Day of the Dead by Erik Orrantia is more gay fiction than gay romance, but it has much to offer romance readers. Its strengths include smooth writing, a vivid sense of Mexico, and a deeply emotional tone ranging
from longing to renewed hope. The interracial-multicultural love story centers on Joe, an American who mourns the loss of his lover Arturo, a Mexican illegal who disappeared while crossing the border. Joe has no love interest in the present day, but he does have friends and employees who depend on him.
Present day chapters in Joe’s third-person viewpoint show his struggle to build a new life alone. Past chapters in Arturo’s first-person viewpoint show the evolution of their loving relationship as well as the events that separated them forever. The two men face some realistic challenges such as Joe’s workaholic nature, and Arturo’s possible alcoholism, which was worsened by loneliness and cultural isolation. Despite Arturo’s tragic fate, his overall tone is serene and filled with hope. Meanwhile, Joe’s interactions with the vivid supporting characters are engaging and realistic. In any other month, this book would have been a Top Pick for me.
The story opens in San Francisco with Joe, who is working way too hard at the Mexican restaurant he started with Arturo. The years have passed since Arturo disappeared while trying to cross the border from Mexico back into the USA, and Joe knows in his heart that Arturo is dead. Meanwhile, as the Day of the Dead approaches, he struggles to keep up with his day-to-day life, which includes mentoring the restaurant cook Chava, a troubled gay teenage cholo whom he and Arturo regard as a son.