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Falling in Love with the Terrible Years, a guest post by Nina Moreno

When I set out to write my second book, I told myself it wouldn’t be sad this time. Not that Don’t Date Rosa Santos is necessarily what I’d call a Sad Book, but Rosa definitely goes through it. (Chapter 30 is still rough for me too.) And anyone who has read her story or the acknowledgments at the end knows that I was going through it, too. I sold my book one month before finding out about my dad’s cancer diagnosis. He would pass away only four short months later. I achieved my dream…while drowning in grief. And for the next two years, whenever I was interviewed or discussing my book, it meant talking about Cuba and loss—his and mine—over and over again.

So, no. I was not going to write about grief this time. I would finally write that YA romance I’d been daydreaming about for years. The kind of swoony romantic story I loved reading and getting lost in as a teen. It would be funny and tropey and full of heart. It would star two ex-best friends rediscovering each other and themselves as they dealt with all the questions and expectations of their senior year. And after writing and living vicariously through perfectionist Rosa Santos with the straight As and academic prowess, I would explore someone a little closer to home instead. That’s when Luisa Patterson stumbled onto the page with a sleepy, stubborn growl after staying up way too late reading fanfics and webtoons. She’s got a cat who accidentally became an influencer, a killer gaming computer setup, ADHD, and solid C average. She hates school, but now she’s got a whole world of academic expectations on her shoulders after her genius older sister becomes a teen mom. Now this middle child—and granddaughter of immigrants who got to fly under the radar until now—is facing the pressure to become exceptional and live up to her mother’s success just as an unfinished bucket list and the (very cute) boy next door show up again. Perfect. I had my fun, love story. No loss or grief this time. Definitely some angst, of course, but this one would be filled with quests and flirting. A total party.

And then that very cute (but sad) boy looked my way and I knew.

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You join a club when you lose someone vitally important to you. It’s not a club anyone wants to be in necessarily, but we recognize each other. Dead dad club, you might hear some of us grimly joke as we brace for Father’s Day or birthdays. A random Wednesday when you wonder if you’re forgetting the sound of his voice. And after one look at Sam Alvarez, I knew this boy was in that awful club, too.

Just as it is for so many teens, Sam and Luisa’s senior year of high school is a head-on collision between the past and a still very fuzzy picture of their future. They’re getting hit with wave after wave of nostalgia while racing toward some unknown tomorrow. Remember all of it because everything is about to change! But when you lose a parent at eighteen and have to watch your other parent become a widow, it’s tough to feel sentimental about the present moment or get excited about homecoming. Sam simply wants to survive this first year after loss—the terrifying gauntlet of firsts without his dad—and prove to the world that it’s okay that all of his plans after high school have changed.

And just across the street is Luisa—his former best friend and the girl he hasn’t talked to ever since he made the total mistake of falling headfirst in love with her back in seventh grade.

Middle school and first love can be brutal.

Luisa’s trying to hurry up and become someone new (and shiny) before it’s too late. She’s bracing for impact against way too many deadlines just as Sam is trying to keep his head above water. They’re both standing right on the edge of so much change, so neither have time to play pretend or remember. So what happens when a relic of the past finds them? What do you do when you’re suddenly faced with all of your old hopes and romantic ideas of how these supposedly best-years-of-your-lives were supposed to go? These two ex-best friends can’t help but wonder if there’s still time to find joy when you’re caught between becoming and surviving.

Because maybe there’s no time like the present.

So, yeah, I wrote about grief again. Sam’s and mine. Maybe yours. And yet…Our Way Back to Always is absolutely that swoony, tropey love story I always hoped to write. Because life—even in the terrible years––can be really funny like that.

Meet the author

Nina Moreno graduated from the University of Florida and writes about disaster Latinx teens & tweens chasing their dreams, falling in love, and navigating life in the hyphen.  Her first novel, Don’t Date Rosa Santos, is available now from Little Brown for Young Readers and was a Junior Library Guild Selection, Indie Next Pick for teen readers, and SIBA Okra Pick. Her upcoming YA novel, Our Way Back to Alwaysis out October 19, 2021 with LBYR. And her MG debut, Join the Club, Maggie Diaz, will be available from Scholastic in 2022. 

About Our Way Back to Always

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets Morgan Matson in this effervescent romance about childhood best friends reconnecting that’s full of sunny days, warm nights, first kisses, and mended hearts.

Luisa (Lou) Patterson grew up across the street from Sam Alvarez in the small, quirky town of Port Coral. They used to be inseparable—spending every holiday together, shooting silly YouTube videos, and rescuing stray cats. But then middle school happened, including the most disastrous (and embarrassing) serenade ever, and Lou and Sam haven’t talked in the four years since. Sam is now the golden boy with plenty of friends, while Lou is an introverted romantic who’s happy playing video games and writing fan fiction. But it’s also the summer before their senior year, and life is knocking on Lou’s door.

With her older sister having given up a scholarship to Princeton to have a baby and work at the local botanica, all of their mother’s expectations are now riding on Lou’s shoulders. She’s retaking her SAT’s, signed up for way too many AP classes, and her sights set on colleges with fancy names like Duke and Vanderbilt. But when she finds the bucket list she and Sam wrote together as kids, before Sam’s father was diagnosed with cancer, she’s shocked to see that she hasn’t accomplished any of the goals she’d set for herself. Go to a party? Nope. Pull the greatest prank of all time? Still no. Learn how to be a really good kisser? Definitely not.

​Torn between the future that her mother, sister, and younger self planned for her, Lou sets out to finish the list, and in a stroke of destiny or fate, Sam decides to tag along. Still trying to stay afloat amid the grief of losing his father, Sam himself is staring down a future that feels all too close, and is coming far too fast. But with the bucket list to guide them, Sam and Lou might just be able to find a way through the future, and also a way back to each other.

ISBN-13: 9780759557475
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

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