Cover of Happily Ever Afters. A teenage Black girl sits at a laptop, whimsically staring into space.

About the Book

Title: Happily Ever Afters (Happily Ever Afters #1)
Published: 2021

Cover Story: The Write Stuff
Drinking Buddy:
Well, She is a Writer
MPAA Rating:
PG (Sexuality, Strong Language)
Talky Talk:
First Person
Bonus Factors:
Writing, Disability
Bromance Status:
Critique Partner

Cover Story: The Write Stuff

A nice picture of our hero, Tessa, but cartoonish enough that we can still form our own mental image. I dig the stickers on her laptop and one of Sam’s cupcakes off to the side. A far cry from the empty whisky bottles and ‘past due’ bills in my own office.

The Deal:

For years, Tessa has written romantic fiction, boy-meets-girl novels that involve brown heroines like herself. And one day, her mother unexpectedly sends an application in Tessa’s name to the Chrysalis Academy, a very competitive creative arts school. And she gets in! Tessa is going to spend her school day doing what she loves: writing. One of her instructors is even a rather famous writer who can share her thoughts on Tessa’s work. This is her dream come true. Except…

Writer’s block hits. It hits hard. In a school where she has unlimited time and opportunity to create, she’s got nothing. And this school expects a lot. She can’t just tell her famous instructor that she’s not feeling it this week. So she and her friend Caroline come up with a plan: Tessa must have a romance of her own. If she can find her own prince charming, then she’ll have no trouble writing the next big love story. Now if she could only find the right boy.

Drinking Buddy: Well, She is a Writer

Two pints of beer cheersing

Tessa was a truly relatable character. She has a thousand ideas in her head that all vanish the second she sits down at her laptop. A mix-raced girl, she frequently feels out of place, no matter who she’s with. She has realized her dream of being taken seriously as an author, and yet she has that nagging fear that maybe she’s not good enough and that her best work is behind her. All she needs is a drinking problem and a horde of internet trolls and she’ll be ready for the big leagues.

MPAA Rating: PG: Sexuality, Strong Language

So for Tessa to find real life inspiration, she’ll need a man. Her own, real-life romantic lead. And at the top her list is Nico, the handsome fellow writer who seems to take a shine to the new girl. The guy who looks just like the hero of her last story. Devastatingly handsome and charming, he seems intrigued by Tessa’s creativity and shyness. Never mind Poppy, his popular, on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Of course, there’s also Sam, her neighbor. The guy who just joined Chrysalis’s new culinary arts program. The tubby, Hawaiian shirt-wearing nerd. The guy who bakes special treats just for her. The guy who treats her disabled brother like one of the boys. The guy with a smile that could melt butter. Surely nothing there, right?

Tessa learns that the course of romance never does run smoothly, and real life people don’t always behave as the plot dictates.

Talky Talk: First Person

Now this book did get tropey at times. Poppy tricks Tessa into wearing a Halloween costume to an event where no one else dresses up. She obsesses over the handsome boy, when the right guy is right there under her nose. And, my most hated trope of recent years, Sam has a cute dimple.

But Tessa is absolutely relatable as both a writer and a teenage human. For starters, she’s a wonderful, Harry Potter-loving nerd. We don’t get enough of that with non-white characters. And like any creative person, she simmers in self-doubt. She can only claim illness or computer problems so many times before her instructor is going to demand to see something. And like most of us, she makes boneheaded mistakes in her love life. But this is a romance, and we know that Tessa deserves her own happily ever after. And maybe her own book deal.

Bonus Factor: Writing

Close up of a person's hands while writing a letter

This book really hit home, especially the writer’s block part. How often have we carved two precious hours of free time and sobriety out of our schedule, only to be staring at a blank screen when the time is up? And how can we possibly work on that novel when the Wikipedia entry for Ernest Goes to Camp is so poorly written? Inspiration is not a lengthy visitor, and sometimes you have to rip the story out of your head, word by agonizing word.

Now Tessa is the daughter of a white mother and a Black father, and her work reflects that. How many times have you read a romance where the main couple was not white? And while African-American romances are becoming a thing, how often do we see other races represented? And why do none of the cover models have any chest hair? Tessa goes off to prove that not all romantic leads are blonde and pastey.

Speaking of race, Tessa is very aware of what life is like for a non-white person in America, even in California. She’s in the habit of keeping her hands in her pockets while she shops, just so no one can accuse her of shoplifting. When Sam takes her to a high-end spice shop, the owner asks her if she’s sure she’s in the right place. Nico and his friends often use inappropriate terms around her. And even well-meaning people look to her as the one to ask about the Black perspective on any issue. Even Sam has to learn that calling an especially delicious dessert ‘crack’ can be kind of insensitive. It’s a book that brings you out of your comfort zone.

Finally, we’ve all fantasized about going to a school where we can actually study something we’re passionate about. Tessa’s school doesn’t just teach writing, but theater, song, instrumental music, and recently, the culinary arts. To creative kids, this could be Hogwarts.

Bonus Factor: Disability

Close up of a hand on a wheelchair wheel.

Tessa’s older bother, Miles, was choked by his umbilical cord during birth and went without oxygen for a while. As a result, he has some neurological difficulties and problems reading social cues. He thinks that ordering an unexpected pizza to his grouchy neighbor is a prank of epic, YouTube-worthy proportions. He’ll stand in the yard and scream profanities as passing cars when his favorite show is cancelled. He’s loud and doesn’t always catch when he’s upsetting people. Tessa is often tasked with making sure Miles doesn’t get to the phone or wander away from home. Obviously, she sometimes feels frustrated or even angry with her brother, even though she deeply loves him. And a guy like Nico…maybe he doesn’t quite know what to make of someone like Miles. Unlike Sam, who bakes him cupcakes and invites him to hang out.

Bromance Status: Critique Partner

Very promising debut author. I can’t wait for more.

Literary Matchmaking

How We Roll

Another book book with a neurodivergent brother.

FTC Full disclosure: I received a free e-copy of this book from the publisher, but no personalized ice cream flavor.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.