Mars reviews We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour cover

Not to be dramatic, but we need to start this review with a common understanding stated outright: this novel is beautiful. The prose, the imagery, the point. All of it, beautiful.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour front and back cover spread

I found this short novel by completely ignoring the adage about books and their covers, and I am so glad for it. The gorgeous cover illustration depicts a girl standing on her dorm bed, arm raised, covering her eyes from an unseen sun as she stares out over a dark shore. Snow falls around her.

She faces away from us and her world is a stark contrast of pink surveying an empty blue landscape and a black sky. As she stands among her messy belongings in rumpled pajamas, everything about this girl seems lonely. What is she looking for? If we think about the usual mental association of college as a community space where privacy might well not exist, the juxtaposition is even more jarring. In this context, what does it mean that this girl stands staring out at one of the loneliest sights one can know: the empty horizon?

This cover is the perfect illustration for the story of Marin, a college freshman who is briefly entertaining Mabel, a beloved and estranged figure from a life that she used to know. From Marin’s perspective, we cover the three days over her winter break that she shares with Mabel in what sounds like the emptiest, loneliest dorm ever, and which she calls “home”. Without revealing too much, Marin is haunted by the ghost of her grandfather’s passing, and all the weight that carries for a traumatized girl who is struggling to understand who she is against the broken foundation of who she thought she was.

We were innocent enough to think that our lives were what we thought they were, that if we placed all of the facts about ourselves together they’d form an image that made sense – that looked like us when we looked in the mirror, that looked like our living rooms and our kitchens and the people who raised us – instead of revealing all the things we didn’t know (128).

We follow her flashbacks and dissociations to piece together the mystery of what has torn this girl apart and, crucially, how she can come back together again. What does it mean to go through a tragedy that destroys you? What does it mean when you are changed deeply and immutably, but still need to go on living your life like everything is normal?

In this coming-of-age novel, LaCour heartachingly captures the paradox of such an experience; one in which a unique loneliness begets an almost overwhelming internal expansiveness. While the main character Marin’s queerness is not centered in this story, it is a real and present facet of her; and if you are like me, Marin’s relatability will make you itch to give this little starfish a hug.

A side note on the illustration: while this beautiful book jacket was done by Adams Carvalho, I was originally attracted to it because I was reminded of the unique style of queer author and illustrator Tillie Walden, whose webcomic “On a Sunbeam” touched my soul, and about which I will need to dedicate a future review.

Danika reviews You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

you know me well

This book is a romp. Ever since I read Boy Meets Boy, I’ve been looking for a queer women’s equivalent: a cotton candy book that, despite any issues it addresses, fills you with a sense of hope, warmth, and happiness. This book seems to do the trick quite nicely, and it’s no surprise that it’s cowritten by David Levithan himself (though I now have to seek out Nina LaCour’s Everything Leads To You, because if it’s anything like this, it’s a must-read.)

You Know Me Well is told in alternating chapters. Mark is head-over-heels for his best friend, but despite the fact that they’ve been fooling around for years, he still can’t seem to get them in the “relationship” category. Meanwhile, Kate has fallen in love with a girl she’s never met, and is terrified at the chance of actually meeting this mystical, circus traveler, dream girl. They’re both in a topsy-turvy point in their lives when they bump into each other in a bar during Pride. They’ve seen each other at school before, but after this chance meeting, they become the other’s main source of support and guidance for this pivot point in their lives.

The book unfolds in only a week or so, but it’s a week that causes them both to reconsider their lives’ trajectory. They are finding themselves, deciding their priorities, considering whether they want to be whole new people. Having someone new–someone who understands and is also not invested in them staying the same–is hugely affirming for both of them. This is a story celebrating queer friendship, and that’s what is at the heart of it. That’s what makes me want to hug this book. In addition to the main characters, there are many queer minor characters (though, sadly they are [almost?] all white, and there’s not a lot of trans representation).

If you’ve been craving a fluffy read, this one will definitely hit the spot. I think it would be perfect to give to a teenager just coming out as gay or lesbian, because it so hopeful, and it celebrates the queer community. I’m really glad that this book is out there, and I hope that it finds its way into the hands of the people who could use it most.

Amanda Clay reviews Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour


Sometimes falling in love is easy.

Emi knows a lot about love. She loves movies, she loves her job as a set designer. She loves her brother and her best friend Charlotte. She loves L.A. and helping people and solving mysteries.  She even loves the ex who keeps breaking her heart. All these loves come together one summer when Emi and Charlotte are given the keys to a fantastic Los Angeles apartment and told to make something wonderful happen. Easier said than done, but Emi is determined and has Hollywood magic on her side.

At the estate sale of an iconic film cowboy, Emi and Charlotte find a letter from the man to the daughter he never knew and set out to track the woman down.  The daughter is gone, but the girls find a granddaughter, Ava, a tough and beautiful girl who has no idea of her glamorous roots. Emi falls hard for her, and thinks the feeling is mutual, but as all three young women begin a collaborative film project, everyone has to reevaluate her ideas about how people become who they are really meant to be.

On the surface this story is nothing. Love and romance and Hollywood and dream jobs that fall right into your lap. There are struggles and troubles and disappointments, but nothing insurmountable nor earthshaking. It’s fluffy and romantic and sweet and fun and that’s the very best part. Sometimes we just need a book about pretty girls getting together and having fabulous lives. That’s what this book delivers, delightfully, and for that reason I highly recommend it.

Ashley reviews Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour


I heard a lot about this book before its release in May, so I made sure to place my hold on it as early as possible and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Having not read Hold Still or The Disenchantments, I was not sure what to expect from Nina LaCour – but I’m happy to say that Everything Leads to You definitely lived up to the hype.

Best friends Emi and Charlotte have just graduated high school in Los Angeles when the book begins. Toby, Emi’s older brother, who works in the movie industry, is going abroad for the summer and leaves the girls his apartment as a graduation present. His only stipulation is that something epic takes place there while he is away – not a massive party, but something even more amazing.

Toby has also secured summer jobs for the girls at the studio he works for (although it is clear that Emi has established herself as a talented set dresser already and is working her way up the production ladder). One morning, Charlotte is at an estate sale in search of props and set pieces, when she realizes she is at the home of Clyde Jones, a John Wayne-esque actor who has recently died. Star-struck, the two girls purchase some of Jones’ belongings for themselves, including a Patsy Cline record with a mysterious letter hidden inside. The contents of the letter lead them on a hunt for the recipient of Jones’ inheritance, exposing the personal life of an actor who avoided the spotlight outside of his film endeavors… and, ultimately, allowing them to fulfill Toby’s wish of having something great happen in his apartment.

Emi is an entirely lovable, hard working and passionate teenager with a sincere love of the movies and her role in making them.  She acts mature beyond her years in the job realm; while most people her age have a stereotypically mundane summer job, she is pursuing her dream career path. What is refreshing about Emi is that she takes the leap in accepting a job as a production designer, even when it seems more than a little bit beyond her experience. In this way, Emi is a wonderful role model for young female readers, forging her path in an industry that isn’t always seen as the friendliest to women.

While all of this is wonderful, I have to point out that I was more than a little skeptical of her ability to snag such a position right out of high school. Any reader will have to employ some serious suspension of disbelief as they watch Emi fall into situations that only the most privileged teenager could encounter.

Though her job is quite unrealistic, readers are drawn into the story because we believe Emi is a truly talented artist with a keen eye. The “collapse of the fantasy” concept often comes up in Emi’s narration, as she muses about how both the movies and the great mysteries of people’s lives become less enticing the more you learn about them. But even knowing that Emi’s job situation (and, in fact, the entire plot) plays out a bit too perfectly, we are still compelled to read with the same enthusiasm. The experience of reading LaCour’s story is similar to that of watching a movie – even though we know that both are fabrications of a person’s mind, even though we know that each paragraph and prop are intentionally placed – we still read and watch just as eagerly as if it were happening in real life.

Of course, Emi has some romantic situations throughout the novel, which I will try to keep mostly a secret so as not to ruin the mystery. In any event, Emi matter-of-factly talks about her sexuality from the very beginning, as she attempts to get over her ex-girlfriend, Morgan, who also works on the same set. The wonderful thing about having already established lesbian characters is that it allows the plot to be about more than just sexuality. In doing this, LaCour can write a young love story uncomplicated by the coming-out process, something that is still rare in YA fiction.

LaCour’s up-front writing of Emi’s sexual orientation is just one example of how she casually incorporates diversity into the novel. Further on in the story, one character meets Emi’s parents and discovers that she is mixed-race, a fact that he had never really considered, and that she didn’t deem it necessary to mention. While I love that this was a surprise (I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I did not originally pictured Emi as anything other than white), I do wish LaCour had unpacked Emi’s identities a bit more. Older readers may be more equipped to recognize the implications of Emi’s privilege on her nonchalance regarding her race/sexuality (both of her parents are professors, so she grew up in both a financially stable and intellectually progressive household), but younger readers may not entirely get the subtlety.

Overall, I would highly recommend this incredibly sweet and super intriguing story to a variety of readers. Not only did I love the combination of romance and mystery, but I was really captivated by the descriptions of Emi’s design work, and I will be sure to pay extra attention to the set and props when I watch a film in the future.