About the Book

Title: Wonderful Feels Like This
Published: 2017
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Underbar
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: Straight Up, Swedish Style
Bonus Factors: Jazz, Kickass Jazz Mentor
Ambivalence Factor: Bullying
Relationship Status: ‘S Wonderful

Cover Story: Underbar

The brightness! The colors! The ’80s Boy George hat!* I LIVE FOR IT ALL. Liz Casal’s cover design is a delightful embodiment of happy jazz that goes in a completely different direction than the original Swedish cover, but is nevertheless its own kind of brilliance. 

*The story has nothing to do with the ’80s, although the hat is important.

The Deal:

Living in a small town, fifteen-year-old Steffi Herrera wants nothing more than to study music in one of Sweden’s big cities — far, far away from the awful bullies in her current school. Jazz is her salvation, you see, and it’s what lead her into Sunshine Retirement Home, when she hears her favorite jazz song being played by one of its residents: Alvar Svensson, who was a teenager pursuing a career as a jazz musician in Stockholm during World War II. So begins an unlikely friendship that transcends generations — and just might give Steffi the push she needs to make her dreams a reality.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

I’m always equal parts envious and in awe of kid like Steffi, who already have such a strong sense of self a young age. The downside, though, is being surrounded by merciless assholes at school like she is. I’d love to show Steffi a world that will appreciate her and her talents way more than her jerkface classmates do. And it totally works to my advantage that she doesn’t mind hanging out with Olds. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

A couple of guys pop up on Steffi’s love interest radar, but nothing really transpires with either. (Her sister also experiences a bout of unrequited love.) The main romance, though, is between young Alvar and his fellow jazz enthusiast, Anita. While it was def. love at first sight for him, it feels less like insta-love and more like reading the story of your grandparents falling in love. 

Talky Talk: Straight Up, Swedish Style

Direct and observant, the narration feels a little like play-by-play of these characters in their natural habitats. The segues into Alvar’s flashbacks are clever, but are perhaps employed a few time too many at the risk of diminishing returns. And as a novel originating from Sweden, Wonderful Feels Like This contains small cultural differences that distinguishes it from its North American counterparts. (Like, judging from a sample size of one, Swedish YA invokes the c-word wayyyyyy more than North American YA does. And Steffi’s school has a Sexual Health and Relationships course, which I wish was mandatory worldwide because OMG AMAZING.**)

**Though probably less so in the mind of a real teen enrolled in it, but still. It’s like broccoli: this is actually so good for you, YOU DUNNEVENNO. 

Bonus Factor: Jazz

Jazz so thoroughly imbues every page that I absolutely had to listen to it as I read the novel and wrote this book report. Nothing else felt appropriate!

Young Alvar and his friends also very, very distantly reminded me of Swing Kids because of the era and the love of jazz. Sweden itself may have remained neutral during World War II, but it certainly wasn’t spared from the ramifications of the global conflict. 

Bonus Factor: Kickass Jazz Mentor

Arthur Mori, an elderly Japanese man, who is Lily's grandfather in Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

At the heart of this novel is the friendship forged through jazz between Steffi and Alvar, who shares with her the treasure trove of tales from his youth. It makes me wistful for the stories of real-life Alvars that I hope us younger generations won’t let fade away.

Ambivalence Factor: Bullying

Led by queen bee Karro, the mean girls (and sometimes boys) at Steffi’s school can be truly heinous. And Steffi has no choice but to endure their mistreatment, lest they worsen her suffering. Their racially motivated taunts (Steffi’s father is Cuban) touch on an ever-prevalent problem of targeting minorities as scapegoats. 

So, I couldn’t help feeling a little gratification when Steffi turns the tables on social media by catfishing the popular girls, who’ve convinced themselves of a mysterious loner dude narrative for their online dreamboat, and calling them on their shizz right to their virtual faces. But only a teensy bit gratifying, since the catfishing also reveals the many issues that Karro has to work out. 

Casting Call:

I GIVE UP, Y’ALL. It’s difficult enough to fantasy cast a character in their early teens, but trying to find one who’s also of Swedish and Cuban descent is beyond my Googling skills. Sorry, Steffi.  

Relationship Status: ‘S Wonderful

Book, you transported me to another place and another time, with characters that I wish I never had to leave behind. From now on, I’ll be thinking of you whenever I hear jazz being played. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Flatiron Books. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Wonderful Feels Like This is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.