I wasn't expecting this book to take a sledgehammer and start whacking me in the feels. Nesto's story behind his food truck OuNYe (a play on ounje, the Yoruban word for "nourishment," and NY) was so touching and I loved how emotional and nostalgic he got over food. The moment he enters town, though, he starts getting harassed by a "Karen" named Misty, who seems determined to shut down his dream at all costs.
Coincidentally, Misty has also been bullying Jude (messing with his food, denying his budget requests), the librarian. Jude's big dream is to set up a mobile library for kids living in rural or low-income areas. His story of how he became a librarian actually made me cry, and his backstory was so hard to read (what is it with books about gay men named Jude always making me cry). He's been fucked up by his family, and it's given him trust issues, so even though he's attracted to Nesto, he's hesitant to get into a relationship.
AMERICAN DREAMER, in addition to being a fantastic story (romance aside), is also a great romance. No "gay for you." No "wow, anal sex is so easy and you can just go without lube!" sex. No exploitative hookups that magically turn into love without any sort of chemistry or relationship footwork. The attraction between the two of them is instant, but the relationship progresses at a slow, believable pace, with all of the usual pitfalls that plague new relationships, like miscommunication, broken promises, past histories, etc. Nesto is probably the most like me, personality-wise (stubborn and hard-working and focused), so when the inevitable falling out happened with Jude, it was hard not to side firmly with Nesto because I got it. Tragedy is hard-going alone, and when someone makes a promise like that, you expect them to keep it. Help, I'm crying.
My only qualms in the book were that some parts were a bit of a slog. Some of the scenes between Jude and Nesto felt repetitive, even though I understand that it was to build up their relationship. I also really wanted to see Misty get more of a comeuppance than she did. That ending was not satisfactory, and fucking around with people's food is a pretty serious offense. I never really understood why she was going after Jude, and came to the conclusion that she's one of those intolerable bigots who hate the LGBT+ and people of color with equal hateful fervor. Either way, I was out for revenge.
Anyone who likes romances that highlight other cultures, give good food porn, and focus on relationship building over sexual content (although there's some of that, too), will love this book. Reading AMERICAN DREAMER gave me the same rush that watching Million Pound Menu did: it's a success story rooted in how food brings people together, wrapped up in Afro-Latinx culture, and tied off with a cute bow of romance. I'm diving into the next book immediately.
4 out of 5 stars