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After Hours on Milagro Street by Angelina Lopez


After Hours on Milagro Street, by Angelina Lopez

The only reason that I finished this book is that I went on Goodreads and read a review by KJ Charles, I love KJ Charles's books, and she said in her review that, in the beginning, it is difficult to deal with a female main character (FMC) but stick with it because the book is really good. That is ultimately my summary take on it as well.

I struggled to write the review for this book. The reason that I struggled is that it is very easy to dismiss the FMC: it is one thing to have a heroine who is closed off or frustrated or mistrustful, but she is literally incredibly mean. She uses words like weapons and the types of things that she says, particularly to the male main character (MMC), are borderline, abusive, and really, really nasty. Now, did I have trouble grasping her motivations because she truly was a difficult character to like, or did I have trouble grasping it because my white, cishet, privileged self cannot completely understand what it is to be confronted with the kind of racism and judgment around low SES that she has been dealing with her entire life? She did not grow up wealthy. She grew up Latina, and the kinds of microaggressions that she deals with are something that I cannot even begin to understand. I do not know what it is like to have to deal with that and have it either roll off your back or absorb it in some way, or figure out how to respond. So, it is difficult to see her shooting herself in the foot constantly, but on the other hand, I don't know what else she could have done.

The story centers around a Mexican-American community in the Midwest, trying to save a family business from basically being taken over by folks who should not be taking it over but can maneuver the legal system and bend things to their will - which they have been doing for many decades. The premise is good; there are the right amount of different side plots going on. There is the bar that they are trying to save, and there is the family aspect of the whole story. There is the reason that the FMC left the small town in the first place, and there are all of the family member side stories. There is a lot going on, but it all makes sense. The MMC's family life is also complicated. I loved the family dynamics, and I loved how the family was really there for each other. I really liked the paranormal elements: they do not change a lot, but it was a nice element within the story, especially at the end. The history that is outlined throughout the book, about the Mexican immigrants who helped build railways in the Midwest, was fascinating, and totally new to me.

I did soften towards the FMC as I went through the book. However, here is where it gets complicated. In the end, I still did not love her, and I still did not quite buy how faithful the MMC was to her. He is willing to put up with quite a bit of her nonsense, and he totally takes her insults, even when they are crafted to be as hurtful as possible. The root cause of why she feels this way, why she is so distrustful, that is the thing that I had trouble grasping. Again, I do not know the kind of powerlessness within the racism that she experiences. But, major spoiler alert, the reason that she is at odds with her parents is that they sent her away when she was 16 to avoid her facing jail time, essentially, or juvenile detention time. They asked her to come back two years later. So from ages 16 to 18, she lived with a cousin in Chicago, and by age 18, she has written absolutely everybody off. And that was the part that I did not understand. To me, the parents' decision was an absolute no-brainer: they wanted to avoid her having a permanent record, and the deck was stacked against her, including in the way that the town operates (all of the white privilege generally, and that the most powerful family in town was after them, looking to get them). That would have been an absolute disaster. She would have come out with a terrible record, she would have been in the system for a long time. The parents were completely correct that that would not have gone well. Is that fair? No. But should she have held the parents' decision against them? Absolutely not. They made the right decision, and if she had come back when she was 18, things may have been quite different. Or at least she could have visited, or the parents could have visited, or something like that. Cutting off the parents, holding it against them, and being so vicious towards them for so many years - I think it was 13 years - was a stretch for me that exacerbated my lack of faith in the FMC.

I did like the moments when the MMC decides that he has had enough, and she understands that she has crossed a line. That happens twice, and I appreciated those moments. I kind of wish that he had shut down a bit earlier. You see him trying hard to understand her in all of that stuff, but he gives her a lot of slack. He means so well, and he is such a kind soul, and he is working so hard to ensure that she is safe and happy and that she has what she needs. But, I did not buy that he was willing to set aside how she acted toward him, and the kinds of things she said to him, just because he found her attractive. At first, I felt like he was making decisions based on her appearance. Eventually, that changes, and I did like the ending, but the idea that he suddenly sees her as this avenging angel? I could not follow that thought process. I guess the idea is that he is an incredibly trusting soul, but I did not buy it.

So, in the end, I am conflicted about this one. It was well written, but I really struggled to get on board with the romance, for once, because she was so unbelievably nasty. But, I may not fully understand her frustration, what drives people to become the kind of angry, jaded, frustrated person that she has become by the time we meet her in the book.

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