As I’ve been laboring over a Christmas romance novella I hope to have ready for this fall, I’ve been thinking about what readers want most when they pick up a book. Snappy dialog, action, romance, suspense. A few laughs, a few tears. Any combination of these can make a passable story. But what I really want when I read is someone I can root for.
Tessa Johnson is definitely someone to root for.
Sixteen-year-old Tessa, who’s moved not only to a new city but is also the new girl at a prestigious arts school, has to prove to herself, more than anyone else, that she’s a romance writer. But that’s hard to do when your words suddenly ghost you and your best friend is hundreds of miles away, even in this technological age.
Tessa tries to keep her writer’s block from everyone but when she finally confesses to Caroline, her BFF since fourth grade, they concoct a scheme to get her writing groove back. Specifically, by finding Tessa her own Happily Ever After. Living her own love story should be the inspiration she needs to get the writing wheels turning again.
What could go wrong? Let me count the ways:
Nico, who looks just like one of Tessa’s Prince Charming-like characters, is who she sets her sights on. His on again, off again girlfriend, Poppy, isn’t inclined to go along with the plan.
Sam, the neighbor across the street who goes to the Culinary Conservatory at her school, maybe wants to be more than her nerdy chef friend.
Ms. McKinney, her writing teacher, is running out of patience when Tessa avoids reading her work for the class critiques.
New friends, old friends and family relationships get complicated, Tessa finds herself doing things she can’t understand and for a while, like any well-constructed story, things look bleak. But in the end, I don’t think I’m giving away anything by saying that it all works out.
I’m drawn to stories with good peripheral characters and this book has quite a few. Tessa’s family, her mom, dad and disabled brother, Miles, are very real and loving, especially amid the chaos of the move, the constant care Miles requires and Tessa’s turbulent first semester. New friends Lenore and Theodore have her back. Caroline and her relationship with Tessa are very well drawn, as she’s going through her own changes and missing their closeness. Sam, with his sweet personality and even sweeter desserts, has his own enthusiasms and stressors. Even Nico and Poppy, part of the elite group at school, have moments of depth and anxiety.
The thing I related to most about Tessa is that she’s an introvert. It doesn’t matter that she’s decades younger than me, we share the joys of being in a room by ourselves surrounded by words, happy in our own little worlds. But like all introverts, we are forced to leave our homes and do the uncomfortable work of being with other people. So many times, I wanted to give Tessa a hug, especially in her most awkward moments, and tell her we all survive our own graceless and embarrassing moments.
I highly recommend Happily Ever Afters and I already have a signed copy of Elise Bryant’s next book, One True Loves, on the way!
PS—Tessa and I have the same sticker on our laptops – Books Books Books!