It’s like a story from a telenovela. Two Latino childhood friends reunite after not speaking to each other for over a decade following their steamy kiss, and, as they balance their own complex family dynamics along with pursuing their dreams, they have to face their old feelings.
The plot in Alexis Daria’s “A Lot Like Adiós,” released Tuesday, is a romance that follows two young professionals whose work brings them back to the New York City borough of the Bronx, where they grew up. When freelance graphic designer Michelle Amato ropes in California gym co-owner Gabe Aguilar to work on a marketing campaign for his new Manhattan gym, their desire for each other is undeniable.
The romance novel follows “You Had Me at Hola,” the author’s national bestseller that centered itself on Michelle’s famous cousin Jasmine Lin Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican and Filipino, and her own love story. Yet the story between Gabe and Michelle, who are bisexual, is riddled with obstacles like overcoming trust issues, choosing the right career and navigating family expectations.
The Puerto Rican author and New York native spoke with NBC News about her focus on Latino characters and their families.
"It's not that I feel like I have an obligation to do so," Daria said, when asked about the issue of Latino representation in her work.
"But I think it's important, and I want to see these books out there," she said. "I want to see these kinds of characters out there shown in this kind of way; I can't just complain about it not happening fast enough. I have to be doing it as well and supporting the other authors that I know are doing it."
The book begins by following Gabe, who is Mexican Puerto Rican, 13 years after he left Michelle and broke away from his parents' demanding expectations, becoming the co-owner of a famous celebrity gym in Los Angeles.
After an investor is insistent on opening a branch of the celebrity gym in New York City, Michelle — whose family is Puerto Rican and Italian — is put in charge of its marketing campaign.
The romance novel, which includes snippets of Gabe and Michelle’s fan fiction based on their favorite childhood Latino science-fiction show, moves on to how the two of them work on the business project, face their feelings and see what their future holds.
The multicultural Latino families, the author said, were intentional.
"Latinx people are not a monolith, and I think often we get lumped in that way. And sometimes it is easier to use the term Latino, Latina or Latinx," Daria said. "But I think even within that, it is important for us to show that there are different cultures, different groups."
When deciding on starting the romance series, Daria thought about her own close bonds with her Latino cousins. She said she decided the series would highlight Michelle and her cousins, known as the Primas (cousins) of Power, and the romance "spiraled" out from there.
In "A Lot Like Adiós," Michelle has a close relationship with her family, while Gabe is practically estranged and wrestling with his father’s disappointment for not taking over the family stationery store after his high school graduation.
Daria felt it was important to show the "realistic" joys and difficulties of grappling with parents and relatives.
"Any family has complicated family dynamics," she said, "but particularly I think in Latino households, there is a focus on family, and it can be both a comfort and uncomfortable at times."
Daria believes it's normal, especially for younger generations, for there to be "a feeling of testing boundaries or needing boundaries in different ways when dealing with family members where the family is loving but kind of judgmental," she said with a chuckle.
The author said she ultimately wanted to show families that were willing to grow and find a new, peaceful dynamic.
Michelle and Gabe struggle with their professional aspirations and how they are tested. For Michelle, it's finding confidence in her work after being burned out and betrayed by a co-worker from her last corporate marketing job. For Gabe, it's thinking about the new Manhattan expansion and if that is what he really wants for his gym.
To go after creative dreams, Daria said, is not easy.
"With both of these characters, it involved them really looking at where they were and seeing if what they were doing was actually a good fit for them," Daria said, "and then finding that courage to actually be able to admit what the next step was and take it."