Release Date: 5th January 2021
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Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson has never felt like the protagonist in her own life. She’s rarely seen herself reflected in the pages of the romance novels she loves. The only place she’s a true leading lady is in her own writing—in the swoony love stories she shares only with Caroline, her best friend and #1 devoted reader. When Tessa is accepted into the creative writing program of a prestigious art school, she’s excited to finally let her stories shine. But when she goes to her first workshop, the words are just...gone. Fortunately, Caroline has a solution: Tessa just needs to find some inspiration in a real-life love story of her own. And she’s ready with a list of romance novel-inspired steps to a happily ever after. Nico, the brooding artist who looks like he walked out of one of Tessa’s stories, is cast as the perfect Prince Charming. But as Tessa checks off each item off Caroline’s list, she gets further and further away from herself. She risks losing everything she cares about—including the surprising bond she develops with sweet Sam, who lives across the street. She’s well on her way to having her own real-life love story, but is it the one she wants, after all?
Happily Ever Afters is a strong and also really cute debut that tackles a lot of topics, including race, microaggressions, disabilities, and mental health to name a few. I had a really good time with it, and if YA contemporary is your thing then this is definitely a book you should pick up.
I really liked Tessa, the main character. She spends a lot of the book feeling uncomfortable in her own skin and with her own talents and skills. I think some people may feel a bit bad while reading it. However, as the book goes on she starts to really shine and grow more confident with the help of the people around her.
The friendships in this book were some of my favourite things. Tessa has a really great friend network, and even if one of them did really fancy her, they were all adorable together and so supportive. There’s a bit of conflict between the friendship group at one point, but ultimately they’re a great bunch who really care for one another.
There’s a bit of a love triangle in Happily Ever Afters but it’s not … really … a real one. One of the romances was absolutely infuriating for me, however that was the whole point. The real romance was cute as a button and I supported it.
Tessa’s brother has disabilities, and I thought that the author did a fantastic job at portraying this with care and love. I loved reading about Tessa and her relationship with her brother, as well as the rest of her family.
To top it all off, there’s a tonne of baking in here! So much baking. You’ll come out of Happily Ever Afters with a craving for cake.
An Interview with Elise Bryant
Debut author Elise Bryant has very kindly agreed to be interviewed for this post, and I was keen to ask her all about her writing process and, of course, the baking!
1. Congratulations! How does it feel to be a published author?
It still doesn’t feel real! I don’t think it will until I can walk into a store and see my book on the shelves. Right now it’s still possible this could all be a really elaborate hoax!
2. What inspired you to write Happily Ever Afters?
I took a lot of inspiration from my own life. I was a lot like Tessa as a teenager: really anxious and scared to share the love stories I wrote with anyone. I wanted to explore those feelings and write a happy ending for myself – because I just stopped writing entirely as a teenager. I let my imposter syndrome paralyze me. Even though Tessa and Caroline’s plan is a little ridiculous, it ultimately helps her to build her confidence and learn to take up space.
3. Do you have a favourite scene [to either write, or to reread]?
I love the scene where Tessa and Sam dance with Miles to Dream Zone music! It makes me smile every time.
4. Did you have to do much baking research to prep for Sam’s scenes?
I love to bake. It’s one of the only activities that helps to ease my anxiety. So, I used a lot of my own knowledge…and then a lot of what I’ve absorbed from binge watching Food Network shows!
5. What has been your most memorable moment of the publishing process?
Definitely when my agent called to tell me that there were multiple offers from publishers for Happily Ever Afters. I remember dancing around the house with my daughters that night and ordering a big cake. It felt like a dream.
6. Who would you want to play Tessa in a movie?
I think Storm Reid would make a perfect Tessa! Also Celeste O’Connor or Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson. I dream about a Happily Ever Afters movie all the time.
7. What do you hope readers will take away from Happily Ever Afters? What have you taken away from the writing process?
I hope readers walk away from Happily Ever Afters believing that everyone is deserving of a great love story. And I’ve learned through this process that there is space for the stories I want to tell – that people do want to read fluffy, swoony stories about Black girls falling in love. I’m so grateful I get to keep writing them!
About the Author
Elise Bryant was born and raised in Southern California. She earned her BA in Africana studies from California State University, Long Beach, and her MA in special education from Loyola Marymount University. For many years, Elise had the joy of working as a special education teacher in South Los Angeles, and she is also a National Board Certified Teacher. Elise now lives with her husband and two daughters in Long Beach, where she spends her days reading, writing, and eating dessert. Happily Ever Afters is her debut novel.
Interested in more 2021 Debuts? Check out my Debut Showcase feature, in which I talk about a tonne of authors with debut books coming out in 2021. While you’re here, perhaps consider taking part in the Debut Author Challenge? There are giveaways, readathons, read-ins, and more!