Happily Ever Afters

HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Jan. 2021. 384p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062982834.
Gr 9 Up–When 16-year-old Tessa starts a creative writing program in her new Southern California school, she is excited to work on her romance stories as a class assignment. Though she misses her best friend, Caroline, Tessa feels comfortable among the artists at her new school. Just as things seem to be falling into place, Tessa runs into a debilitating case of writer’s block. She’s terrified of being called out as a fraud, but her friend Caroline develops Operation Happily Ever After, a plan to jump-start Tessa’s creativity by giving her an actual love life. Nico, a confident classmate, becomes the center of her plan and Tessa works toward turning her crush into something more, though she comes to realize that maybe what she values in a love interest is different from what she thought. Tessa, a brown-skinned, mixed-race girl (her mom is white, and her dad is Black), must deal with the daily struggles of racism. She also has to defend her older brother, who has disabilities and often causes public scenes that make people uncomfortable. Characters address their issues through realistic, compelling dialogue and ideas, which don’t feel forced or pedantic. Tessa has friends who are Filipino, Cambodian, white, and Black. Tessa addresses the lack of diversity in literature and her own need to see herself in books.
VERDICT This well-written, page-turning romance is packed with smart dialogue, powerful insights, and a lovable cast of characters. Highly recommended for all high school libraries.

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