This is my 1700th review per my website’s official count (counts on other places, like Goodreads and The StoryGraph, might be slightly off because of import issues/what gets counted as a “review”)!! I didn’t choose Bookishly Ever After for my 1700th review on purpose, but I couldn’t think of a more deserving book for this arbitrary milestone. Lucy Powrie concludes the trilogy began in The Paper & Hearts Society and furthered in Read with Pride. As is the case with those first two books, I adored this one. I laughed. I also cried. Powrie’s abilities as a writer have only increased since the first Paper & Hearts Society book, and Bookishly Ever After manages the impressive feat of ending a trilogy on a satisfying note while leaving me wanting more more more from Powrie.
This book follows Ed. We have come to know him over the previous two books as someone with a flair for the dramatic. Everything is big and emotional for Ed, from his obsession with Shakespeare to how much he cares for his friends. In this book, he has acquired a part-time job at Woolf and Wilde, an independent bookstore in their town. Ed is excited for the new job, but as you can probably imagine, reality turns out to be less impressive. Ed’s co-worker, Hannah, is aloof. Dealing with customers is tricky. And in the meantime, Ed’s mum lets spill that she is seeing someone, just as Ed’s dad seems to be pulling away from Ed while also lecturing him to “man up.” Indeed, for emotional Ed, it feels like his world is lurching perilously from its axis. Can the Paper & Hearts Society be his Atlas, or will he go spinning off into space?
I don’t even know where to begin in my encomium, so I guess we’ll start with all the feels and why that’s important. First, I think Powrie nails the intensity of emotions that teenagers experience. She is not alone in doing this. However, other authors of YA fiction sometimes eschew that—perhaps for fear that it will feel melodramatic or unrealistic, or perhaps because they weren’t really writing YA in the first place but the book got marketed that way. Regardless of the reason, a lot of books we call YA are either “new adult” or have the emotional sensibility of NA even if their protagonists are 16 or under. That’s not the case here. Ed and friends are so gloriously, cheerfully, completely messy. They laugh and cry and snap at one another, in person and in text. They make lots of mistakes. The moment Ed put that can of beans in the microwave, I looked up from my book and said, “Oh nooooo,” but that’s because I am a 31-year-old adult who has indeed tripped a circuit breaker or two in her time because of infelicitous microwaving choices. (Shout-out as well to the moment where Ed said to us that all he has to do is keep pushing down his feelings, that everything would be fine if he did this, which prompted a knowing chuckle as I turned the page to continue reading about how that worked out for him.)
Moreover, it’s significant that Ed is a boy and experiencing all these raw emotions. Our society still has a tendency to devalue when men show emotions that are not related to aggression. Men and boys who show too much emotion are sensitive if we want to be charitable and girly or sissy if we decide to throw some misogyny in there while we’re at it. Powrie subverts and openly acknowledges these expectations in Bookishly Ever After. Ed cries. He becomes a big ol’ pile of tears when necessary. But we also see how confused he is by his emotions, and how much he struggles with emotional regulation because it was never really taught properly to him—not by his dad, certainly, who is all about the toxic masculinity I mentioned at the top of this paragraph; but also not even by his loving mum, who seems to be a little taken aback by Ed in the later half of the book, like she blinked and has only now realized her boy is on the cusp of manhood and certain things are now Very Difficult. They finally have a good conversation about it towards the end of the book, along with a touching conversation with Cassie that echoes many of the same themes, including the powerful idea that you can be disappointed in someone and still love them, that you can want more from someone and feel let down if you don’t get it. This really resonated with me, as a single person who relies on a very small number of close friendships for fulfillment in my life. Sometimes my friends do disappoint me—we are all only human—but that is not a reflection on our love for each other.
The value that this trilogy places on friendship is another reason it will always be dear to me. Powrie’s books currently sit alphabetically on my shelf next to Non Pratt’s, another UK YA author whose work often focuses on friendship in a way that makes me, as an aromantic asexual person who doesn’t desire a partner, romantic or otherwise, feel seen. This is the case for the Paper & Hearts Society books as well. Yes, Bookishly Ever After has a romantic subplot. It is adorable! However, that plot is not the central part of this book, and without going into spoilers, Powrie skilfully resolves the conflict within that subplot without resorting to an over-the-top grand gesture. Rather, the resolution to the romance subplot relies entirely on the assistance and advice of Ed’s friends. They are the ones he goes to, individually and as a group, when he needs help. They are the ones who will lift him up. And Ed’s paramour begins as a new friend, one who makes him feel fulfilled and at ease in ways his book club friends don’t—that is to say, it’s ok to have different people in your life for different moods and activities. A new person entering our lives who makes us feel wonderful doesn’t invalidate or minimize the joy we derive from our existing friendships.
Ok, speaking of paramours, let’s talk a little about Hannah! I love her characterization so much. I know enough about Powrie from her YouTube and Twitter to know she has put a lot of herself into Hannah, from her book love and book blogging, to her guinea pig obsession and animal love to, yes, being autistic. Powrie leaves enough hints in Hannah’s actions that even my allistic self can pick up on Hannah being autistic before we hear that label. (I don’t blame Ed for not picking up on it, because he’s … well, he’s Ed. What matters is that when he does learn she’s autistic, his reaction is acceptance.) I can’t speak to what this representation means to autistic readers. All I can say is that I love how Hannah is portrayed and how Powrie includes Hannah’s voice throughout the book in the form of posts Ed reads from her blog. This includes a post with recommendations for other, real books with autistic characters. So sneaky! I smiled a little every time I turned the page and saw another of Hannah’s blog posts, because I knew I was in for a little break in the narrative, a little treat.
Indeed, I said this when comparing Read with Pride to the first book, and I’ll say it now when comparing this book to Read with Pride: marked improvement. Powrie’s debut novel was great, but as she herself notes in her afterword, she has changed a lot since writing that first book. This is evident in each subsequent novel. Bookishly Ever After’s structure, the way the various plots end up hanging together, and the careful inclusion of elements like Hannah’s voice, has a richness and complexity that is all the more rewarding if you’ve read the first two books in this trilogy and seen that growth. I hope when I say this that it isn’t coming off as condescending of a young author; rather, I want to celebrate how far Powrie has come over the course of this trilogy.
See, I’m really sad that this series is over. It was so good, yet at the same time, there’s so much more I want to see from these characters! Powrie wraps it up neatly with an epilogue, and while of course the door remains open for her to revisit these characters should she choose, it’s clear that, for now, she has told the stories she wants to tell. Hence why I’m so excited by how Powrie’s writing has developed over just these three novels. Even though I’m sad to say goodbye to these characters, I’m simultaneously eager to see what Powrie plans to give us next. Her love of 18th and 19th century English literature was how I first found her on YouTube and has been a constant in her reading and also influenced her writing (Woolf and Wilde, anyone?), so I’m super hopeful she will channel that more directly into a new project. Regardless of the form it takes, however, I’m going to be a fan. Because I’ve been reviewing books on these here internets long enough that this one is #1700, and it’s because authors like Powrie keep surprising me, keeping serving up those delicious emotional highs, that I’m going to keep going for the foreseeable future.