Cover of One True Loves by Elise Bryant. A Black, teenage girl with a Polaroid camera sits on a suitcase

About the Book

Title: One True Loves (Happily Ever Afters #2)
Published: 2021

Cover Story: More Like This, Please
Drinking Buddy: Unlimited Drinks Armband
MPAA Rating: PG-13: Language, Sexuality, Some Crude Humor
Talky Talk: Love…so exciting and new
Bonus Factors: Photography, Cruises
Bromance Status: Table Buddy

Cover Story: More Like This, Please

A nice, almost photo-realistic drawing of Lenore, all packed for the family cruise, with her recently rediscovered childhood Polaroid camera. They could have easily gone for the giant teen faces here, so bravo.

Incidentally, this cover almost gave me conniptions. You see, this is a sequel to a previous book, and when I saw this, I became furious at how much the cover artist had altered the main character’s appearance. I mean, what, are all Black characters interchangeable or something? Then I read the cover blurb and realized this wasn’t a true sequel, but a companion book, which focuses on a completely different person. So…my bad.

The Deal:

Lenore Bennett just graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. She’ll be attending NYU in the fall. She’s a talented artist with her whole life ahead of her. Her family is going on a lengthy Mediterranean cruise this summer. Could life get any better?

Well, yes. For starters, she constantly lives in the shadow of her older brother, Wally, who is about to start law school, and her ten-year-old sister Etta, who is already taking college classes. Plus her parents are not on board with her undeclared major. Lenore had been planning on getting her gen ed classes out of the way her freshmen year, but her parents are having none of it. Lenore is Black, and that means she has to fight twice as hard to be successful. Maybe white girls can relax in college with no direction, but Lenore doesn’t have that privilege. Her parents inform her that she is to decide on a major by the time the cruise is over.

On top of all this, Lenore is the girl boys use when they’re lonely, not the girl they ride off into the sunset with. She learned this the hard way when the guy she thought was her boyfriend showed up at prom with his girlfriend and Lenore realized she was the side chick. It doesn’t help that all her friends are in sickening ‘No, I love you more!’ relationships and that her best friend, Tessa, is a romance writer who keeps giving her advice.

But this is a cruise to some of the most romantic ports in the world. Will Lenore have that storybook fling with a handsome Italian boy, or will she never find her one true love?

Drinking Buddy: Unlimited Drinks Armband

Two pints of beer cheersing

Lenore is described by her parents (and, well, everyone) as young, gifted, and Black. She is constantly reminded that she is expected to live a life that would make her ancestors proud. But like many eighteen-year-olds, she doesn’t have a clear view of her future. What if she chooses a career path and she ends up not enjoying it? I mean, what’s thirty or forty years in one woman’s life? But her family constantly chides her about her ever changing obsessions and she realizes that sooner or later she’ll have to grow up. But does it have to be right this week?

And then of course, there are the boys. Lenore doesn’t like to admit it, but she wants that special kind of romance that her friends have. That her parents have. That Wally and his boyfriend seem to have. That the nerdy retired people on the cruise have. Is that too stinking much to ask?

MPAA Rating: PG-13: Language, Sexuality, Some Crude Humor

Enter Alex Lee. A gorgeous Afro-Korean boy Lenore meets at an onboard teen mixer. A guy so handsome that she noticed him in Rome even before they boarded. And he comes up to Lenore and introduces himself! Could things be turning around?

No, Alex just wanted Lenore to pretend to be dating him to make his ex jealous. Jerk. Of course the universe isn’t through with Lenore yet, and Alex and his family end up sharing an assigned dining room table with her family. For the entire cruise. Their dorky parents instantly hit it off and soon make plans to experience every port of call together. Great.

Except, it kind of is. After Alex apologizes for his gaffe, she does realize this boy is incredibly charming. And handsome. And sweet. And all those other adjectives. Plus he lives not far from her home back in California. There’s no reason this budding romance can’t turn into something special.

Except Lenore is going to be moving to New York City in a month or so.

Talky Talk: Love…so exciting and new

Lenore is well aware of the paradox of being young and African-American. Fewer opportunities, and yet higher expectations. Her parents are wealthy and white collar, and yet still have to give their kids the ‘police talk’. She has a variety of talents and interests, but nothing she’d like to dedicate her life to. Can’t she just take a year to get her head together? Her parents remind her that what’s considered ‘weighing one’s options’ for most people is considered ‘shiftless and irresponsible’ in a Black person. She gets this from both her siblings as well. Honestly, ten-year-old Etta was a little over the top; I think she would have been more believable as a thirteen-year-old.

Then, of course, there’s Alex. Absolutely funny, smart, and easy on the eyes, could she have finally met the boy of her dreams? Of course, she’ll be moving across the country shortly. Right? I mean, this is romance is doomed from the start, right?

Lenore was a great portrayal of a talented girl who is being crushed under the weight of everyone’s expectations. Yes, her ancestors faced slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow. But why does Lenore have to make up for all that?

Bonus Factor: Photography

Woman holding a camera up to her eye.

As a graduation gift, Lenore’s grandmother gives her her old Polaroid camera and some film (for you kids out there, Polaroid was a brand of camera popular in the 70s and 80s, which would instantly eject a copy of the photo you just took. Ask your parents). While immediately seeing your photograph has been commonplace for years, it was somewhat of a novelty at the time to see your photo right when you took it (well, after about 30 seconds. Again, ask your parents). Of course, if you blew the shot, you still wasted the film.

Lenore takes this camera on the cruise, and she and Alex explore Italy, recording their trip, but not online. Could photography be Lenore’s ultimate career? Why does she have to decide this week?

Bonus Factor: Cruises

A woman on a boat from a "boats boats boats" commercial from a TV show

Me, I’m not one for cruises: income inequality, tourists, schedules, pollution…who needs it? But Lenore and Alex make the most of the stops in Italy, Greece, France, and Spain, as do their parents. Once you avoid the tourist traps, there is something to be said for these charming port towns with their hidden markets and odd flavored potato chips.

Bromance Status: Table Buddy

I enjoyed our trip together, and I look forward to other voyages with this author.

FTC full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but no money or bar credit.

Literary Matchmaking

Happily Ever Afters (Happily Ever Afters #1)

The original book in the series, Happily Ever Afters.

Luck of the Titanic

Stacey Lee’s Luck of the Titanic deals with a less happy cruise.

People We Meet on Vacation

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry is another sweet vacation romance.

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.