Representation on the page matters, and while finding representation that feels exactly like you can be some of the most affirming experiences out there, finding representation that speaks to a component of your life that isn’t exactly how you experience it is also incredibly important. Beharrie includes in her acknowledgements that a lot of what we see on the page in And They Lived Happily Ever After draws from her own experiences with Anxiety, and as usual, when an author so very obviously writes from a place of emotional truth the results have the possibility of being truly outstanding.
I have Anxiety and it looks almost nothing like Gaia’s does in the book. I don’t get classic panic attacks, and because of that it took well into my middle 30s to get it diagnosed and named so that I could start dealing with it actively – and even that only happened because I checked a box on an intake form, expecting it to be an ‘also ran’ to my depression, and not as it turns out the star of the show. Like Gaia though, I spent a long time thinking that this was just how I processed, accepting a certain amount of unspoken shame that I didn’t function like “everyone else”. Its this piece, this beautiful, delicate emotional piece – that is refracted in shame and guilt in Jake’s arc – that makes this such an important read.
But I should back up and tell you what this book is about. And They Lived Happily Ever After is the story of successful romance author Gaia Anders who has a secret: she experiences whatever she wrote that day in each night’s dreams, living it through the eyes of her protagonist and when she wakes up any changes that happened in the dream show up in her draft. It started on her 18th birthday and after 12 years, and a childhood in the foster care system, Gaia now trusts the world in her books and dreams more than the real world. Enter into her real-world Jacob Scott, brother of her best friend Seth, who is a single-minded workaholic with his mind set on keeping the family business, and the family, from falling apart. After a blistering make-out with Gaia at Seth’s party he knows he’s going to have her on his mind, but he isn’t expecting to interact with her in his dreams (because who would?). He is however taken with Gaia, has always been a little infatuated with his brother’s best friend, and isn’t going to let a little magical dreaming get in the way of finding out what they can be to each other. Even if that means facing their fears and changing their lives, for the better.
As much as I loved this book (and I did) I’m going with four stars because the pacing was a little uneven for me. We spent a lot of time with Jake and Gaia in the early aftermath of the first time Jake experiences one of Gaia’s dreams with her, and from there we skip through time over the course of a couple months, but when and how the characters interact – and who they interact with – wasn’t always handled evenly. There are some major “aha” moments (from all of the major characters, not just our lead pair) that go zipping by. I did appreciate though how honestly Beharrie dealt with the vagaries of being seen at your lowest, of having to acknowledge that a problem even exists before you can begin to be ready to confront it, how there are all sorts of ways to be unhealthy in relationships, and some of those ways are coded as expected or wanted, but that doesn’t make them healthy. There’s also a great undercurrent of what we owe each other in relationships of all kinds.