BEN AND BEATRIZ
Author: Katalina Gamarra
Publication Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: Graydon House Books
Which of his bad qualities did she fall for first?
Harvard senior Beatriz Herrera does not have a post-graduation plan. What she does have is a shaved head, a sharp tongue, political views that skew so far left she’s this close to eating the rich, and deeply rooted trauma from the results of the 2016 election.
Still, she would do anything for her sweet, opposite-from-her-in-every-way prima, Hero. Even if it means watching Hero and her boyfriend, Claudio, make googly eyes at each other all spring break. And even if it means spending that week at the Cape Cod mansion of Claudio’s best friend and Beatriz’s worst nightmare: arrogantly attractive playboy Ben Montgomery. Ben is everything Beatriz can’t stand: he’s white, he’s rich, his taste in literature is the embodiment of toxic masculinity, he’s already got a post-grad job lined up in Boston’s Financial District (with a cushy loft that’s paid for, of course), and he’s a walking reminder of the steamy night they spent together four years ago, during their very first week of college. A night that cemented her disdain toward him forever—not that she plans on telling him why.
When a night of drinking games takes a terrifying turn, Ben and Beatriz are forced to put aside their dislike for each other to save someone’s life. What follows–over the course of several months–is an unraveling, as both of them learn how wrong they’ve been about the other, and a rebuilding of something new and surprisingly tender. But does a country so bitterly divided have space for this kind of love story?
Ben and Beatriz is a pleasurable yet powerful read that really delves into the political climate of 2017 after Trump became president and also the complex dynamics of the friend group this book follows. This is also an own voices story that really forces the reader to confront the endless microaggressions people of color constantly deal with. Add to all of that, that this book is also a Much Ado About Nothing retelling, and you have a compelling enemies to lovers contemporary story that deals with a lot of hard and relevant topics.
The way that Gamarra tells this story with quick dialogue and fast pacing really helped balance out some of the darker themes of this story so I was fully engaged the whole way through. Ben is a cinnamon roll hero covered with a layer of asshole dealing with a heavy dose of toxic family, trauma, and privilege that prevents him and Beatriz from connecting after a disastrous one night stand the first night of college. Beatriz is also dealing with her own childhood trauma and trying to find her way in a world she no longer feels safe in. When Ben and Beatriz are forced to spend time together at Ben’s childhood home during Spring Break it was fun to see their banter and eventual walls coming down. I also loved all the many literary references in this story and Ben being an Austenphile was just another check in his cinnamon roll box.
One big downside of this story for me was that while Ben does a lot of maturing and realizing that he has some flaws that same doesn’t hold true for Beatriz. Even when Beatriz has conflict with her cousin she is never the one to apologize which became annoying after awhile. There is a lot that Beatriz shouldn’t be sorry for but for someone who is in therapy to never recognize the part they played in a fight or argument makes it start to lean into the “not like every girl” trope. And by the end of the story Beatriz was pretty much the exact same that she was at the start of the book and it was everyone that orbits around her that changed or matured.
Another aspect of the story that I need to mention is that it covers quite a span of time and because of that it feels lacking in developing some of the characters and sub plots. I feel like more time could have been spent expounding on these themes and ideas because a lot of the topics talked about are important. For example, Ben’s best friend, Meg, is dealing with a lot of trauma and is constantly in terrible situations that Ben and at times Beatriz are aware of and yet she is ignored until she is convenient for the plot. Meg and Beatriz are both dealing with a lot of the same themes and issues but yet no time is spent on delving deeper into Meg. Gamarra was so focused on Ben and Beatriz that a lot of story was left dangling and it had the potential to be so much more.
There are quite a lot of trigger warnings for this one, such as: toxic parents, racism, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, overdose, suicide, anxiety, panic attacks, mentions of abuse, toxic family, microaggression, colorism, sexual harassment. However, Gamarra does a great job of balancing all the hard aspects of the story with the spicy and sweet moments between Beatriz and Ben. For a debut novel (and one written so quickly as we found out in the author note!) this is a good entry into the talent Gamarra has and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.
Katalina Gamarra earned a BA in English from Drew University, where she received accolades for both creative writing and academic prowess, as well as an award in Shakespeare Study. Before becoming an author, she worked in bookselling and literary scouting. She lives in Boston with her husband, cat, and dog.
“What makes you think the subway is a good place to flip through nudes?”
I look up to see Beatriz staring down at my phone. I start to say, “What the hell,” but then she says, “Alexis from the philosophy department, Morgan from Alphi Phi and the girl who’s been Hula-Hooping on the quad. How do you keep track of them all?”
“I have a bulletin board with red string connecting everyone, like on Homeland. Why do you care?”
Beatriz grits her teeth. “Because I heard Alexis crying about how you told her you liked her then never texted her back. And Morgan’s been posting about how her new boyfriend actually wants to be her boyfriend. And right around the time you stopped publicly making out with her every goddamn day, Hula-Hoop Girl started an Instagram page on why final clubs should be abolished.”
I blink. “You sure you don’t have a bulletin board charting all my hookups? And aren’t you snowflakes above slut-shaming?”
“I don’t care how many people you sleep with, I care that you ghost them the second you’ve come. Keeping track of guys who treat women like they’re disposable isn’t hard. Especially when you have a sparkling reputation as Harvard’s hottest misogynist.”
Beatriz Herrera is the bane of my existence. She’s got this way of looking at you that feels like she’s about to cancel you for sneezing too loud, and she is so fucking hot that I wish I didn’t care.
She’s sitting next to me on the subway, her cousin Hero on her other side, while I’m next to Claudio—the whole reason I’m stuck next to Beatriz in the first place.
Claudio’s been my roommate since freshman year. A streak he didn’t want to break even though we’re seniors and could totally have gotten singles.
“How many people are still bros with their first-year roommate?” He’d said when we got our housing forms last year. “That’s fucking fate, man.”
“Cool,” I said, not letting on how psyched I was. We’re in different majors, and I was worried we’d stop being friends if we didn’t live together. Claudio’s the only dude I talk to about shit I usually pretend not to feel—and I hate how much I need that.
But this year, Claudio wanted to bring Hero home with us for spring break since he finally made her his girlfriend after years of pining. But Hero wanted Beatriz along in case Claudio and I turn out to be serial rapists or something.
To be honest, I wasn’t really listening because Claudio ran all this by me last night just as a girl I recently ghosted strode toward us across the dining hall. So I mumbled, “Sure,” then bolted. By the time I understood what I’d gotten myself into, we were rolling our suitcases to the Harvard Square T stop and it was too late.
“Are you intending to use the colloquial interpretation of misogyny—meaning ‘lack of respect for women’—or the real definition, meaning ‘hatred of women’? Because hate is not the word I’d use to describe how I feel about what women have to offer.” I raise an eyebrow at Beatriz, but she turns away and takes out her phone.
But I spot an opening. “So you think I’m hot, huh?”
“Your head sure is.”
“How long ago did you designate me one of Harvard’s most bang-able?”
She snorts. “The fact that that’s your takeaway makes the misogyny title oh-so well deserved.”
“I’m just saying. In Latin last year, you called me a misogynistic twat, but this time you went with ‘hot.’ You trying to tell me something?”
“Fuck off, capitalist.” She turns away to say something to Hero in Spanish. Hero smiles, tucking her blond hair behind her ears, and mumbles quietly back.
I’ve never met someone as shy as (or with a name as weird as) Hero. Every time she talks to me—which is not often—I feel like I need hearing aids.
Beatriz shoots me a final look of disgust before pulling a book out of her backpack. Only once has Beatriz acted like I don’t repulse her, and that was our first night on campus.
When we had sex.
Beatriz is the last person I thought I’d be attracted to—she’s not skinny, her head’s shaved, she has more attitude than my brother when a waiter takes over three minutes to take his order, and she—well—let’s just say my family wouldn’t approve. And it’s just easier not to get on their bad side.
But I couldn’t not notice Beatriz. She was wearing a shirt that said, “Fuck the Beats, Read Austen,” and was the only girl at the orientation party who wasn’t all over me when they heard who my dad was. I walked over to her and said, “If you’d actually read On the Road, you would find—”
She cut me off saying, “If you quote Jack Kerouac, I swear to god I will dump my beer over your head. At least go for Ginsburg, he was less of a twat.” She walked away and I thought my groin would explode.
Later, we ended up near each other on the dance floor. Alcohol had dulled her rage, and when she looked at me, I could tell I wasn’t the only one who felt something. I put my hands on her hips, and when she brushed her lips against my neck, all I could think about was getting her alone. The next thing I remember was being in my room, her mouth all over me, my body on fire, our lust pushing us together with an intensity I’d never experienced. And haven’t since. Afterward, I vaguely remember cuddling—which I never do—and talking, but who knows what about.
Then I woke up to find Beatriz gone. Which was surprising because usually I have to make up an excuse to get girls to leave.
I saw her a week later, looking at her phone while a bunch of students waited in front of a locked classroom door. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one I knew was around and walked up to her.
And Beatriz looked at me with more disgust than I thought eyes were capable of emoting. The few times we’ve crossed paths over the three years since, she’s made it clear that whatever was said between us could only result in bad blood.
And it drives me absolutely insane that I was too drunk to remember what it was.
Excerpted from Ben and Beatriz by Katalina Gamarra. Copyright © 2022 by Katalina Gamarra. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.