Review of American Fairy Tale

American Fairy Tale by Adriana Herrera. Carina Press. 2019.

Content Warnings for review: References to trauma, intimate partner violence, overbearing behavior.

American Fairytale

I fell hard for Camilo in American Dreamer, and went into this really excited to read his romance. I loved him even more in this story. I wanted to be his friend. I felt so much for him, and loved witnessing him in his relationships with family and friends. His relationship with his mom was especially lovely to witness.

American Fairytale is a contemporary m/m romance with billionaire, meet-cute, one night stand to relationship, workplace romance, and single parent tropes. I liked the meet cute and the one night stand aspect of the story a lot; their flirtation was really fun to read and I enjoyed their chemistry and heat in that initial moment and throughout the story. I adored the kiddo in this book so much and really enjoyed the single parent trope and how it worked in this story. Milo being all nervous about meeting Tom’s kid was adorable, and I liked watching their relationship develop. There is a conflict around their workplace relationship, but it seems to just kind of dissipate, except that it creates a need for secrecy/forbidden relationship, which really only has a couple moments where that creates difficulty. This issue gets handwaved away at the end as not a problem, which bugged me a bit, but not too much.

I loved the representation of intimate partner violence work, it was the most real I’ve ever read, resonated on so many levels. As someone who worked in the field for many years, I was blown away by how accurately, and beautifully the work was depicted. It meant a lot to me to read that.

Connected to that, I deeply appreciated how much Milo was invested in making sure his partner did not trample on his agency and respected his consent. As a child witness to intimate partner violence and as someone invested in the work, it felt so resonant that he was not going to tolerate his autonomy being infringed upon or his no disrespected, and I loved that, even when he was really rigid about it, because it felt so real. Both as a trauma response–not letting anyone do what was done to his mom–and a vicarious trauma response–internalizing the ways controlling behavior drives abuse dynamics. His reactions around this and firm boundaries about it felt so familiar to me, as someone who brings a similar set of experiences and trauma to these questions, and it felt affirming to see that depicted on the page.

In the afterword, the author talks about how this series is a love letter to Latinx moms, and I really saw that in both books, but especially in this one. I adored both MC’s moms so much, and really loved witnessing those relationships, they gave me so many feels. I loved how deeply this story had a sense of place; it really felt specific to Harlem, not just NYC generally, and that was wonderful.

I loved the ways the MCs talked about culture, race, and privilege with each other, and how constant and nuanced those conversations were. I also loved that there are basically no white folks in the book, and how it’s deeply multicultural in so many ways that center immigrant folks of color. I cannot speak to the cultural accuracy as a white reader, other than to say it felt real to me, and I really enjoyed the depth of cultural specificity in the story.

This isn’t quite as much of a foodie story as American Dreamer, but wow did it satisfy on the food details anyway, and I adored all the different ways the characters created intimacy and connection, home and community, via food. Food is a big deal in this story, not just in those ways but in how it wrapped around the class differential in the central romance.

I’m rarely a fan of billionaire romances; this one has a rather different feel from other’s I’ve read. It plays with that trope, attempts to resist it by making wealth more of a problem than a fantasy, and focusing the conflict on the way the billionaire hero is overbearing in how he uses his wealth and economic privilege. The fact that the money was a problem that lampshaded the real issue–him being overbearing–created an arc where in order for him to learn, he had to make the same mistake three times, and escalate each time, until he’d destroyed trust almost completely. You could see why he didn’t get how his behavior wasn’t okay, because it was clearly well-intended, but that repeated escalation put a strain on things for me as a reader when the third time came around. I honestly wasn’t sure how it could be repaired, the trust was so deeply broken, and he was so clueless about the problem.

It did feel…fairy tale like, in a way. There is this way that on the surface Tom seems so right for Milo, gets under his skin so deeply because he really doesn’t seem like your usual billionaire, and seems really invested in consent and being careful with Milo and he is a really wonderful parent and his friends are so lovely, and they just seem like this magical match, this at first sight kind of thing. The three mistakes almost seem like a breaking of the spell, so that now they need to actually be real with and for each other, not a fairy tale, not perfect. Flawed, push each other’s buttons, not easy with each other, when you get down to it.

I liked Tom’s friends, especially Priya, but I was irritated on her behalf at how clueless they were about relationship issues, except for her. It felt like she was doing so much emotional labor in that foursome and I really wanted Tom to do more of that himself. I think it’s too common in stories about queer men to give cis women the lion’s share of emotional labor in supporting queer men to be better to each other. It felt like Tom was clearly a feminist, but also had not been pushing himself to learn how to do this, and I wanted him to be invested in it, for himself. Otherwise, I worried that he would just lean on Priya every time things went wrong with Milo because he hadn’t learned how to do this himself.

I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to get on board for the happy ending. There is a grand gesture, which felt like the right one, if any grand gesture would work. (I’m often iffy on the grand gesture thing, but I do think that if you are up for a grand gesture, this is likely work for you.) There is this sense of slowly rebuilding trust, and then a skip forward to an epilogue. I would have liked a bit more of the slow rebuild, would have appreciated seeing the moment when Milo really risks himself and lets go into trusting Tom again.

Overall, there were many things I loved about this romance, and a few places where it itched a bit and didn’t sit as comfortably as I’d like. Overall, it was a really enjoyable, engaging ride, and I was blown away by the realism in the depiction of intimate partner violence work; I honestly have never seen that part of myself depicted in a way that resonated that much before, and it felt really wonderful to have that on the page. I adored Milo to pieces, and would gladly reread this. I’m looking forward to American Love Story, the next book in the series. I cannot miss Patrice and Easton’s book!

Representation

  • White-passing biracial Dominican American queer man MC.
  • Cuban-Jamaican American queer man trauma survivor MC.
  • Many secondary characters of color, including several queer ones. This book has pretty much an all-POC cast.
  • Afro-Latinx Dominican American bisexual woman author.

Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)

MC works in the field of intimate partner violence. MC has trauma from being a child witness to parental intimate partner violence. MC’s aunt was killed by her abusive partner. MCs are working together on a project related to shelter for intimate partner violence victims. MC is trying to get his mother to go to a support group for survivors of intimate partner violence. Intimate partner violence is discussed at length in many different contexts.

MC’s mother has depression and trauma. Reference’s to MC’s father’s death in the past, of cancer.

Alcohol use.

Suicide joke. Casual cissexism/anti-trans language. Casual ableism, including slurs. Gendered slurs. Casual anti-native language (“savage”). 

Sex on the page, including semi-public sex.

Disclosures

  • Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
  • I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
  • All links to Amazon will be affiliate ones. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.

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