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Arts & Culture

'One True Loves' stirs a journey to a successful future with a bit of love

<em>One True Loves,</em> by Elise Bryant
Balzer + Bray
<em>One True Loves,</em> by Elise Bryant

While resting during the holidays, I sat down with Elise Bryant's delightful new book full of love, laughter, and glamorous international travel — One True Loves. I had just returned from my own epic adventure to Egypt and it was a joy to prolong re-entry into real life with her story of love found on a European cruise.

Bryant's book takes place the summer after Lenore Bennett graduates from a Los Angeles arts high school, as she and and her family embark on a cruise around the Mediterranean. Brilliant, resilient Lenore will start school at NYU in the fall, if she can manage to get the sour look off her face every time it's mentioned. Her parents have instilled in their three bright children the idea that young Black professionals do not have the luxury of waffling before college — but Lenore has yet to nail down a specific discipline for her major. They demand a straight answer about her future before the 12-day cruise is over, for her own good, they say.

Lenore's optimistic best friend Tessa, meanwhile, envisions a whirlwind European romance for Lenore and orders her to throw coins in the Tivoli fountain in Rome: one for a safe journey, and a second for love. Lenore, having just escaped being the "other woman" in a nightmare relationship scenario, thinks this is ridiculous. Love just isn't meant to happen for her. But she throws in the coins anyway because she's there — and because Tessa says everyone deserves a happy ending.

Cue handsome fellow – and cruise mate — Angeleno Alex Lee.

The crew sit Alex and his parents at the Bennett's table for dinner. Of course, both sets of parents immediately hit it off and decide to spend the rest of the trip together. At first, Lenore thinks this isn't so great, as her initial encounter with Alex was strange and less than friendly. In Lenore's eyes, he's is a jerk with a perfect 20-year plan that her parents adore.

As the days pass, though, Lenore moves beyond her initial judgement and gets to know Alex for the kind, thoughtful person he is. Alex also seizes the opportunity learn more about Lenore, quickly realizing that beneath her sassy, audacious, fashionable exterior lies a creative and emotional young woman who might just need a little more time to figure out exactly what she wants from life. Being a planner, Alex takes it upon himself help Lenore answer the burning question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

One True Loves is a fantastic tale full of shenanigans, escapades, and lighthearted banter, while also delving into deeper issues of race and the perception of the successful futures of young people of color. For all Lenore's hilarious snark, she is surrounded by a devoted family who loves her, including her genius little sister and her distracted older brother. But parental pressure and workaholism, however well-meant, can still sometimes lead to dangerous consequences.

One True Loves is a great way to ring in a new year full of possibilities. Bryant elegantly reminds us that the rest of the world is still out there — and that adventure awaits.

Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.

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