Title: Spanish Lessons
Author: Jessica Peterson
Genre: New Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Spanish Lessons is the first indie romance novel in Peterson’s Study Abroad series. The book revolves around the study-abroad-for-a-semester experiences of Vivian Bingley, an Economics major who hopes to indulge her penchant for Art History during her stay in Spain while simultaneously boosting her GPA and securing a bright future for herself. The latter two are the dilemma of every college student, I suppose. However, achieving these goals appears to be a rather Herculean task, given that the study material is in pure Spanish. Vivian soon finds herself struggling with the language, with the lessons, with her best friend and with, well, everything life throws at her. Thankfully, her unbelievably unattractive Madrileño of a tutor, Rafael Montoya, is there by her side.
And when Vivian is faced with an additional obstacle – the struggle between her and the developing feelings she’s adamantly fighting against, that’s where the story truly begins.
At first glance, the plot seems fairly straightforward and to some degree, perhaps it is. In fact, I’d even call the entire thing predictable. However, if there’s anything I’d learned from reading plenty of books, it’s that the journey is just as significant, if not more so, as the destination; oftentimes, how we get to the ending is what makes the actual ending all the more gratifying. And this holds true all throughout my reading experience with Spanish Lessons.
To elaborate, let’s talk about the highlights (in my opinion, anyway) of the story, shall we?
Vivian Bingley: Initially, I was not a huge fan of her character. In the introductory part of the book, I kind of struggled to connect with her. I think it was mainly because the story started off with a significant amount of telling—-exhibit A: “I’ve been so close to romance, to that happily ever after, before. And then I had to let it—let him—go after one semester. It hurt like hell. I definitely don’t want to go through that again. I want a guy who’s going to be around for coffee in the morning and dinner dates at night. I want a guy who’s going to be around for a long, long time. Maybe forever. And by virtue of their hotness, their geographical location, and their seriously superior Spanish skills, these Madrileños are definitely not forever material.”—which has always been an off-putting factor for me when it comes to narration.
However, and thankfully, Vivian’s narration totally picked up and improved shortly after the introduction. In the end, I really enjoyed her internal dialogue! I mean, I won’t lie. She was not the brightest streetlamp in the Madrid streets. A lot of the conflict in the book could have been avoided had she made better decisions. But here’s the thing: I was never annoyed with the heroine’s character despite the silliness of her decisions. In fact, to a slight degree, I could actually relate to what she was feeling! Admittedly, the intensity of her self-denial was blown out of proportion; still, I could understand from where her fear was stemming.
Although Vivian is far from the ideal heroine, her personality is one that gradually grew on me and eventually won me over! In some scenes, I found myself instantly empathizing with her and sharing her untamed excitement around Rafa. In some scenes, I was nodding to myself and thinking, “YES GIRL YES.” In some scenes, I laughed out loud, noting how similar her sense of humor was to mine. In fact, when I read this particular excerpt, I paraded it around my friends and kept insisting, “Guys, I’d totally send a text like this.”
If he texts me, then what? What in the world do I text back? “Hey, thanks for the churros, let’s pretend the kiss never happened, sorry but I’m looking for true love and there’s no way true love can work with you. Mostly because you live in Spain and I don’t want to fall for a guy I have to leave, but also because you’re ridiculously hot and probably all the girls touch your peen on the regular.”
I mean, I’m done sharing penises with other girls. I want my own already. One that belongs just to me, forever and ever.
Yep, this is me in a nutshell.
Rafael “Rafa” Montoya: Would it even be surprising for me to say that
ridiculously attractive, hilariously adorable Rafa is my favorite character? If I were tasked to sum up his character in one word, the adjective I’d pick out is dreamy. Rafa was such a sweetheart. I could probably write a novel about how much I loved him. I adored how perceptive, thoughtful, understanding and supportive he was, especially when it came to Vivian’s inner Art History nerd. He never tried to push her into anything; instead, he tried uplifting her in whatever way he can. He let her deal with her feelings on her own and at a pace she was comfortable with rather than forcing her to acknowledge that they’d be perfect together (which was insanely obvious, by the way).
Also, can I just say, for some reason, his broken English made Rafa all the more endearing! Honestly, my only problem with Rafa is that he does not exist in real life. That is legitimately his only flaw. I loved him and his Justin Timberlake dance moves. I really, truly did.
Rafa shrugs, his blue eyes boring a hole through whatever resolve I had. “I pay attention, Vivian. Most people, they do not talk about the art outside of a bar on a Saturday night. But you did, the very first time we met. I remember very clearly how your face changed, and your eyes, they went—” He flashes his fingers in a burst. “I always think you are beautiful, but you are the most beautiful when you talk about the things you love. And you love art.”
Wonderfully realistic characters and an excellent dosage of humor: These two things I mentioned are probably the book’s strongest points. All the characters were realistically crafted and whimsically entertaining. I particularly adored Katie and Laura! I wouldn’t mind reading more about them. Or if Peterson ever decides to give both girls their own respective books and love stories, I’d totally show up on Jessica’s doorstep and weep hysterically until she gives me a copy. (I may or may not be exaggerating.)
Vivian’s conversations with her friends really stuck with me partly because a lot of them were hilarious and partly because they’re so similar to the way my college friends and I talk to each other. I shared a few excerpts with them and it was unanimously decided that “Yep, this is so us.” Also, I really liked how the author emphasized on the strength of their friendship and showcased how at ease they were amongst themselves.
For obvious reasons, this is my favorite one:
Laura flags down the waiter—it isn’t hard—and orders us another round of vino tinto de la casa. “But what if he really digs your vagina?”
“Yeah,” Maddie says. “What if he makes you come ten times a day?”
I laugh. If only. “Not gonna happen. I’d rather make myself come ten times a day and still keep my heart and my GPA intact, thank you very much.”
Well-played romance, chemistry development and tension: I generally liked how the romance went. In the book’s official blurb, I was worried that there might be another awful love triangle in the story. Thankfully, there was not. It was totally and completely Rafa and Vivian all the way! Right from the bat, the tension between the two of them was searing and palpable. As the story progressed, this same tension continued to build on itself and gradually evolved into undeniable chemistry that would put a lit Bunsen burner to shame.
The sun slants between buildings, the heat oppressive on our shoulders. We’re trailing farther and farther behind the rest of the group. Our joined hands swing idly between us, and I think of our first night together; all that feeling and excitement that coursed from this place where palm met palm. It’s still there, that crushing, effervescent desire. I didn’t think it could get any bigger, any better. But it has.
The tantalizing Spanish culture: I loved how Peterson brilliantly infused the Spanish culture and language into her story. The setting played a huge role in this one! I was introduced to a number of dishes I have never really heard of. I was given a glimpse of another country’s nightlife. It was like I went on my own trip abroad when in reality I was just reading a well-written love story as I sprawled lazily on my bed. Peterson was successful in presenting a picturesque Madrid, demonstrating both the hardships and perks of traveling abroad and maintaining the vibrant Spanish atmosphere all throughout the novel. Seriously, while I was falling in love with Rafa, I was simultaneously falling in love with Madrid as well!
The relatability factor: Personally, I think Vivian portrayed every college student quite realistically. I strongly identified with her school-related struggles—the pressure of improving her grades, the uncertainty involved in planning a specific career path, the second thoughts, the hesitation, the desire to do something else instead of going after what should be done. This really helped me in establishing a connection with her character.
But if I hadn’t learned to let go of the girl I should be, I would’ve never had the courage to be the girl I am.
Peterson’s writing style: This is actually my first time to read one of Jessica Peterson’s works, and I am immensely glad I decided to give this one a shot. If I were to describe the way she crafts her sentences and weaves them into a lovely story, I’d say that Jessica Peterson’s writing style is not only easy to fall into, but also easy to fall in love with. There’s a quiet, underlying poignancy behind the simplicity of her words and phrases. There’s a heavier feeling behind all the quirks of her writing. And I think it’s great.
I think my main problem with Spanish Lessons is Maddie’s character. As Vivian’s best friend and as someone who plays a key role in the plot, it is disappointing that I failed to establish any sort of attachment to Maddie. I really could not care for her at all, despite everything she went through. Additionally, one of my reservations about Vivian and Rafa’s relationship is how quickly it developed. It did not seem like insta-love to me, to be honest. Still, I would have appreciated a slower pace and a whole lot more buildup.
Other than the two things I mentioned, Spanish Lessons is definitely a romance novel I would very much recommend.
Excerpt from the book:
“Round peg, square hole,” he repeats, a small smile tugging at the edges of his mouth. “I like that saying. It is good for people our age. Lots of big decisions we make in these years. But perhaps if you hate Economics, you should think again about making it your life?”
When he says it like that, I wonder why I haven’t thought more about making Econ the center of my universe.
I shrug. “It’s the most popular major at Meryton. It will help me get a good job when I graduate. It’s safe.” I swivel my head and see he’s still looking at me. “It’s what everyone else is doing. It’s what I should do.”
“But is it what you want to do?” His eyes search mine. “That is an important thing to think about, too.”