Rating: 3/5 Stars
Growing up, Lilí María Fernandez was affectionately known as the family “wild child.” The life of the party, she loved to dance, especially salsa, merengue, and bachata, and often sang beside her father during rehearsals for his trío group. But tragedy and loss have drawn out Lilí’s caretaking side, compelling her to become a victim’s advocate. These days, the special rhythms of the past seem like a distant memory. Until she meets Diego Reyes . . .
A police officer with the Chicago PD, Diego also has a talent for playing classical Spanish guitar. And Lilí soon finds herself inspired by his passion–for the music, for her, and for their shared love of familia and community. Can Diego reignite Lilí’s fun-loving spirit, persuade her to balance work and pleasure–and embrace her wild side once more?
(Trigger Warnings for the review: physical assault, sexual assault, date rape, domestic violence, police brutality, stalker behavior, racial profiling. Full list of trigger warnings for the book after the review)
This year has been marked by the sheer amount of Romance novels I’ve read. In no other year have I read as much as I have this time around. I have a very complicated relationship with the genre, as I always come in with low expectations, not because I don’t respect the Romance genre. To the contrary, I think in Romance is where most progress in terms of representation and subversion of tropes can be seen, especially among marginalized writers. I come in low because sometimes… there’s a lot of work to be done… Which is why when I enter a Romance book with high expectations I have to look at myself and say “Congratulations, you played yourself.”
Their Perfect Melody by Priscilla Oliveras is by no means perfect. One might argue that, of course, no person and, therefore, relationship is perfect. From the description alone, I thought the pairing could be good: two Latinx people, both of Puerto Rican descent, in Chicago with their own emotional baggage figuring out how to work through that together by showing how passionate they are in what they do.
Lilí Fernandez is a Victim’s Advocate, working with battered women to help them cope and get better. She meets Diego Reyes when she responds to one of her clients’ call for help after their partner threatened her and turned violent. Reyes, a police officer, has also answered the victim’s emergency call and is standing guard outside, obstructing the way and not letting Lilí do her job to protect her client.
After she’s allowed inside, she proceeds to do her job, though Reyes keeps antagonizing her inside and, again, obstructing her process by contradicting her and defying her decisions. Lilí wants her client to press charges against the abuser, but we know that the victim must be the one to bring it up and come to terms with it. Yet Reyes gets angry and confrontational when Melba (the victim) hesitates to do so, which is the opposite of what Lilí needed. The antagonizing particularly annoyed me, seeing as it’s played as a cute thing. I’d be furious, especially when we see from his perspective that he riles her up on purpose.
The story continues with Lilí deciding to let her stay at her own apartment until Melba decides to go to a women’s shelter. Reyes is beside himself for some reason, which we later find out why, but it made me wonder if he took it personal any time a woman, who isn’t conventionally attractive like Lilí or connected to him in some way, who’s been assaulted and decided not to report it to the police. He proceeds to “investigate,” in the name of law and order, where Lilí lives by following her car after she leaves the crime scene, even though she explicitly asks him not to. Eventually, he goes to her apartment building (without her knowledge) to canvas and notify the head of security to help find the abuser. He saw it as a part of his job; I saw it as an invasion of privacy, but Lilí doesn’t seem to mind for some reason.
There’s a theme throughout the whole book about the lines the characters are willing to cross, be they personal or professional. Lilí will cross her own professional boundaries to keep her clients safe, while Diego will cross his own to keep his sister and Lilí safe. It’s implied that he looks out for the kids in the neighborhood, but there’s not much evidence of it except when he’s at the community youth center. Lilí will cross her personal boundaries after knowing how the system fails victims of assault and previously having a bad relationship with a cop; Diego will actually do some emotional labor for change (?).
The book says that Lilí went into Women and Gender Studies in college after helping a younger student go through the reporting of a date rape, which ended up in nothing as most of these cases usually do. After that, she decides to become a Victim’s advocate, helping them get better and being a positive but realistic person. As someone who graduated with a Women and Gender Studies degree from a school in the Midwest, this was especially comforting to see, seeing as it’s something a lot of my classmates also do. And yet, Lilí’ll do and say things that are incongruous with many of the things we’re taught in a basic Women and Gender Studies class. For example, at the beginning of the book, after Lilí’s first brush with Diego, she’s thinking about maybe having a different meet-cute: “It made her wonder what it would have been like had they run into each other at a club or bar out with friends. To have those intense brown eyes focused on her in a totally different way. The male-female kind of way (bolded for emphasis).” I re-read this line plenty of times, at first confused and then insulted. It’s an incredibly hetero- and cisnormative way to view passion and even how some people experience sexual tension/attraction.
If that’s not enough, Diego’s constant insistence that he’s a “nice guy” grated me; no “nice guy” needs reiterating the fact. This especially when he’s repeatedly undermining Lilí and her job. Sure, he sometimes admits fault. But Lilí, who finds fault in him and knows Diego doesn’t take her career seriously and that he doesn’t ever take the time to actually listen to victims, won’t look him in the eye and never calls him out. And she doesn’t point out his chosen profession and say the obvious: domestic violence is more prevalent in police officers’ families than in non-police officer families. Lilí, who knows firsthand about the failings, oppression and ignorance of certain institutions, who’s probably seen her fair share of domestic violence survivors at the clinic, ignores these facts. How many of Diego’s coworkers have probably been abusive toward their families? Does he know and keep quiet, therefore maintaining a culture of abuse within the police? What about racial profiling done by the police? Police brutality? Where does Diego stand on the issues that affect the community he so loves? How many victims have been to Lilí’s workplace that Diego probably knows?
I know that Diego has his issues with his family and his sister. But throughout most of the book he lets Lilí do most of the emotional labor, and when the climax of the story (or “The Big Misunderstanding”) happens, Diego bails. Lilí tells him exactly why she did what she did, and he still makes it about himself. He isolates himself and doesn’t contact Lilí. It takes him two weeks, a grand romantic gesture, and a private conversation where he grovels a little bit, to apologize. (And not for everything.)
I know this review looks like I didn’t like the story, which isn’t the truth. I thoroughly enjoyed Lilí and the heavier topics the book tackles, such as trauma, what family means in different contexts, as well as assault and its repercussions. I liked the fact that there wasn’t a declaration of love, seeing as they’d met about a month (?) before the book’s conclusion. However, I don’t think the two characters need to have a happy ever after together. At least, not in the “let’s get married and have kids” way. I think they can grow together, have sex together, learn from each other. I don’t think Diego deserves to have Lilí doing so much emotional labor for him. He needs to take a look at his life and realize all that he needs to do to get better. In the end he does seem like he wants to start mending those things, which I appreciate.
To conclude, the book isn’t perfect, and the relationship between Lilí and Diego isn’t perfect except in their own eyes, but it’s still an enjoyable story that hits a lot of topics ignored in the Romance genre. I hope to read more from the author, as I believe she’s a great writer in terms of the technical aspects and in developing her characters. Oliveras captures Latinx family dynamics in the most heartfelt and loving way that could only be possible if written by a Latinx author. It’s in the crowded scenes, such as the baseball game and the family dinner, where Oliveras finds her strength as an author when she makes a big cast melt into the background so that the two characters always gravitate toward each other; which is why the story still resonated with me. It’s when the scenes are loudest that the more moving, quiet moments happen. And that’s what still makes this story a good one in my books.
Trigger warnings for novel: domestic violence (secondary character experiences it and describes it), physical assault (described by victim and then experienced by MC), abuse, sexual assault of secondary character (actual act isn’t described or seen), date rape of secondary character (mentioned), reporting of sexual assault of secondary character (perpetrator isn’t apprehended), drug use (specifically crack cocaine; mentioned and seen, usage of it isn’t described), drug rehab, stalker behavior, homo- and transphobia (wording), misogynistic slurs used by man during an assault, emotional trauma, PTSD (MC experiences signs of it after assault, showing mostly anxiety), mention of death of loved ones (one of the MCs has lost their parents, the other lost their mother), parental negligence (father of one of the MC’s is an absent parent).
An eARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All quotes are taken from said copy and may be changed in the final print. Thank you!
You can pre-order this book online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, and other online book retailers now! Book will be released on November 27th, 2018.
Review available on Goodreads.
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