A delightful and heartwarming YA debut
I went into this book hoping I’d enjoy it. I didn’t expect to love it this much. I do not know whether it’s perfect and I really don’t care if it isn’t. I love what it made me feel. I love the characters. I super love Ophelia, how could I not? I love her roses, I love that she’s smart, I love that she’s lost, I love that she’s flawed, that she’s strong, that she doesn’t know, that she’s trying. I love her parents, I love her friends, I love the writing, I love the narration.
I’ll tone the love down for a second, here’s what the book is about. Ophelia Rojas is a seventeen-year-old high school student, who believes she knows who she is, and likes who she is: she loves gardening – especially roses –, she loves her group of friends, she loves Cuban food, and she’s always crushing on some cute boy. Except this time, she’s crushing on a girl. Crushing hard. And she’s not sure what that means for her, for who she is, how others see her, how she wants them to see her.
I’ve been wondering why I like YA so much, since I’m fifty, and I don’t remember enjoying it to that extent a few years ago. And I think it’s that part of burnout x dyspraxia diagnosis x everything’s that’s happened since 2015 that feels like I’m having a second chance at life and that makes me react sometimes with my long lost teenage heart rather than my supposedly experienced self. Books like this one are exactly the kind I loved when I was a teenager, with the added bonus that now they’re about queer kids.
YA has this fresh outlook on life, that coming of age certainty that you know everything, then (if you’re lucky) realise that you know nothing, but that there’s a world of possibilities. There’s all this and a lot – A LOT – more in this book. First of all, it’s got one of the best groups of teenage characters I’ve read about in a long time. They make sense as a group while still all having their very real personality. I love the narration for them. I was worried at the very beginning that the various voices didn’t sound different enough, but I was wrong. What makes them distinguishable isn’t so much the depth as the rhythm. All the kids come from different backgrounds (Black, Cuban, Pakistani, Korean, Puerto Rican, wealthy or not…) and it shows in the way they talk. I always knew who was talking. I want to name them all but also not because I want you to meet them by yourself. Just know that Ophelia (I already said I loved her) and Wesley have my heart. There’s room for the others too, but these two make me want to insert a series of heart emojis right here.
Another reason I loved this book is that yeah, life is messy. But sometimes, with the right people around you, it can be a gentle mess. And that idea makes my heart very warm. Maybe the ending is slightly too earnest but again, I honestly don’t care. Ophelia After All gave me all the feels and I’m not giving them back. 5 stars.