I once said that You Had Me At Hola by Alexis Daria is a hug to the Latinx community and to its culture. The level of care and love Daria put into this novel, to give us a great depiction of Latinxs, is something I will always be grateful for. Because it’s not always that you find something you can relate to personally and culturally, both in the same book.
For a moment, it seemed like the world didn’t want us to have this book. The book was delayed! It was supposed to come out in July but eventually came out on August 4th. And it shook the world when it did. Publications, like NPR and Kirkus, had nothing but great things to say about the soap opera romance. It wasn’t just because the romance was very well crafted and the pieces in this book fit together perfectly, but also because you could see clearly how explicit the Latinx identity in the book was. And we, the Latinx readers, could see that as soon as we began reading it.
Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is a Puerto Rican-Filipina actress who just got the biggest role in her life by starring in a new all-Latinx TV show. The show called Carmen in Charge made me remember the telenovelas that I caught on the TV when I returned from school. The drama, the romance, the boss moves we saw the heroines take to get what they wanted — every single detail was carefully put in this novel. And it wasn’t even the main plot of You Had Me at Hola! The show is secondary to what’s really happening between Jasmine and her love interest and co-star, Ashton Suárez.
The book has already given us one nod to telenovelas when the book introduces Ashton, the male protagonist, because up until that moment he has been doing big telenovela roles that are nevertheless small in comparison to the Hollywood stage. He wants to take the opportunity of co-starring in this new show to start his career in a new direction. But he has secrets of his own that he needs to keep hidden. When Jasmine’s scandalous breakup first appears on the papers, Ashton is afraid to get close to her, because of the paparazzi and media trailing behind her.
Telenovelas are a big part of Latinx culture. Growing up in México, I saw them every single time I changed the channels. In fact, when I was way smaller, I remember rushing home to watch my favorite kid-friendly telenovelas. (I even bought the CDs to sing-along with the main characters). They definitely have a different format to TV shows or streaming platforms — one episode each night, five days a week. Every single one released at the same time as the previous night. And off we go. Abuelas and tías still watch them at their houses and make you wait until it’s over to talk to you. Most of them don’t have a DVR, so it’s one hour before they pay attention to you again.
Coming back to Carmen in Charge, the TV show Jasmine and Ashton are doing, it is set to be released globally through a streaming platform named ScreenFlix. We know how big these streaming platforms are and how quickly they turn their unknown actors into celebrities. Though Jasmine has a Daytime Emmy in her bag already, being a leading lady in her own show is a first. She’s the star in a show which has a bilingual script, cast and crew — way different than your typical drama.
It was so important for me to see that this was possible. We’ve seen various Latinx shows on the streaming platforms but sometimes they don’t last very long and get cut on their second season. Even if they have great Latinx representation, they either don’t get the same publicity as other shows or they do and they still get cancelled. When I was reading You Had Me At Hola, I was cheering for Carmen in Charge to succeed as if it were a real show on my television. I’m sure many were. It was clear what this fictional TV show wanted to do — give back to their community in a way that would make them feel seen. It is also how I felt while reading this book.
Another aspect of You Had Me at Hola that made me feel warm inside is the use of Spanish in the novel. Daria puts two very different perspectives: Jasmine who doesn’t really know a lot of words in Spanish and Ashton who speaks it fluently, mainly with his family. There are many experiences as a Latinx — maybe you don’t know Spanish, maybe you don’t have a Hispanic last name — and the story shows us that there is not one way to be Latinx. That is how the world works. Knowing more Spanish doesn’t make you more Latinx, and Daria makes it clear when Jasmine and Ashton talk about their life experiences and their families in the novel.
Speaking about families, one member is a highlight for me. Maybe because she reminds me of my own life. Abuela Esperanza is my grandmother. She is everyone’s grandma for a Latinx. It wasn’t a surprise when my Latinx friends and fellow bloggers kept finding their own grandma when they read about abuela Esperanza. The constant talk about eating more when you’re at their house, the way they are obsessed with telenovelas, how proud they are of you they put your achievements on the fridge’s door, and there are many more examples of how it was so easy to relate to this part of the novel. I wanted to hug her and I wanted to cry, because I was seeing my own grandma in front of me, on those pages, when my grandma was miles away in another city. This book holds something special to each of us and gives us exceptional moments to remember.
Overall, this book was a highlight in my year. You Had Me At Hola was like coming home and I’m glad I did. Alexis Daria gave me (and other Latinxs) something I will treasure for a lifetime, in a format that I can revisit countless times if I ever miss it. A comfort read that has a romance that will have you weak in the knees, a culture so vibrant you can feel it on the pages, and a story to never forget.