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In Elise Bryant’s Happily Ever Afters, we’re following the story of Tessa, a teen romance writer that’s been accepted into the creative writing program at a prestigious art school. The only problem is that this school is crosscountry from her best friend Caroline who’s been the only reader of her stories. As a student of the creative writing program, her teacher will review her work and she has to paricipate group critiques with her peers. Locked up by fear and anxiety, her friend Caroline creates a plan to help her jumpstart her writing again. Caroline’s plan heavily relies on the notion of “write what you know” and the idea is that Tessa needs to know real-life romance. The question is who will she end up with and what will she learn about her writing and herself along the way?
I absolutely adore this story and would wholeheartedly recommend it. The reason for that is because I personally feel so seen by this story. I feel seen by how Elise Bryant has chosen to dive into the topics of anxiety/anxiety disorder, racial discrimination, having a sibling with a disability, and questioning your abilities when inspiration leaves you.
I’ve had generalized anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember and it has done everything from making my heart race faster than it should all the way to causing me to doubt myself and miss out on opportunities, opting for something safer. What I admired about Elise’s writing choices is that for all the wins that Tessa has, she also experiences losses to the point that I’m not sure if would have been able to handle them myself. Elise shows you how to fight through anxiety and fear by looking at Tessa’s story, understanding that her journey makes her stronger and teaches her how to believe in herself.
On top of anxiety, worrying about how the public sees me because of my black body is an unhelpful, but real part of my life as it is Tessa’s. We see Tessa grapple with absorbing microaggresions, as well as outright attacks. I understand what it’s like to be in the self checkout line and making sure that I’m displaying all of the items I’m purchasing, while workers come closer obviously checking to make sure that I’m not taking anything. Yet, Elise also shows us that for as dehumanizing as those aggressions are, there are allies out there willing to go to battle for you.
I know that I said that I relate because my sibling has a disability, but I do as well. My brother and I actually have Autism. However, I’m able to chameleon myself to people around me so that you’ll just think I’m shy or quiet. However, my brother’s symptoms are more sever than mine and he can’t always chameleon the way I can, so I’ve witnessed people obviously treat him differently or he’s told me about the experiences over the years. In this, I can definitely understand the love and rage that Tessa feels when she goes to bat for her brother.
As far as questioning my creative abilities, I can definitley understand and sympathize with Tessa. I’m currently editing my debut fantasy novel, so doubt and fear is basically always in the back of my mind. Even before this point, I would doubt my abilities especially when it was in class and other people would look at my work/work in progress, as well. Yet, Elise Bryant uses Tessa’s story to tell us that even if we’re afraid we should just do it scared and in that continuous act of doing the work, you will find a sense of liberation.
I hope you take the time to read Elise Bryant’s Happily Ever Afters! The family dynamics, diverse cast of characters, charming setting, and protagonist make this a great story to dive into!