Publication Date: June 10, 2017.
Publisher: Independently published.
Genres: Romance, Contemporary, and Adult.
Synopsis: Ruby Santos knew exactly what she was getting herself into when she signed up to write a soldier overseas.
The guidelines were simple: one letter or email a week for the length of his or her deployment. Care packages were optional.
Been there, done that. She thought she knew what to expect. What she didn’t count on was falling in love with the guy.
Disclaimer: I’m not Filipino but I’ve consulted with a friend, who is a Filipino-American book blogger, about the issues I had with this book.
I really wanted to love Dear Aaron, I really did. The plot and premise of the book check off a lot of boxes for me when it comes to things I want to find in romance novels. Slowburn romance, online friendships, and just general cuteness. The couple did make me mushy and that is why I’m all the more disappointed that Dear Aaron is really disrespectful and problematic. I really won’t recommend this book to anyone based on the comments made in this book, which will be discussed in more detail later.
To summarize the book is essentially about Ruby Santos and Aaron Hall who start emailing and texting while Aaron is deployed in Iraq. They get to know each other and become very close. It is a pen pals-to-friends-to-lovers story with a strong element of the legitimacy of online friendships.
The main character, Ruby Santos, is Filipino which we find out about 9 % into the novel when Aaron and Ruby are emailing each other. What is written is the following,
“The only reason my parents moved here (Texas) was because of my mom’s family. My dad hated living here. He says the humidity reminded him too much of the Philippines when he was a kid.”
The fact that Ruby is Filipino is only ever mentioned in one other scene, which is where things get really disrespectful. At this point in the novel Ruby and Aaron have met up, are on vacation together and are out having dinner together with a couple of Aaron’s friends. They are ordering food and Aaron’s friend orders frog legs. This spurred a discussion about food, in which Ruby started telling the friends about Filipino cuisine that her dad eats.
“I’ve had cow tongue a few times. That was good actually—” “Cow tongue?” that was Brittany. “Yeah. They sell it all over the place in Houston. I’ve had dinuguan—” “What’s that?” Max asked. I scrunched up my nose, remembering eating that way too clearly. “It’s a Filipino dish that my dad made me try. Its pig intestines, kidneys, lungs, heart, and the snout cooked in its blood—” At least four of them said a variation of “eww” that made me grin. “I know. My dad claimed it was dessert, like pudding. He loves it. I can’t eat pudding anymore because of that, no matter what color it is.” “I’m not going to be able to eat pudding anymore after that….” Mindy trailed off. “That’s not the worst,” I started to say before I shut my mouth.
That was one part of the scene, soon thereafter another Filipino dish is discussed.
“I’ve never tried it, but my dad has a bunch of times—” “What is it?” Max asked. “It’s called balut. I’ve watched him eat it and I didn’t gag, and I’m pretty proud of myself for it—” “What is it?” “Jesus, Max, give her a second,” Aaron chimed in, his big hands resting on the table. I squeezed my fingers between my thighs and just got it over with. “It’s a duck embryo in its shell.” Four sets of eyeballs blinked.
After that, the friends have awful reactions and it’s described as “Four different people made dry-heaving and gagging sounds.” It is also made clear that everyone thinks this is gross, including the main character Ruby who claims that she and her siblings have never tried it and claims nothing grosses her father out food wise. This was all very disrespectful. I cannot imagine being Filipino, thinking this book represents you and then having their cuisine treated like this. It was cheap and lazy both in the way the author shows that the main character is Filipino and how somehow this is how the main character connects with Aaron’s friends. It could have been done in literally any other way which would have been less problematic and hurtful. However, my problems don’t end there. Later on, during the same scene, when Ruby and one of Aaron’s friends are alone they continue the discussion in which the following was said,
“You can’t really tell you’re Filipino, except for the shape of your eyes.” She blinked. “That sounds really racist. I’m sorry. Mindy’s been rubbing off on me this week.” I snorted. “I get it. My mom has really red hair and she’s super pale. I got a weird mix of both of them. No one can ever tell what I am.”
This is racist and isn’t called out anywhere in the book, in fact as you can read the main character just brushes it off. In a lot of ways, it feels like the main character being Filipino is just added there as an extra bonus. The representation is lazy, superficial, disrespectful and potentially harmful. Moreover, other issues I had with Dear Aaron is the ableist language used. The words crazy and insane were used multiple times. I particularly did not like the following two sentences “You guys either like the crazy or need a new radar” and “Because she’s a crazy person.” There are more examples similar to these two (I searched and the word crazy is used 58 times).
All in all, I say be aware of all of these issues before thinking about buying this book. I had high hopes, especially since the author’s other books are very hyped up among friends and the general romance community. I’d say read reviews and check out her other books instead of this one. Dear Aaron left me disappointed and in need of a romance novel with a similar premise because damn this had so much potential. Someone out there, give us the diverse online friends to real life friends to lovers story we all deserve. I’ll drop all of my coins on it.