Have you ever read or heard something and thought, “Wow, that’s just what I needed to hear”?
That happened to me this week reading Elise Bryant’s delightful debut YA novel, Happily Ever Afters. Sixteen-year-old Tessa Johnson loves writing romance stories and sharing them with her best friend, Caroline. But when her family moves to a new community and she’s admitted to a prestigious art school, she develops a terrible case of writer’s block. She’s sure everyone else in the writing program is much more talented and will dismiss her writing as “swoony crap.” So she stops writing and hovers on the edge of failing her “Art of the Novel” class.
Following Caroline’s suggestion to kickstart her writing by creating her own love story, she goes after the ultra-popular, handsome Nico, one of the stars of her writing program. It’s only when she tentatively begins a relationship with Sam, the sweet culinary student who lives across the street, that Nico pursues her. But when she sees that Nico can’t deal with her interracial family and special needs big brother, she recognizes that her neighbor Sam, who is so loving toward her brother and family, is the boy she really cares about.
But before they get back together, Tessa recognizes that she has to learn to love herself and stop obsessing over how other people will judge her and her work. She begins writing again and despite her fears, shares her work with her class. At the very end of the novel, she says, she’s actually excited to hear criticism from her writing class about her story: “I know that whatever is said won’t shake me down to nothing. I have a secure foundation holding me up now.”
I loved her discovery that regardless of what others say, she feels okay about herself and her work. She knows it comes from an authentic place. As I prepare for the release of my novel, Leisha’s Song, this was the perfect reminder for me. Like many writers, I find myself so anxious about the judgements of others when I put my work out into the world. Will I get terrible reviews? Will folks say it’s a lousy book, or criticize my choice to write a book centered on a character outside of my identity group?
Quite possibly! But it’s also possible that there may be other readers who enjoy and/or feel moved by Leisha’s story.
Whatever the outcome, I’m determined to hold on to “the secure foundation” that Tessa discovered. There is great freedom and joy in recognizing that our work is worthy. And we are worthy. Just because.