Happily Ever Afters is a charming story about, you guessed it, happy endings. Budding romance writer Tessa’s dreams have never been closer, until she’s struck by writers block. How can she get her inspiration back? Meet Operation Happily Ever After. Keep reading this book review to see what I loved!
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?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: anxiety, panic attacks
From the beginning of Happily Ever Afters, Tessa and her family captivated me. A passionate writer, Tessa loves Meet Cutes and swooning. At the same time, the fear of sharing her work and concerns about the ‘legitimacy’ of her writing, haunt her. In order to get her inspiration back, she decides to find her own happily ever after. The characters are my favorite part of Happily Ever Afters. Detailed and quirky, you can feel the dreams beating in their caged fears and their vulnerabilities on the page.
Tessa and Co.
I figured I would love Tessa, but what I didn’t realize is how much I’d love the other characters. A central piece of Tessa’s family is her disabled brother with athetoid cerebral palsy. At time, she feels like she cannot be ‘a burden’ because she realizes how much extra care her brother needs. The way her friends treat her brother, as well as her feelings regarding other’s opinions of him, is a topic explored throughout the book. Her family, presented with the new move, is trying to do the best they can. Even if they make mistakes, you can tell there’s so much love and caring infused in the pages.
Tessa is biracial and I loved how this was seamless woven through the story. The ways she styles her hair in the morning, growing up with her mother trying to learn. Because I love them so much, I was a bit disappointed I didn’t see more interactions with her family (specifically her parents). Another relationship I adored was Tessa and her best friend Caroline. Moving can break friendships, but what I loved was how they navigate it together. It’s a journey that doesn’t have it’s own trials and mistakes, but it felt so relatable.
But what stole the show was Tessa’s character growth. The ways she sometimes feels like doesn’t want to bother her parents. Or the weight of the world’s expectations and her own fears smothering her. Tessa’s fears to share her work, to have it judged as “not serious enough”, felt utterly relatable to me. For aspiring writers, I think they would enjoy Tessa’s story which celebrate the difficult journey of self-acceptance. Of admitting our mistakes, the ways we sometimes care too much what others think.
The beginning of this book felt like a warm hug. The middle was full of all this tension and the ending, while it felt like a bit of a whirlwind, is so fabulous. Tessa felt entirely relatable in her passions, mistakes, and flaws. How we sometimes become distracted by the narratives in our head. Focusing on the things we think we see, instead of how we feel. Find Happily Ever Afters on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.