she must overcome as opposed to personal growth she needs to go through. In contrast, Ramón has plenty of room for improvement. His multimillionaire background and problematic job role could make him irredeemable, but he has commendable characteristics that start to emerge throughout this book. When it comes down to it, he does care about Julieta and the people in her community; he does care about doing the right thing. But with his dad still in charge, it will be an uphill battle trying to prevent his company from devastating Barrio Logan.
What I do like about Ramón is how he tries to do right by people. He wants to help Julieta by giving her a good job opportunity and control over that new job. Moreover, he worries that she’s a workaholic, and he helps her find time to relax and unwind every now and then. Ramón also wants to compensate Julieta’s mom for the theft committed against her all those decades ago… somehow. Ultimately, Ramón wants to revitalize their community, not destroy it. Over the course of this novel, he goes through some important evolution and edges closer to being a reformed character.
Julieta helps Ramón on this journey in opening his eyes to his cultural identity and how the Mexican American community is affected by gentrification. It’s horrible to destroy a vibrant community just for further profit gains; it strips away culture and further depresses groups of people that are already struggling. And it only adds insult to injury that it’s their own people – Mexicans – doing this to them, planning to replace their family-owned businesses with chain restaurants and franchise businesses.
Julieta also encourages Ramón to find an outlet in music again, a hobby he’s neglected for years due to his job. I love the inclusion of music and Ramón’s background in everything from Metallica to Mariachi music. Julieta and Ramón both help each other, slowly but surely.
Ramón and Julieta also highlights important family dynamics. Julieta and her mother are close, but sometimes her mom can be a bit controlling over her personal life. Ramón and his dad really don’t see eye-to-eye, and after so many decades of Taco King success, his dad may be too far gone. What do they each stand for? How can they maintain a relationship as everything devolves so much? Ramón’s dad once fought for Latino rights and for Chicano Park; now, it may only be Ramón who keeps that honor alive.
I appreciate the brief discussions about therapy, especially that it’s Ramón who openly admits to having had years of therapy. He cares about working on himself and on his relationships with others. It’s great to see therapy normalized, for Latino men and everyone else.
Finally, one thing that charmed me early on in Ramón and Julieta is when the characters got a bit meta. While going by the names Romeo and Juliet, Julieta quotes a line from Shakespeare’s famous play, saying they’re star-crossed and can never have a happily ever after. Ramón counters that they’ll just have to rewrite the story instead. Indeed, that is exactly what they did.
Ramón and Julieta tackles some big topics, but it’s also a fun and sweet book. Even with thought-provoking discussions, the characters always bring humor and lightness, too. I adored it, both for its deeper themes and for the prevailing love story.
This is only the first in a new series – a trilogy, I believe – and I look forward to reading the rest. The next two Love & Tacos books should be about Ramón’s younger brothers, Enrique and Jaime.
Get the Book
You can buy Ramón and Julieta here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
Please note that the above links are Amazon affiliate links and I may earn a commission on any purchases you make.
|Ramón and Julieta by Alana Quintana Albertson|
|Series||Love & Tacos (#1)|
|Retelling Of…||Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare)|
|Setting||San Diego, California, USA|
|Number of Pages||304|
|Format I Read||Paperback|
|Original Publication Date||February 1, 2022|
When fate and tacos bring Ramón and Julieta together on the Day of the Dead, the star-crossed pair must make a choice: accept the bitter food rivalry that drives them apart or surrender to a love that consumes them.
Ramón Montez always achieves his goals. Whether that means collecting Ivy League degrees or growing his father’s fast-food empire, nothing sets Ramón off course. So when the sexy señorita who kissed him on the Day of the Dead runs off into the night with his heart, he determines to do whatever it takes to find her again.
Celebrity chef Julieta Campos has sacrificed everything to save her sea-to-table taqueria from closing. To her horror, she discovers that her new landlord is none other than the magnetic mariachi she hooked up with on Dia de los Muertos. Even worse, it was his father who stole her mother’s taco recipe decades ago. Julieta has no choice but to work with Ramón, the man who destroyed her life’s work–and the one man who tempts and inspires her.
As San Diego’s outraged community protests against the Taco King take-over and the divide between their families grows, Ramón and Julieta struggle to balance the rising tensions. But Ramón knows that true love is priceless and despite all of his successes, this is the one battle he refuses to lose.
About the Author
Alana Quintana Albertson is a Latina bestselling romance author (her book Badass hit #3 in entire Amazon paid store, she has had multiple novels in the top 100 paid store, and her Se7en Deadly SEALs romantic thriller serial has over one million views on the Radish fiction app). She has written thirty books and landed a three-book six-figure deal with Berkley Publishing for the upcoming Latinx romantic comedy series, Love and Tacos. The first book in the series, Ramón and Julieta, was recently optioned for television. Alana holds a Masters of Education from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Stanford University. She’s the former President of Romance Writers of America’s Contemporary Romance, Young Adult, and Chick Lit chapters. She’s the founder of the non-profit dog rescue, Pugs N Roses.™ She lives in Poway, California, with her husband, two sons, and too many pets.