I really love Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series and I’ve been fortunate enough to receive the concluding novel, American Sweethearts, as an ARC thanks to Netgalley and Carina. I really enjoyed my last series review and I decided this was the perfect time to do another. The basic series premise is that it’s about four Afro Latinx friends who live in NYC (Brooklyn, maybe? I ignore geographic tags for some reason.) until Nesto moves away to Ithaca to give his food truck OuNYe a chance to really flourish and shine. The first three books, American Dreamer, American Fairytale, and American Love Story are m/m, but American Sweethearts is m/f. Each of the books tackles some heavier social justice themes, which is balanced by the gorgeous love story, the incredibly developed secondary characters, and a levity that appears almost any time all of the friend group appear on page together. So let’s talk about this series…
As I mentioned above, each of these books tackles themes of social justice and that starts off right from the get go with American Dreamers. Nesto wants to open a restaurant, but for now, OuNYe, his food truck, is his avenue for pursuing his dreams. He meets Jude on his first day in Ithaca and over time, he gets to know the cute librarian, who is passionately trying to get a bookmobile project off the ground to reach the more rural parts of the county. The problem, for both of them, is a white lady named Misty (I think, definitely starts with an M) and her irrational hatred of progress and good food. I mean, the woman is trying to get OuNYe’s permit revoked in favor of her son’s over-priced and not good grilled cheese food truck. As a die hard lover of grilled cheese sandwiches, I remain incensed that one would support bad grilled cheese in any context, but especially incensed that you know this is not unrealistic and that women like this woman have power that they use to support bad policies across America.
Not to spend too much time belaboring a point, but I do just want to hit a few more highlights of specific social justice issues you will come across in this series: American Fairytale (maybe my favorite??) tackles domestic violence and how important it is to provide opportunity for FUN in shelters and for survivors in general. American Love Story arguably centralizes issues more than the other three books in the series because Easton is a DV prosecutor who is acting as interim DA when the police in Ithaca start doing random pretextual traffic stops that are racially motivated. Since Patrice is an Afro Latinx professor and activist, the two keep facing off even though, ultimately, they want the same things. And finally, in American Sweethearts, there are two big things going on here that I want to point out. One is this really awesome exploration of sex and sex toys and how Priscilla wants to show her community that sex is not a dirty thing to be ashamed of. And the second thing is the pressure Priscilla feels based on her family history to remain a cop even though it’s not making her happy anymore.
And while the social justice explorations are important and a key part of the story, the romance and the sense of community are obviously just as important and just as well executed. Casey McQuiston tweeted about how it’s helpful when writing a romance to make a list of the things the romantic leads like about one another BEFORE starting the story. And I can’t find it now, but someone on my timeline responded or quote tweeted saying that it’s one of the worst things in romance when you can’t figure out WHY characters like one another. And I’m here to tell you, that is not at all an issue here.
Every single character Adriana Herrera puts in these books feels like a real person you could encounter. And you can see their love and their passions and their flaws in every book. It’s absolutely beautiful. Take Patrice and Easton, for example. American Love Story takes two men who are incredibly passionate about the work they do and who desperately want the world to be a safer and better place and they work toward that goal. But they also have different hang ups based on how they grew up and those very real personality traits cause them to both have conflict with one another and to be incredibly attracted to one another. It goes beyond the physical and you can see that.
These books are also so much about community and found family. In American Fairytale, you really get to see that community aspect shine, though it’s present in all four books. Milo not only has the other three men that form the core group of friends, he also has his work family who play an important role in his life. I loved the way this was integrated because it doesn’t take over the story, but I think, for a lot of people, especially people in helping professions, our work people are incredibly important in our lives. And Tom has his own group of close friends that we get to meet and they’re equally real and lovely humans and it’s just so nice to feel like these are genuinely people you could meet at any moment.
And finally, let’s talk about American Sweethearts and how it fits into the series. Despite being a m/f romance, the first in the series (and that Herrera’s published, I think), this book is still incredibly queer. Juan Pablo does not make it a secret that he’s dated men before, though there’s no label stated for his sexuality. And one of the very important side characters is a trans man, Bri, and he’s dating this adorable man who is designing clothes for some big name company I think and just seemed so cool? Idk, but I loved them. I thought they made great side characters. Anyway, setting that aside, one of the things you may know about me if you’ve been around for a long time is that I really don’t love the second chance trope and this book… is a second chance. Or in Juan Pablo and Priscilla’s case, their like sixteenth chance. It seems clear that we’re to understand that Juan Pablo was mostly the one at fault for their relationship not working out and that he’s been working on himself to make sure that he can be ready for Pris whenever she’s ready. The problem is that although it’s clear that Juan Pablo has done a lot of work, it’s a little less clear, like, why and why Pris is having issues trusting that he’s changed. Meanwhile, a lot of the focus of this book is about Pris having like a full on life crisis and Juan Pablo being great and supportive the whole time, so you kind of feel like Juan Pablo did all this work and Priscilla just… didn’t? I’m not sure if I’m explaining it well and I definitely don’t want y’all to think I don’t recommend it, because I do, but I will say that it wasn’t my favorite of the series AND given the trope, it’s not surprising that it wasn’t. That said, I really loved seeing Milo and Tom get married (it was precious!!) and I really like Juan Pablo. He’s a great character and I would have spent much more page time with him happily.
And there you have it! My thoughts on the Dreamers series. In case it’s not obvious, I would definitely recommend you pick this series up if you’re at all interested. They are certainly steamy so if that’s not your speed, maybe do steer clear. But if you like, or at least don’t mind, sexual content, definitely pick these up! Have you read them? Let me know your thoughts!