Mariana and Santiago have been online friends for close to a decade. Mariana has grown up in western Virginia, though her family origins are Caribbean. She’s a strong Black woman, eager to be fully independent—of everyone. Because she believes this is how real adults live. She’s in a small one-bedroom apartment, struggling financially under a mountain of educational loans and credit debt. As a research historian for a small museum, she’s living her professional dream—mostly. There are still co-workers and bureaucrats to deal with, but Mari is pretty happy. She enjoys chatting online and video-calling with Santi all the way in Spain.
Santi is a teacher in Madrid, but his position is being eliminated, and he’s struggling with finances. He could take care of himself, but he’s also supporting his invalid mother and a sister who is mama’s caregiver. His mother needs a cardiac surgery, which will be paid for by the health coverage of Spain, but her aftercare is not, and without guaranteeing they can provide the aftercare, mama cannot get surgery. Santi has a lead on a better-paying teaching position in the U.S., in Virginia near Mari, in fact, but he can’t accept the job if he doesn’t have a work visa. And, he won’t get one in time to take the job…unless he gets one through personal means.
Mari’s great-auntie leaves her a windfall inheritance, enough to wipe away her debts and way more, but only if she is married. And, as a demisexual woman, this is a bit of a challenge. She has no romantic prospects, and is likely sure no one will marry her, but Santi’s predicament presents an opportunity. If they can get married quickly, then he can get his green card and she can get her inheritance, which could also be used to help Santi’s mama and sister with the surgery costs. And, it seems to work out. Their longstanding friendship aids in the subterfuge, as does their genuine affection for one another. But, neither Santi nor Mari really knows how to navigate a relationship, however some coaching from Santi’s sister helps them make their legal marriage look grounded in love. It’s nice that Santi’s mama and sister are in favor—only his sis knows this is a green-card sham. However, the more time they spend in such close proximity, the more true romantic feelings begin to develop.
For Santi, this means he’s on a mission to woo Mari, whose voluptuous beauty was not fully revealed over a computer screen. Mari, on the other hand, is pretty set in her plans to stay single (unofficially) until she’s fully solvent financially. It’s a constant worry for her to have any kind of dependence on anyone, even her very angry and suspicious parents who assume Santi is only taking advantage of their naïve only daughter. Mari wants to respect their individual boundaries, but the acting seems to get more and more real—which she believes to be one-sided. And, she’s afraid to lose both her heart and her friendship whenever Santi moves on.
This one is, by design, a slow burn. With Santi’s visa problems and Mari being demisexual, neither one wants to get physical early. Plus, Mari believes Santi may lean toward men more than women. He’s certainly hit on by men more in the story, but he’s so adorable in his swooning over Mari, and she’s 100% oblivious. I started to wonder if she wasn’t only demisexual, but maybe on the autism spectrum, because her mannerisms and misunderstandings of other people’s mannerisms rode a fine line between narrow self-focus and higher-functioning autistic. They are able to connect on a physical level, once they have truly bonded emotionally, but financial worries and Mari’s hyper brain create yet another happiness roadblock that almost seems unsurpassable. Good thing for good friends and their well-placed advice. I really appreciated the candid discussion of immigration in the book, and I hoped it would be a stronger commentary on the lack of visa opportunities, too. Not so much, though.
Mari’s demisexual identity is ever present in the book, and causes romantic struggle the characters must address. Santi’s bisexual identity is also well-developed, but I think it took a backseat almost. Mari and others mainly discount Santi’s attraction to women—that is until Santi makes a close female friend at work. Then, well, Mari needs to talk to Santi and instead she chooses to shut him both out and down. Not very adult, Mari! Still, the resolution is a sweet friends-to-lovers romance, and with an ending that is decidedly happy.
This review is part of our 2021 Reading Challenge Month for Under the Rainbow Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a fabulous paperback book bundle from Carina Press (you can see the details on the bundle in our Prize Preview post)! Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing Grand Prize sponsored by NineStar Press: a Kindle Paperwhite loaded with 50 NineStar Press books! And don’t forget if you read along with your own challenge book this week, you can earn ten contest entries for writing a mini-review on our wrap up post on Friday! You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Under the Rainbow Week here.