Happily Ever Afters

Happily Ever Afters Elise Bryant book cover

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Book Review

Tessa is excited to go to a new high school for gifted writers until she gets major writer’s block. Frantic, she and her best friend hatch a crazy plot to put Tessa into a romantic situation so she can be inspired. Everything goes awry, and Tessa finds herself not only unable to write, but forced to lie to everyone, including herself.

Plot Summary

Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson thinks she might love the creative writing program of the prestigious art school that she’s been accepted to. For the first time in her life, she’s found a place where she actually fits. She’s excited to join the writer’s group and let her inner wordsmith take flight.

But when she heads to her first workshop, the words fly all right—fly right out the door and leave her with writer’s block. And she begins to panic, wondering if the school might give her the boot.

So, Tessa turns to her BFF Caroline, who also just happens to be her most devoted reader. And Caroline suggests that her friend do what every great writer does: find inspiration.

Tessa starts working to stir up her inner muse with some real-life story. Hey, a romance might do. And the good-looking Nico looks similar to one of Tessa’s romantic heroes. So, he’ll do, too.

But few small issues crop up in the process. As Tessa begins checking her way through the romance novel-inspired steps to a happily-ever-after, she starts to realize that her plans are requiring quite a bit of lying and manipulation. Oh yeah, and there’s the little matter of having to get rid of Nico’s current model-like, perfect girlfriend.

And wouldn’t you know it, even though Tessa begins to make progress with Nico, she still can’t write. And the lies to hide that fact from the school are beginning to pile up and impact the good relationships she has with her family and supportive friends, including the kind boy-next-door, Sam.

Man, this writing stuff is tougher than you’d think.

Christian Beliefs

There are no dominant religious belief in the mix. There is, however, a brief mention of avoiding the Mormon missionaries that come to the door. Sam has a Jewish heritage and celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.

Other Belief Systems

We watch life from Tessa’s perspective and are immersed in her belief that a young black woman is often pre-judged because of her skin color.

There are also several mentions of the magically inclined Harry Potter series and its author, J.K. Rowling.

Authority Roles

Tessa’s family has a strong sense of unity and mutual support. While Tessa has a few angsty moments of disrespect and lying to her parents, they come together and work things out, especially as Tessa begins to tell the truth. Her parents also have a deep love and appreciation for Miles, her older brother, who has special needs. He is honestly portrayed with challenging days and quirky habits, but the family rallies around him and they always support him. In addition, we see a variety of other reactions, both good and bad, to Miles.

Tessa’s writing teacher tries to help Tessa with her writer’s block, but the offer is not acted upon since the teen lies and avoids her.

Sam is raised by a single mom who’s a celebrity. Sam and his mom have a good relationship and enjoy their combined passion for cooking. Nico’s parents are very critical of Nico and push him to be perfect in order to maintain their social standing.

Profanity & Violence

There is a smattering of swear words throughout the book—what some might consider language typical of teens in high school. However, it is surprising when Tessa’s mom and brother use that language when frustrated.

Nico’s parents allow a party at their house where underage drinking is permitted, with the admonition to “drink responsibly and don’t drive.” Tessa’s friends drink, but she chooses not to.

Sexual Content

Tessa kisses and makes out with a couple of boys. Also, Theodore, Tessa’s friend, is involved in a gay relationship and makes out with his boyfriend. There’s an approving nod to transgender and LGBTQ lifestyles and a negative nod at those who are “insensitive.” Tessa’s best friend, Caroline, is in a serious dating relationship, and she talks to Tessa about taking it to the next level and having sex with her boyfriend. No decision is made, but they discuss the importance of that decision. We hear references to the sex-saturated book Fifty Shades of Grey.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion question for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Tessa talks a lot about being your “authentic self.” What does that mean? What is the difference between being authentic and becoming more mature and understanding yourself better? How would that compare to people who spent time with Jesus? (Think about the disciples such as Peter, John and Judas. Were they their authentic selves?)

Tessa says she hates three typical responses when people find out that her brother, Miles, has disabilities. They say he must have taught her family so much, as if he’s a prop for their better development; or they avert their eyes in embarrassment and annoyance when he’s having a meltdown; or they show pity. None of the responses are correct, according to Tessa. While Miles is a mixture of joy and annoyance, he is part of the family—period. What do you think about Tessa’s statements? How do you think people with disabilities should be treated?

Additional Comments

There are some lovely moments in Tessa’s family as they work together as a family unit, including the reality of both the joy and hard times that happen because of Miles’s disabilities. The careful exploration of racism and prejudices people can portray can be thought-provoking. Author Elise Bryant offers readers a lot of good things to walk away with here. Yet, the swearing and the casual treatment of sex leaves this book a little less than sterling.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Danielle Pitzer

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