Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras is a hug of a book — it fills the heart to the brim with its tenderness, warm-heartedness and kindness. With some books, you know from the very beginning how wonderful the characters and their story are going to be and that feeling only grows with every page you turn.
Sara is a celebrity social media influencer with a hugely popular blog and partnerships with many successful people and organization. She lives in New York City but is considering a move to Miami to work on a clothing line. Despite her success, within her family, Sara has always felt underappreciated and misunderstood — an outsider almost — in their coterie of doctors. That persistent anxiety of not belonging had led her to make maladaptive choices in her young years.
Luis Navarro is a firefighter paramedic of steely resolve and steely muscles. He is a Conch, a Cuban American, living in the Florida Keys. For his reaction to an incident at work, his Captain has given him a week off to recuperate. He is smarting at the enforced time off, which, in his family of fire-fighters, is a mark of disgrace. So he is at disgruntled loose ends.
Sara and Luis meet near the airport when Sara discovers that her loser boyfriend has stood her up when she needed him the most — to attend her family gathering so her family feels Sara is settled into a stable relationship. Luis’ calm, helpful demeanor and instinctive desire to want to help people allows her to trust him on a whim. And so, she begs him to be her fake boyfriend for the week her family is on vacation on the Keys to pull the wool over their eyes. Luis cautiously acquiesces, though secretly, he thinks, “Coño, what a harebrained idea!” But he rolls with it, because he has time to kill after all.
Sara and Luis are so good to each other and to themselves — that is their appeal to each other and to the reader. You want to spend time uncovering their story. You want them to succeed in finding their HEA.
I really enjoyed Sara’s mantra, “I deserve better,” and they both do. They deserve to not have people treat them badly and they deserve to have the best life has to offer them. With the latter, they are both willing to put in the work to make it happen for themselves, and that takes courage, especially when you operate from a stance of lower power, like Sara, or from a stance of higher power, like Luis. Laying yourself bare to more pain in situations that have caused you pain before is an act of bravery that comes from the soul.
One of the best signs a couple will have a stable HEA is how they regulate their emotions in each other’s presence. Sara and Luis do this beautifully. When one person is agitated, the other person is reassuring. When one person is emotional, the other person is calm. This ability to not only accurately read the other’s person’s feelings, but to also know instinctively what the best approach should be to manage the situation at hand is a hallmark of their generous personalities and how much trust there is between them.
Neither Sara nor Luis white-knuckle their emotions. They lay them all out for each other to see. And here is where Oliveras’ skill comes in. Even when each of them is not sharing a painful episode from their past with each other, emotionally, they are open with each other. This vulnerability and the ability of the other to handle it safely and without judgment allows trust to build between them, which in turn allows them to share their painful pasts.
Our families define who we are, what our values are, what we consider most important in life, and so many things. Oliveras has done a stellar job of showing us Luis’ wonderful familia and how integral it is to the person he is. The love his family has always showered on him forms the bedrock of his life, so his heart hurts when he sees how much Sara is suffering because of her relationships within her family and how much she is striving to fit in. His efforts to help heal the rifts is one of loveliest part of this story.
Oliveras’ depiction of Sara’s eating disorder, the therapeutic experience that allows her to manage the disorder and the daily ongoing struggles with it is pitched just right. ED does not define Sara’s life anymore, but it is ever-present. Luis’ easy acceptance of it just being another aspect of her life, allows Sara to not feel any shame. ED sufferers are wracked with shame about their behaviors and the struggles to control the urges, so Luis’ lack of judgment is a balm to Sara’s soul.
I adore Oliveras’ books, and you can see above why this is a particular favorite.