After moving to Long Beach, Calif., biracial Black junior and aspiring romance author Tessa Johnson, 16, enrolls in the creative writing conservatory at prestigious Chrysalis Academy. But even as her social life flourishes at the private art school—with new friends, including her supportive, blond baker neighbor Sam—she can’t surmount a serious case of writer’s block and imposter syndrome, brought on by her first encounter with workshop environments. To alleviate Tessa’s fear of embarrassment and lack of romantic experience, childhood best friend Caroline Tibayan suggests Tessa create her own love story with Nico, a rich, popular white classmate. Anxious and self-conscious, Tessa knows that outsiders judge her older brother, who has athetoid cerebral palsy and cognitive impairment, and hold preconceptions about the siblings’ biracial Black and white identity. Thus, as she grows closer to Nico and his friends, she can’t help but notice their frequent insensitivity. Caught between pursuing a tale-worthy love and slowly losing herself, Tessa must learn to tell a story that’s uniquely hers. Debut author Bryant creates a wholly genuine protagonist in Tessa; readers will surely root for her as she finds her voice. Ages 14–up. (Jan.)
Happily Ever Afters is the warm, nerdy, big-hearted rom-com of my dreams and I dare you to read it without grinning your face off.
"Happily Ever Afters is sweet, smart, and utterly charming. Following Tessa as she navigates friendship, romance, and family dynamics was an absolute joy."
Elise Bryant bursts onto the YA romance scene with a sweetly classic tale of first love and finding ones true passion. Her teens jump off the page, full of angst and fun, so true to life as they navigate real world problems and delightfully drawn familial relationships. With her romance novel loving heroine, and tender depiction of the seriousness of first love, Bryant is poised to become the Sarah Dessen for a new generation of readers.
Bryant’s debut will charm readers from the start…. Bryant seamlessly captures a broader view of the high-school experience through Tessa’s eyes, including such complications as pressure from her parents to be a better sibling and an uneasy long-distance friendship that seems to be floundering. While skillfully and realistically portraying Tessa's many challenges, Bryant never loses sight of the love story at the book's heart. Hand to fans of Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before (2014) or Maureen Goo's I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2017).
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—When 16-year-old Tessa starts a creative writing program in her new Southern California school, she is excited to work on her romance stories as a class assignment. Though she misses her best friend, Caroline, Tessa feels comfortable among the artists at her new school. Just as things seem to be falling into place, Tessa runs into a debilitating case of writer's block. She's terrified of being called out as a fraud, but her friend Caroline develops Operation Happily Ever After, a plan to jump-start Tessa's creativity by giving her an actual love life. Nico, a confident classmate, becomes the center of her plan and Tessa works toward turning her crush into something more, though she comes to realize that maybe what she values in a love interest is different from what she thought. Tessa, a brown-skinned, mixed-race girl (her mom is white, and her dad is Black), must deal with the daily struggles of racism. She also has to defend her older brother, who has disabilities and often causes public scenes that make people uncomfortable. Characters address their issues through realistic, compelling dialogue and ideas, which don't feel forced or pedantic. Tessa has friends who are Filipino, Cambodian, white, and Black. Tessa addresses the lack of diversity in literature and her own need to see herself in books. VERDICT This well-written, page-turning romance is packed with smart dialogue, powerful insights, and a lovable cast of characters. Highly recommended for all high school libraries.—Karin Greenberg, Manhasset H.S., NY
A young writer discovers that the best love stories are often unscripted.
Tessa Johnson is a 16-year-old girl who recently moved to Long Beach, California, with her White mom, Black dad, and brother, Miles, who has cerebral palsy and cognitive delays. Tessa, who lives with anxiety, writes romance stories but only shows her work to her best friend, Caroline. To Tessa’s dismay, however, her new arts school requires students to share their work for group critique, triggering the worst writer’s block of her life. Caroline concocts a plan to jump-start her inspiration by engineering classic romance scenarios for Tessa in real life. Tessa has her ideal boy in mind, but an unexpected connection to Sam, her sweet neighbor and friend, brings a major plot twist. Tessa questions whether the solution she actually needs is the one she initially sought. Bryant’s writing suits both young adult and more mature romance genres, as it organically addresses matters related to race, disability, family dynamics, peer relations, and societal stigma. At the same time, it delivers the captivating, complicated, angst-y, and beautiful love story of a teenage girl trying to grow into and embrace herself. The diverse cast of characters and the fullness of the protagonist’s voice, along with her well-rounded familial, platonic, and romantic relationships, will speak to many readers.
For romantics of all ages, especially those who seldom see themselves in lead roles. (Fiction. 14-adult)