Zyla & Kai is a brilliant crafted story about love. About fighting against the odds and wondering if it can win. The whole world can think what they want about us, but what about us? If you love those books about a realistic love, one that has the odds, this is for you. Keep reading this book review for my full thoughts.
While on a school trip to the Poconos Mountains (in the middle of a storm) high school seniors, Zyla Matthews and Kai Johnson, run away together leaving their friends and family confused. As far as everyone knows, Zyla and Kai have been broken up for months. And honestly? Their break up hadn’t surprised anyone. Zyla and Kai met while working together at an amusement park the previous summer, and they couldn’t have been more different.
Zyla was a cynic about love. She’d witnessed the dissolution of her parents’ marriage early in life, and it left an indelible impression. Her only aim was graduating and going to fashion school abroad. Until she met Kai.
Kai was a serial monogamist and a hopeless romantic. He’d put a temporary pause on his dating life before senior year to focus on school and getting into his dream HBCU. Until he met Zyla.
Alternating between the past and present, we see the love story unfold from Zyla and Kai’s perspectives: how they first became the unlikeliest of friends over the summer, how they fell in love during the school year, and why they ultimately broke up… Or did they?
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Tw: anxiety, mentions of prior panic attacks
Zyla & Kai is one of those books which leaves me in awe. The way that Forest weaves the two timelines together is masterful. Not only that, but in the present timeline, most of it takes place from other character’s POV. Through witnesses or people our lives touch. It makes you really think about all the misconceptions and biases people in our lives have. The reasons they think we aren’t good for each other, or are perfect. All their thoughts about us. And Forest commands these POVs not only to expose pieces of the plot, but also about these perspectives which influence us.
Zyla & Kai is full of opinions. Reasons why Zyla and Kai shouldn’t be together. But what matters most are Zyla and Kai. And these characters stand out in their vulnerabilites, definition, and flaws. How Zyla is deeply scarred by her mother’s own heartbreak and wondering when the other shoe will drop. While at the same time, Kai believes true love eclipses all. That it is this perfect force worth pouring ourselves into, but what about when we run out?
Their character development and journeys in Zyla & Kai is my favorite element. Zyla has to find out if love is worth the fear of the ending. Worth the potential of heartbreak. And Kai has to figure out who he is besides being a romantic partner. To realize the struggle of love, the ways it can never be perfect. In some ways, they come from completely different perspectives on love. But even if they think they know it all, they have a lot to learn. Ultimately, Zyla & Kai questions what is true love. Apart from all the reasons on paper we might not work, what is the truth of it?
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The families of both Zyla and Kai also stole my heart. I loved that throughout Zyla & Kai, Zyla has to talk to her mom and reconcile what she thinks she knows. When we witness our loved ones, we can think we know the whole picture. This blurry line between what we think we know about a person and situation and what we really know. And it all comes down to the difference a conversation can make. Forest’s latest release explores the good and bad of love. The distractions, but also the feelings of elation. The fear of disappointing someone with the butterflies. If you want to truly experience all the emotional ups and downs of love in a story that asks us what we believe love is, pick up Zyla & Kai. Find Zyla & Kai on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.