In One True Loves, companion novel to her debut, Happily Ever After, Elise Bryant crafts a dreamy, escapist romance that leans into some tropes while cleverly twisting others.
A main character still finding herself
Leonore is a creative soul. In high school, she tried out every kind of art available to her, hoping to fall in love with one. But she always felt restless and moved on to something else. She never found her calling. Now she’s bound for NYU in the fall with an “undeclared” major. She’s fine with that—after all, isn’t 18 too young to have it all figured out?
Her parents don’t agree. Because they are Black, they believe that they have to prove themselves to the world by being outstanding. Leonore’s older brother is poised to start law school, and her younger sister is a genius. Despite her 4.2 GPA, Leonore is a disappointment. Before her family leaves on their summer cruise to the Mediterranean, her parents sit her down and give her an ultimatum: she has until the end of vacation to choose a major and a focus.
Choosing a major is scary for every eighteen year-old, but especially so when carrying so many cultural expectations. Bryant did a masterful job writing Leonore’s internal conflict in a way that felt universal but was also specific. As a white girl, I appreciated reading about a different perspective.
Fed up with boys
High school has hardened Leonore against the male gender. Every boyfriend she’s ever had dumped her for someone better, and now she’s done.
Her best friend, Tessa, though, believes in romance novels and happily ever afters. She’s convinced that Leonore will meet the love of her life on her European cruise and forces her to promise to make a wish in the Trevi fountain.
As she’s making the wish, she spies a gorgeous Black boy across the square. She thinks she’ll never see him again, until he appears on the cruise ship. His first impression isn’t great: he asks Leonore to pose as his fake girlfriend to make his ex jealous. She’s not falling for it though, and promptly chews him out. But later, she’s stuck with him once again when their parents become fast friends. As they’re forced to spend more time together, Leonore learns that he’s not so bad. In fact, they have more in common than she first thought…
So right away the fake dating trope is introduced and dismissed. Leonore and Alex start out their relationship as enemies, but that also quickly shifts into friendship, so it doesn’t follow the enemies-to-lovers blueprint either.
Instead, we see a sweet, supportive friendship between two Black kids. Both are trying to find their way in the world, balancing their parents’ expectations with their own dreams. It’s a beautiful relationship and I loved getting to spend time with these two characters.
This fluffy, low stakes stand-alone feels small at times, but it is an enjoyable story full of wonderful characters who feel ready to leap off the page. For me, it was a perfect read to end 2021, and for you, dear reader, a perfect way to start 2022!
One True Loves was published on January 4, 2022.