I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Happily Ever Afters, Tessa gets a fantastic opportunity to go to an art school and take classes about her favorite thing—writing. She’s always loved words and stories, and has spent the past few years writing everything from Harry Potter fanfiction to her own original romcoms. Now, though, upon arrival at the school, she is hit with writer’s block as she grapples with whether or not she is really good enough to be here. So she and her best friend concoct a plan—develop her own real life romance to find inspiration again. But as time goes on, Tessa might be finding love in a place she never expected.
This story was really cute! Tessa is such a sweet girl, full of love and spirit and talent, but also insecurity and naivete and anxiety. Watching her grapple with who she is and what she wants was moving, and you really root for her to get her inspiration, along with her confidence, back.
The side characters, especially Sam, Nico, and Miles, are also excellent. I absolutely adored Sam the most; I want to try all his baking! The other characters like Lenore and Caroline were good, but didn’t have as much development. However, they all had distinct personalities and voices, and it’s a delightfully diverse cast.
One of the best parts, though, is the way Bryant handles what it’s like to live with a disabled family member, as well as what it’s like to be part of a biracial family. Tessa’s relationship with her brother Miles is so well written and sweet, and the scenes that focus on race are wonderful. The exchanges between Tessa and her mother are so touching.
As for the love story, which is the core of the book, I had a good time reading about it. There’s some typical teenage drama and indecisiveness, and it’s technically a love triangle, but it was far from irritating (as I often feel about love triangles). The development of Tessa’s relationships feel very organic and realistic overall, which I really appreciated. And the ending was satisfying!
In the end, Bryant’s novel Happily Ever Afters is a feel-good, intelligent, and heartfelt story of a girl learning about love—familial love, romantic love, and self-love. The topics of race and privilege are full of nuance and care. The cast is diverse and so likeable. It’s an excellent debut novel; I’ll definitely look for more of Bryant’s work in the future!
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Happily Ever Afters will be published on January 5th, 2021!