Sasha Johnson-Sun might not know everything–like how to fully heal after her dad’s passing or how many more Saturdays her mom can spend cleaning houses. But the one thing Sasha is certain of? She will graduate this year as Skyline High’s class valedictorian.
At least, she was sure before the principal calls Sasha and her cute, effortlessly gifted ex-best friend, Ezra Davis-Goldberg, into his office to deliver earth-shattering news: they’re tied for valedictorian and the scholarship attached…
This outcome can’t be left to chance. So, Sasha and Ezra agree on a best-of-three, winner-take-all academic bet. As they go head-to-head, they are forced not only to reexamine why they drifted apart but also to figure out who they’ve become since. With her future hanging in the balance, Sasha must choose: honour her family’s sacrifices by winning (at all costs) or give her heart a shot at finding happiness?
*Thank you so much to Danielle Parker for sending me the hardcover of this book!
This was such a cute YA novel about friendships, grief, growing up and romantic love.
I noticed this book some time last year from the cover alone and saw it was academic rivals to lovers so I knew I needed to read it. After doing some research, I discovered it wasn’t even available in the UK.
I’m so thankful to the author for sending me a copy all the way from the US. This was such a brilliant debut and I fell in love with Ezra and Sasha!
“He is like all my favourite things: a new book, pages untouched; the beach in the early morning; fresh flowers in bloom.”
Sasha is on track to be valedictorian and after her father passed, she’s determined that the best way to honour her family is for her to throw herself into work. That is until the Principal tells her she’s tied for first place with Ezra, her old best friend. And so, when Ezra suggests they bet on the valedictorian, Sasha jumps at the chance. A beautiful story of falling in love and having the courage to be happy.
I really liked how Danielle Parker delved into that impending sense of doom you begin to feel at 18 when everyone’s telling you that you need to have your life figured out.
And I can’t express how much I agree!
Schools make it seem like if you don’t have any idea of what you want to do, you’re destined to fail. They make it seem like getting good grades is the most important and whilst it is a key life skill. Having the courage to deter from the path they try to lead everyone down is also important.
Understanding that you will NOT be able to have your life figured out at 18 is where it begins.
Sasha’s obsession with being “the first” is one I’m sure many in immigrant households are familiar with. The pressure to do well is immeasurable. You carry the weight of family members on your back and suddenly not only is a good grade important to you, it’s important to 5, 10…15 people!
You’re the first to go to get a good education.
The first to go to college and pursue a degree.
The first to have opportunities elders in your family have only ever dreamed of having.
It’s a lot and one Sasha voices frequently.
“What does it mean to be the first in a field, the first person to desegregate a school, the first to walk on the moon? I want to not only analyse how these firsts help to push and shape society, but how they are scary as hell too.”
You can tell it’s having an affect on her and I often wanted to just hug her. It can be so harmful as you can often lose yourself. You can lose the things that make YOU happy that might be completely outside of education.
This actually lends to my complicated relationship with the term “Black Girl Magic.” Because whilst I love the way it uplifts Black women. I hate that it can sometimes suggest that Black women need to be exceptional all the time.
Quite frankly, that mindset is exhausting.
If you’re Black, you’ve heard the phrase “you need to work twice as hard as your white peers” because unfortunately, the society we live in doesn’t allow Black children to simply be okay at what we do.
If we even want a look in the door, more often than not, we’re told we need to be exceptional. We’re told we have to prove ourselves twice as much.
I’m such an advocate for try your best but also understand that it’s okay to be average. It’s okay to not be the best. You can do something simply because you enjoy it.
“My worth as a person will never be tied to the things I do or what I am able to accomplish. I exhale. I’m worthy. I’m enough, simply being me.”
It’s funny because at the beginning, I struggled with Sasha but the more you read, the more you begin to understand the scared little girl who’s afraid to put her heart on the line. The girl who allows herself to be controlled by the rules she gives herself. A girl who hates surprises because that means she has to surrender control to someone else. A girl who refuses to let herself be truly happy.
That’s why I loved Ezra. I loved their relationship. I loved how he taught Sasha to truly live in the moment. To be happy without restrictions. To let go and allow yourself to breathe. You can really see her growth throughout the book and by the end I was cheesing so hard at the decisions Sasha was making for herself. The academic tension combined with the romance was brilliant. I loved seeing Ezra continuously go toe to toe with Sasha.
I also loved Sasha’s relationships with her friends and her mum. Both were really explored and delved into. You can tell that they all had massive impacts on Sasha and who she wanted to be. I did want a teeny bit more from her friends as I really loved their dynamic!
Grief is a central theme to this book and one that was done extremely well. You can see just how much it’s dictated much of Sasha’s life in all aspects. It’s her driving force to use academics as a distraction. To constantly feel like her life is worth something.
Her mum and her have complicated relationships because of her dad but it really just reminds me that “grief is just love with nowhere to go.” Except, her mum and her decide to pour that love into each other.
“To be happy and alive, so busy living that you didn’t get lost in those little things. Memories are good, but we can’t let them haunt us.”
If you’re looking for a cute YA novel with academic rivals, second chance romance and adorable friendships – this is truly the one for you. You’ll love it!!
It’s a reminder that to have love in every form takes courage. Love is more than just a noun. It’s a verb. It requires action and placing yourself out there. It means showing up for those you love time and time again, even if it means making yourself vulnerable in the process.
And as scary as it can be, it’s also incredibly freeing.
Let’s take a minute for the cover! It’s exceptionally gorgeous!!