A contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet with rival families in competing mariachi bands, West Side Love Story is a sweet romance with familial love right at the heart of it. I love the family dynamics. I love how Mariana and Angelo were both the main caregivers for their younger siblings, and how their love for their respective families influenced and deepened their love for each other. There’s a recurring bit about Mariana teasing that Angelo is ‘a nice guy’, and that phrase just describes Angelo to a ‘T’. He’s super sweet and considerate and caring, and in the midst of all the drama surrounding their families, and all the stress Mariana has to deal with, he just seems like such a wonderful partner to have. I love how openly they communicate with each other, how gently Angelo nudges Mariana to open up when she shuts down, and how they’re both super clear on their feelings for each other in spite of their families’ rivalry.
The mariachi band angle to the classic Romeo and Juliet set-up was cool, but I kinda wish we’d actually seen more of the mariachi songs (e.g. lyrics) that just descriptions of the performance. Those scenes felt a bit thin to me, and I think seeing the lyrics (especially since much is made about how brilliant Cat’s songwriting is) would have helped make the scenes come alive.
I like that Oliveras adds a class component to the Capuleta / Montero rivalry. The Capuletas are in danger of losing their beloved home to an unreasonably tough bank loan, and suspect Angelo’s uncle, Hugo Montero, is pulling strings behind the scenes. The Montero family is also known for gentifying the neighbourhood, which puts them at odds with the Capuletas, and especially with Mariana’s sister Cat, who worries about neighbours and neighbourhood businesses being evicted.
I do wish the reason behind Hugo’s animosity against the Capuletas had been fleshed out more. It’s explained away that he used to be in love with Capuleta matriarch Berta, but after so many years, his grudge just seems petty and small-minded. It makes him an obvious, but also super thinly developed, villain, and I wish there’d been more complexity to that part of the plot.
And finally, as a musical theatre fan, the little nods to lyrics from West Side Story were a total delight.
Thanks to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Mariana Capuleta and Angelo Montero’s relationship starts with an anonymous kiss at a New Year’s Eve party, and quickly develops into something deeper and more tender. Both are the primary caregivers of their younger siblings, and both feel their responsibilities to their families very deeply. Both families being Hispanic adds even more layers to the family rivalry dynamic, and Oliveras heightens the tension by adding a marked financial imbalance between both families: the Capuletas are in danger of losing their beloved home to a high-pressure bank loan, and Angelo’s uncle Hugo