Summary: Happily Ever Afters
In Happily Ever Afters, Tessa Johnson and her family have moved into a new neighborhood, hoping for a fresh start. Tessa will be attending a high school for the arts where she can have dedicated writing classes and be surrounded by other creative kids. Her brother Miles, has disabilities due to a form of cerebral palsy and Tessa looks after him a lot of the time. Tessa also enjoys creating love stories, which her best friend Caroline (and only Caroline so far) reads and enjoys.
As Tessa starts at the new school, she reluctantly cultivates a relationship with Sam, the culinary arts kid who lives next door to her and drives her to school (and also brings her baked goods!), but also with a couple of the other kids. But when Tessa attends her first creative writing workshop, she develops a crush on Nic, a guy in her class, as well as a major case of writer’s block mostly due to her severe anxiety around sharing her work with others. All of a sudden, the wonderful experience at her school (where she’s finally not the token Black person) is under strain — until Caroline encourages her to try living out a love story for some inspiration.
Tessa is a pretty likable character for the most part. I could relate deeply to her anxiety — and honestly, reading about her anxiety and all the negative ways it was affecting her life, triggered my anxiety. Still, I haven’t read many YA books with a Black female writer character. This book also explores several serious issues. Tessa is biracial, so there is mention of her mom learning to do her hair as well as other unique experiences that author Elise Bryant could draw on from her experience as a Black-presenting biracial woman.
Another important theme is Tessa’s feelings about her brother, Miles, as well how other people’s response to Miles affects her. I’m sure readers will leave educated about how to sensitively navigate encounters with disabled people. Friendships play a significant role in this book, and I particularly enjoyed Tessa’s friendship with Caroline, and how they worked through their issues to find a way to be there for each other.
Finally, there’s a love triangle in this book, and let me just say, Tessa makes several frustrating decisions about her love life. I was very much Team Sam from the beginning, but I also understood how at 16, it can be hard to recognize what is truly important in a relationship. It was heartwarming to have a wholesome male love interest, much like Milo in Kristina Forest’s Now That I’ve Found You. Bonus points? There are a ton of baked treats in this book and many mentions of baking, planning to bake, and eating baked treats.
Overall: Happily Ever Afters
Elise Bryant’s debut YA novel, Happily Ever Afters is one young Black girl’s quest for a happily ever after. Featuring a flawed, but likable protagonist, and an even more lovable love interest, this book is great for those who like some “meat” on their fun YA. Although the slow-burn friends to lovers romance is a major part of the plot, this book also tackles disability, family dynamics, race, friendship, anxiety, and the struggles of being a young writer. Ultimately, this was a strong debut, and I look forward to reading whatever Elise writes next.
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Don’t miss my interview with Elise tomorrow! We’re talking all about her book, her writing journey, and her love for baked goods.