New ‘Romeo and Juliet’-inspired novel set in San Antonio

Romance novelist Priscilla Oliveras can’t stand watching the end of ‘West Side Story’. As the “Romeo and Juliet”-inspired musical reaches its tragic conclusion, the bestselling author returns to a happier scene.

What if these star-crossed lovers lived happily ever after in his grandpa’s hometown, making beautiful music together as mariachis from feuding families? What if their story also addresses cultural issues such as machismo and gentrification?

It’s the heart of “West Side Love Story,” Oliveras’ summer read on the beloved musical and the play that inspired it. The romance novel goes on sale June 1.

Oliveras sees “West Side Love Story” as an upbeat reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet” and “West Side Story,” which also celebrates his father’s Mexican-American roots in San Antonio and his own Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage.

“As a romance lover and as a Latina, not all stories about my community have to end in tragedy, or be the same struggles that so many people want our stories to address,” he said. she declared.

West Side Love Story

By Priscilla Olivares

Montlake

331 pages, $12.95


The Library Journal calls “West Side Love Story” a “sparkling homage” to the Capulet and Montague rivalries in “Romeo and Juliet” “without any tragedy and all the romance faded away.” And USA Today bestselling author Adriana Herrera praises the novel for capturing “the best things about Latinx communities: fiercely loving families, passionate wrestlers, and happily embracing who we are.”

The novel tells the story of Mariana Capuleta and Angelo Montero, two mariachis from San Antonio torn between their newfound passion for each other and their lifelong duty to their family.

All of this comes to a head during the battle of the mariachi bands. Mariana and her eight younger sisters see her grand prize as the solution to their family’s struggling community center in an increasingly gentrified West Side neighborhood. To win it, their all-female band must face their father Arturo Capuleta’s mortal enemy: Hugo Montero and his mariachi troupe, which includes Hugo’s nephew, Angelo.

Oliveras tends to incorporate Latin American family dynamics and traditions into his love stories. But “West Side Love Story” is perhaps his most personal.

While Oliveras, who lives in Florida, is not originally from San Antonio, she practically had a second home in the city on C Street near South Zarzamora Street. It was there that her paternal grandparents Arthur and Bertha Hettler raised her father, Joe, and eight other children. It was also where they held ballroom dance parties and other family gatherings throughout his childhood.

“I didn’t grow up in San Antonio. My grandpa was in the navy,” Oliveras said. “(But) every important family memory from my grandpa’s side is tied to San Antonio.”

Oliveras romances many of those memories in “West Side Love Story.” Angelo remembers a house on C Street much like his father’s. Oliveras also directs a few key scenes at Mi Tierra Café and Market Square. And a big scene takes place at the Little Flower Basilica, based on a big event her grandparents held there many years ago.

Oliveras drew from other formative experiences: Growing up listening to the music of Vikki Carr and Vicente Fernández. Learning Spanish as a first language from her Puerto Rican mother, Migdalia Oliveras de Hettler, and learning English on the playground. And, of course, falling in love with the romance genre.

This romance began when she was a high school girl crouched in a hurricane shelter in the Florida Keys and her dad handed her one of his — yes, his — Harlequin Romance novels to weather the storm.

Oliveras said the modern romance novel had nothing to do with the bodices of the 80s with the “strong alpha male, or the weak orphan female who needed saving”. Today’s romances feature more empowered female protagonists, Oliveras said, which shows where society is today.

For “West Side Love Story”, it also indicates where the culture is.

Oliveras said Mariana and her group of sisters are fighting long-standing conventions of machismo in Latino and mariachi culture. Mariana may get weak in the knees the first time she meets Angelo, but the strong-willed woman holds more than hers. That goes for her professional life as an ER nurse and her personal life as a support girl, big sister, and romantic equal.

“Mariana and Angelo are not running away,” Oliveras said. “It means finding the right person who can help you, who can nudge you, who can encourage you and support you.”

As for the subject of gentrification, Oliveras said she has worked hard to balance its pros and cons in her new novel by integrating it into the feud between the patriarchs of rival families. Hugo Montero has built a commercial property acquisition and management business that benefits from gentrification efforts in San Antonio, while Arturo Capuleta focuses on preserving and strengthening the community for those who have been there for generations, Oliveras said.

Oliveras has written more than a dozen novels, which have garnered star-studded reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and praise from The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly. She earned an MFA in popular fiction writing from Seton Hill University, where she serves as an adjunct faculty member while teaching an online romantic writing course at ed2go.com.

Oliveras said she hopes to return to San Antonio in the fall to promote her “West Side Love Story” sequel, “Kiss Me, Catalina.” True to her love for culture and the bard, the Latin version of “The Taming of the Shrew” will spotlight Mariana’s sister, Cat, as she embarks on a concert tour with fellow mariachi Patricio Galán.

In the meantime, Oliveras hopes Latino readers who pick up “West Side Love Story” will meet new friends they’ll want to see again and appreciate their community a bit, while non-Latino readers will see that there are more love stories. Latinos who belong to the middle class or could be their neighbor.

“And in a genre that celebrates love and romance, surely everyone should see themselves achieving bliss forever,” she said.

[email protected] | Twitter: @reneguz

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