Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant
Tessa has never been the hero of her own story, even though she’s written plenty of heroes and happily ever afters in her writing. But she’s about to start a new school at a prestigious academy dedicated to cultivating fine minds and she’s really nervous. Because she’s never shared her writing with anyone besides her best friend before and now she’s going to have to read aloud to a classroom of gifted students. And worse, her words are gone. Vanished. Blimp.
Her best friend devises a scheme to get Tessa her words back. A simple list, to make Tessa the heroine of her own story, just like the women in her romances. And she knows just the boy to be her hero: suave, sexy fellow writer Nico. There’s just one problem. Despite his interest, Nico already has a girlfriend.
I mean…it’s basically Mean Girls and Pretty in Pink but with some rearrangements.
In this reiteration, Kady—excuse me, Tessa—is newly arrived from Northern California with her family. She has a mom, a dad, and an older brother named Miles who is disabled. She’s a regular girl, except that she’s struggling to fit in and she just wants to get her words back and prove that she’s good enough to be in the school.
Like Kady, Tessa goes a little too far in her efforts, until the lies wrap around themselves and she loses herself in her efforts to get the boy.
In this case, the boy is Nico, handsome and eerily similar to one of her main characters (a character who predates her meeting him). And Nico is really into her, despite the fact that he has a girlfriend and his friends are kinda racist. However, Tessa enlists her new friends (not Nico’s friends) in getting her man to regain her words, and things go progressively downhill. Soon, she’s pretending to write in class, submitting old stories to her writing teacher, failing her other classes, lying to her parents to go to parties, ditching her real friends to be with Nico’s friends, and drowning in a sea of imposter syndrome.
All throughout the cringe-fest that is Tessa gunning after a boy who is already in a committed relationship (admittedly, the boy is leading her on, so he does bear fault) in a way that is rewired to be progressive and fun and girl-powery, is her growing relationship with Sam, the boy next door.
Sam is wears Hawaiian shirts and zip-off cargo pants (a thing I thought died in 2004), is goofy, an amazing baker, and doesn’t treat Miles like he is an alien. As Tessa gains ground on Nico, she finds herself pulled towards Sam, but doesn’t she really want the attractive, popular boy instead?
Of course, everything implodes because of course it’s going to implode. Tessa is a teenage girl, not a master spy capable of spinning lies and whatnot. And in the aftermath, Tessa finds her self-worth, and finds the strength to regain what she’s lost. Her integrity. Her friends. Her words. Herself.
Overall, it’s sweet and adorable (despite my words of DOOM), and hits the notes of the desperation of writer’s block and growing up really nicely.
There are insightful critiques on the 80s teenage romances, solid representation of having a sibling with disabilities, the realities of loving ice cream even though it makes you have nasty farts, the give and take of friendship, and picking yourself back up after you’ve pretty much self-imploded. And also commentary on what is art, and what making art means in a school filled with preternaturally precocious and gifted children. Particularly when that art is genre writing and not literary fiction.
I think there’s something to be said for making art just to make you happy. Not to win awards or impress others or get the attention of your parents who can be a little clueless at times. But art for art’s sake. Art for yourself.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review
Happily Ever Afters released Jan 5, 2021 from Balzer + Bray