Learn to Love You by Jade Hernandez is the love story of Mayda Jimenez and Damian Aguila-Gutierrez aka Junior. Mayda, a Puerto Rican young woman is trying to navigate her life with her single mom and a new career as a school guidance counselor. She can count on the support of her best friend Gabriela and their big, welcoming family. Gabriela and her family live on and own Rancho Los Corazones where they produce crops and have stables full of horses. At the Rancho works Gabriela’s brother Junior, and Mayda’s long time crush. What she doesn’t know is that Junior has been crushing on her just as hard since they were kids.
Junior’s crush on Mayda persists, where he has no idea she’s crushing on him too. While he tries to figure out whether he’s gonna make a move on her and if it’ll work, he’s secretly juggling college courses while working full time at the ranch. His father, and owner of the ranch, expects Junior to take on the responsibility of his role as the boss when he retires. Except that Junior is unsure of whether he wants that role, and is hiding his studies and real dream from everyone in his family.
Mayda also hides a secret – her mother is an addict and is constantly in and out of the home for random periods of time to get her fix. She comes home to Mayda periodically where she has no choice but to care for her mother and help her sober up before she ends up leaving again. The cycle repeats as Mayda’s mom continues to feed her addiction, which at the same time, feeds resentment and guilt onto Mayda. She tries her best to hide her mother and her indiscretions from Gabriela and her family, to the point where none of them even know about her mother’s illness, and refuses to take on any kind of help. Mayda feels punished but also responsible for her mother, though she wishes things were different.
Mayda and Junior finally get their moment and Mayda begins to feel like she’s not worthy of Junior’s love because of who she thinks she is due to her mother’s illness. They both struggle to make their relationship work as they both end up pushing each other away; Mayda because of her mom and Junior because of his uncertainty regarding his future, where neither are sure that they can make it work long term.
Common Themes + Opinions:
Mayda struggles with holding the secret of her mother being an addict and the life it has imposed on her. She had to grow up fast to be able to take care of herself and her mother. She stopped seeing her mother as a mom but felt guilty about her resentment towards her because of this. Mayda longed for her mother to act like her mom, and not be consumed by her addiction but because that wasn’t realistic, she was angry with her mom though she withheld that anger to try to offer her mother support instead.
As a result of this, Mayda doesn’t feel like she’s worthy of anything good in her life. She doesn’t feel worthy of being with a man like Junior because she sees herself as below Junior and his family as she struggles financially and with her mother. She doesn’t even feel deserving of the love Junior’s family has for her. Mayda grapples with these feelings of low self worth and guilt, especially when tragedy strikes and she begins to feel numb. In those moments she realizes that she’s had a support system all along, from Junior and more importantly Gabriela and their family.
Junior also struggles with some feelings of low self worth as he doesn’t want to follow his father’s plan of him taking over the family business versus going to college and pursuing a different career. He doesn’t feel like he’s worthy of pursuing his dreams because he feels obligated to follow through with his father’s plans instead. Junior also experiences feelings of guilt as his father reminds him of the sacrifices he made to be able to build el Rancho and give his family everything they have. It adds a ton of pressure onto Junior as these constant reminders keep pushing him further and further away from being honest with his dad and telling him what he truly wants out of life.
As a Latina woman, I can relate to both Mayda and Junior. Every family is different but the set of expectations put onto Latine kids from parents, especially immigrant parents, is universal. While the expectations differ based on gender, the root of them are all based on the parents’ sacrifice to come to this country, to build a better life and future, and to push the kids into pursuing something high paying to afford taking care of the parents in retirement. It’s pressure on the kids to essentially “pay the parents back” by taking care of them, and brings an immense amount of guilt when the kids want to go another route. Junior was right to stand up to his father, guilt be damned, though he did end up coming up with a plan that would satisfy them both.
Final Thoughts + Ratings:
Overall, Learn to Love You was a fantastic read. I loved seeing Latine culture all across the pages and felt connected to both Junior and Mayda. Their love story was a long time coming, which was adorable to read on the pages, though their steamy scenes were less adorable and more 🥵. This book gave me what I was expecting from “You Never Forget Your First” so I was very pleasantly surprised as I read on. I’m also excited that this is the first in a series, and can’t wait to read Gabriela’s story.
All in all, I give Learn to Love You four stars for Mayda and Junior’s love story and their journeys of self growth. Have you read Learn to Love You? Let me know in the comments!