Ben and Beatriz by Katalina Gamarra

4.5 stars, actually.

The author notes she wrote this a BIPOC on the eve of DJT being elected as president of the USA. No kidding. The entire Much Ado About Nothing plot this contemporary romance is hung on features a Latinx, queer, heroine raised by an uncle because of a drug-addicted and abusive mother at Harvard on scholarship, and a playboy, blond, rich boy already destined for a place in his emotionally distant and demanding father’s investment company.

Let’s just say that the topic of privilege, especially white male cishet privilege comes up quite a lot.

For some reason, Bea’s cousin Hero has fallen in love with Ben’s best friend & room mate Claudio. When Claudio invites Hero for spring break at Ben’s giant estate, Bea goes along as a kind of protection for Hero. Only Bea and Ben are instantly at each other’s throats. Add in Ben’s childhood friend Meg, and really evil brother John, and things do not go smoothly.

However, Bea and Ben’s sparring is sharp and clever, and little by little they start to chip away at each other’s defenses. In alternating POV we see that Ben is turned on by that sparring, and Bea flummoxed.

Ben’s journey to revealing his soft squishy insides, alternating with the kind of attacks & expectations he’s known his whole life was quite compelling. Beatriz goes through a kind of emotional journey somewhat separate from Ben– she’s dealing thru therapy with post-traumatic stress brought on by childhood and being a POC in the world of that day. (Actually, I want Beatriz’s therapist, does she practice in Minnesota? So warm, supportive, but not ordering Beatriz around.)

Bea’s journey wasn’t as compelling for me because it wasn’t really wound up around Ben making her into more of herself or a better person. (although the opposite is true). What was compelling was her challenging Ben on his assumptions and worldview. There’s a scene in the kitchen where Ben is talking about mise en place, and when he explains it to Bea she becomes very sensitive to the lecturing tone he uses as if someone from her background couldn’t know what it was and needed pronunciation corrected. She makes him realize his parents’ over emphasis on different dialects of French (vs. their total willing ignorance to his best friend’s Chinese heritage when giving her kimono every year at Xmas) is not evidence of global worldview but an assertion of privilege. That stuff was super interesting.

And while her emotional journey wasn’t as satisfying to me as a romance because it rested on her and her cousin Hero’s life, the book itself and Bea’s POV is so compelling I stayed up and read the whole thing in one night.

Yep, an all nighter. I don’t regret my life choices. This book is definitely a challenging and steamy/lovely read for anyone who likes contemporary romance. Ben and Bea also navigate some modern hookup and romance culture dealing with sexuality, STD, use of prophylactics, etc in a realistic way. Also sexting. Not to mention all the bonus literary references and Shakespeare nerding. I hope Gamarra doesn’t stop with this book.