Today I’m reviewing a queer YA contemporary that has easily become a new favorite!
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Title: Ophelia After All
Author: Racquel Marie
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Category: Young Adult
Release date: February 8, 2022
Synopsis: “A teen girl navigates friendship drama, the end of high school, and discovering her queerness in Ophelia After All, a hilarious and heartfelt contemporary YA debut by author Racquel Marie.
Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love–and sexuality–never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.”
Ophelia Rojas knows exactly who she is: a biracial Cuban-American, a committed friend, a gardener who adores her roses, and a hopeless romantic who can’t help falling for every boy she meets. But in the weeks leading up to her senior prom, Ophelia can’t deny the feelings that are budding for Thalia Sanchez—a classmate-turned-friend who is definitely not a boy. As she begins to realize she might not know herself as well as she thought, Ophelia navigates her questioning identity, friendship growing pains, and an uncertain future.
Ophelia After All is a beautiful, realistic exploration of queerness and coming out, both to yourself and others. Ophelia struggles to understand her feelings and her own identity, especially when it feels so at odds with the boy-obsessed persona she’s always been known for. Suddenly, she doesn’t seem to fit into the box she’s made for herself, and she’s terrified of how her family and friends will react to her not fitting their expectations.
Meanwhile, Ophelia is also struggling with changing dynamics in her friend group, and being uncertain of what things will be like once they all graduate. I really appreciate how messy, authentic, and realistic all the teen characters were in this book. Ophelia is a fully fleshed out character, which dreams and desires. She is planning to pursue a career in botany and is also obsessed with flowers and has her own rose garden—this is a hobby I’ve seldom seen in YA novels, so I found this very refreshing.
This has a diverse cast: our protagonist, Ophelia, is half-Irish, half-Cuban and is questioning where she falls in the queer community. Other rep includes characters who are Black-Puerto Rican, Black, Korean-American, fat, bisexual, biromantic, asexual, aromantic, pansexual, and more.
While Ophelia’s racial identity is not the focus of the story, her narrative does touch on diasporic identity and the feeling of being caught in between cultures that many multiracial folks experience (including myself!). Ophelia is a relatable teen character who is flawed, messy, but ultimately has a good heart and only wants to figure out where she fits into the world. The friendship between Ophelia and Thalia was sweet, tender, and speaks to those formative relationships that shape us in our teen years.
It’s easy for readers to mistake Ophelia After All for a romance based on the synopsis, which is what I initially did. That’s not quite what it is; it does deal with romance and romantic feelings, but is far more a contemporary coming of age story than anything else. But it is a story of love—of learning to love yourself even when you’re not quite sure who that is, of love between friends, of learning to love & embrace uncertainty and leave space for who you may become.
Ophelia After All is a YA contemporary perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli, Sophie Gonzales, or Nina Moreno. Racquel Marie does a lovely job of exploring identity, queerness, friendship, internalized queerphobia, and the terrifying feeling of being at a crossroads in life. Ophelia’s story is an incredibly relatable one—not just for queer and questioning readers, but for anyone who has ever been put in a box (by themselves or others) and didn’t know how to break free; for anyone who has been afraid of not living up to expectations; for anyone who has been shaken by the realization that they aren’t who they thought they were.
As a teen services librarian, I know Ophelia’s story will resonate with teen readers, and I’m so glad it exists and that I get to share it with teens at my library. Racquel Marie is certainty a new writer to watch in YA, and I’m genuinely looking forward to reading more of her work.
Thank you to Feiwel & Friends and Bookish First for the review copy of Ophelia After All!