Rebranding Happily Ever After? A guest post by Lakita Wilson
Happily Ever After is a phrase that means “from this moment, on, happiness will exist.” Since the conception of this phrase, it has become aspirational to connect this “joyful forever” to another person— especially for teen girls who have grown up on fairytale bedtime stories and their mother’s secondhand romance novels.
In LAST CHANCE DANCE, my main character, seventeen-year-old, Leila Bean believed in this kind of love. In fact, she ventured into her local Target and found what she assumed was her Happily Ever After three days before her freshman year of high school. Dev Rajan, a pimple-free, tall kid with a dry sense of humor and nice sneakers. Dev sweeps Leila off her feet, by loaning her his graphing calculator, and for the next four years of high school, played the role of perfect boyfriend effortlessly. In Leila’s mind, Dev provided all the happiness she needed. There would never, ever be a need for anyone new.
For Leila, and teen readers everywhere, romance novels and Happily Ever After’s have their purpose. They provide butterflies, reasons to swoon, and hope—that we will all one day find the forever love we deserve. Reading these types of romances spikes our dopamine, and often leaves us feeling satisfied that everything will eventually work out fine in the end. Now, more than ever, many teen readers, look to these types of stories to find sparks of joy.
According to a recent ABC News article, teen girls are experiencing record-high levels of sadness and violence, including domestic abuse and risk of suicide. Black teen girls, in particular, are less likely to report feelings of unwellness or poor mental health, but are also more likely than teens of other races to attempt suicide. In my opinion, finding a bit of satisfaction in a sweet romance novel, can be a healthy way to cope with the heaviness of the world around us.
But, I have to be honest. Happily Ever After’s, in the current state in which they are offered, should come with a big disclaimer: BELIEVE AT YOUR OWN RISK.
How convenient for the writer that Happily Ever After’s always come at the end of a story. With no pages left to read, the reader doesn’t get a chance to see what happens when a “forever love” sours or fades. I chose to stick my Happily Ever After at the beginning of LAST CHANCE DANCE. By doing this, I was able to show my readers that a love promising eternal happiness is an exaggeration at best and a straight out lie at its worst.
Leila Bean began LAST CHANCE DANCE bragging to the reader about how great her boyfriend Dev has always been. You can feel her joy leaping off the page as she regales us with tales of Dev taking her on a field trip to visit her dream college and missing important football games to help her study when she wasn’t satisfied with her current SAT score. From page one, Leila lets it be known that Dev brings a happiness to her life that she never wants to end. And for four long years of high school, it doesn’t. Then, three weeks before graduation, Dev dumps Leila and with the vanishing of the relationship she once cherished, went her happiness.
Here’s where the Happily Ever After narrative gets wonky. In its current state, HEA relies too heavily on outside forces. The world we live in, including the people we interact with, constantly changes. The hand we’re holding today, may let go tomorrow. If we are constantly depending on these outside forces to keep our dopamine levels high, we will constantly be disappointed. Besides, promising forever to a person you began a journey with years ago, is unrealistic. I’m not saying true love isn’t possible. It happens—often. I’m just making a case for pockets of reflections, where each member of the relationship gets to reflect on whether the love they created years ago is the love they want now.
YA authors have the ability—and quite frankly—the responsibility to teen readers—to completely rebrand the Happily Ever After narrative to allow for such reflection and autonomy. Through the various characters in our novels, we can reject the idea of stifling permanence in any situation, in favor of beginning again and changing course when the heart calls for it.
On the surface, my debut YA novel, LAST CHANCE DANCE is a story about making it through a first heartbreak and discovering the possibility of new love. But it is also a roadmap to where I believe true Happily Ever After resides. Leila, throughout the novel, chases happiness from several external sources, including the new crushes she goes out with. But along the way, she just might discover that building internal happiness, that can exist with or without a love interest, might be more reliable, and the most satisfying Happily Ever After of all.
Meet the author
Lakita Wilson is the author of several novels and nonfiction projects for children and young adults, including What Is Black Lives Matter? a part of the New York Times bestselling Who HQ Now series, and Be Real, Macy Weaver. A 2017 recipient of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices Award, Lakita received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is currently on faculty at Prince George’s Community College in the education department. Lakita lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland, with her two children and her Lhasa Apso. On Instagram, you can find her posting about black culture on her account @welovedthe90s and promoting diverse children’s literature on her account @lakitareads, which has over 25K followers.
About Last Chance Dance
An utterly charming YA romance perfect for fans of Elise Bryant and Leah Johnson.
“An ode to love in all its beautiful chaos. Leila is funny, irreverent, and next-level charming, and her story is an actual joyride. Sheer delight through and through.”—Becky Albertalli, New York Times bestselling author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Leila is crushed when Dev, her boyfriend of four years, breaks up with her right before graduation. Just when she’s thinking she wasted her entire high school experience on a dead-end relationship, her best friend Bree reminds her that Last Chance Dance is just around the corner.
A high school tradition, the Last Chance Dance gives all the students one last opportunity to find love before they graduate. All Leila has to do is submit three unrequited crushes to the dance committee and if any of her crushes list her too, they’ll get matched. Presto: new relationship, just like that. To her utter amazement, Leila is matched with all three of her choices—and with someone she never expected, Tre Hillman, her chemistry partner and low-key nemesis.
Though at times skeptical, Leila embarks on her Last Chance Dance mission—trying out her matches and going on dates. If Dev wasn’t her true love—then maybe someone else is. She knows it’s definitely not Tre, even though he seems more and more determined to convince her he’s right for her.
But as graduation and the dance approaches, and each date seems to change her mind (and her heart)—Leila must figure out what—and who—she really wants. It’s her last chance, right?
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/21/2023
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network