Happily Ever Afters is a young adult contemporary novel that embraces everything we love about modern teenage romance. Elise Bryant penned a beautiful novel about falling in love for the first time, bringing her readers along for the wonderful ride of first love with her main character Tessa.
When Tessa moves to a new town and starts a new school that promises to dedicate her education to the one thing she's passionate about (creative writing!), she's surprised and heartbroken to find that her well of words has run dry. In an attempt to re-fill the well, her best friend creates a list of things for Tessa to try on her new school crush to build her happily ever after. Tessa soon discovers that happily ever after is never what we imagine.
The premise is only one of the many things I enjoyed about Happily Ever Afters. Here's other reasons why I recommend Happily Ever Afters to readers.
I love that Bryant created Tessa. Tessa is relatable in all her strengths and shortcomings that made me love her all the more. And Bryant did an amazing job of describing the qualities within a young black teen that black girls can identify with, but white girls can't. For example, when Tessa describes her desire to write romances featuring a black heroine, on page 251, "It wasn't like we could go to a bookstore and find many fluffy stories with girls who looked like us in them." It's heartbreaking that young black girls can't find fun, fluffy fiction (or really much of anything outside of history books) featuring characters who look like them. Without reading this, I don't think the concept would occur to a young white girl and can help develop that empathy and understanding. This, I hope, will normalize people of color as main characters in all genre fiction. I want to see more of that!
There are experiences I will never understand. Not truly, because I will never experience them. I know that. But it's important to listen to others who have experienced them. For example, the difference between an entitled white kid prank and a moment that could change a black teen's life forever. On page 288, Bryant describes a circumstance that white kids would consider a silly teenage prank jumping over the fence into a prohibited area in town and how that can become overinflated to a crime for a young black girl like Tessa and causes real anxiety for her. She starts to see her future change and melt into something horrific, knowing she's only one misdeed away from her life being ruined if a white cop caught her. Moreover, on page 247. she recognizes the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between a white teen browsing in a store and how she's treated when browsing in a store. I have never had to worry about a salesperson stalking my every move, just waiting for me to do something wrong. I'm often left alone to shop. Until I had read this, I couldn't understand what it's really like. Through Tessa's story, Bryant demands the reader to take notice and for Tessa to be heard. We need teens to read more of these stories, to understand, to grow, and to be able to help.
One of Tessa's qualities as a character, that we all can identify with, is insecurity. She questions her appearance and wonders if boys her age will like her or think she's pretty. We can even identify with her recollections of being teased. Something I couldn't identify with, however, were the types of insults. Early in the novel, on page three, Tessa talks about a particularly horrific teasing by a boy in school and how she became close to her best friend, "When Jess Fitzgerald told me I was ugly because I had skin the color of poo, Caroline hauled off and socked him in the nose." Tessa's description of her feelings during this embarrassing childhood memory really resonated with me.
While I'm no stranger to this kind of ugliness from boys in school, I have never been rejected due to my skin color. More young kids should be aware of this cruelty, as well as adults, to be able to spot it and stop it earlier on.
Happily Ever Afters is a beautiful story, but more importantly, it's a story that expresses real experiences through the heroine, Tessa, that we all should read and understand. We can't change the world if we don't, at first, listen.
Fall in love with Tessa as she takes you through her story in Happily Ever Afters, sold at the Brave and Kind Bookshop. And for more book reviews, keep following my blog or direct message me via email.