Sammy Espinoza's last review A novel

Tehlor Kay Mejia

Book - 2023

"A music critic pining for her ex-girlfriend targets her high school crush for a career comeback and a chance at revenge in this fresh and original enemies to lovers romance debut. What could possibly go wrong? Sammy Espinoza is known for her smart and hilariously cynical music criticism, and she has a successful column to prove how notoriously hard to please she is in the music biz. But when her singer ex-girlfriend breaks up with her via song on stage, Sammy is willing to do anything, even jeopardize her career, to win her back. But her grand gesture, a fawning review on her column, doesn't accomplish much-she's still single and now her reputation is in the gutter. She has one last chance before her editor cuts her column. ...Luckily, Sammy has the perfect plan to get her edge back. Rumor has it that Max Ryan, home-grown rock star and Sammy's former high school crush, is back home in Ridley Falls, Washington, recording his highly anticipated but hugely secretive solo album. This is enough to get Sammy our of Seattle and on a Greyhound headed to Ridley Falls, the tiny town she swore she'd never come back to. Exclusive access to Max's new music would guarantee Sammy's professional redemption and, even better, give her the opportunity to serve some long-awaited revenge to the first person who broke her heart. When Sammy does run into Max... he doesn't even remember who she is. Sammy pretends this is all for the best. If she can play the part of tourist from the big city, she can gain his trust, let him "show her around," listen to the album, eviscerate it in her column, and be done with this whole mess in a week. But the biggest lies are the ones Sammy tells herself-that this façade of a relationship won't lead to her having very re"--

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FICTION/Mejia Tehlor
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Queer fiction
Romance fiction
New York : Dell [2023]
Main Author
Tehlor Kay Mejia (author)
Physical Description
337 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

YA author Mejia explores themes of grief, healing, and the power of second chances in their debut adult novel about a music critic who sets out to save her job and ends up reconnecting with a former rock star. Sammy Espinoza just got dumped by her girlfriend on stage, a musician whose talents Sammy wildly exaggerated in print, putting her career in jeopardy. To save her reputation, Sammy goes back home to Ridley Falls, Washington, to find Max Ryan, the elusive lead singer of Seven Shades of Monday, who vanished years ago. Sammy and Max were hot and heavy once, and she's hoping her teenage crush will let her hear and review his new solo album so she can scoop the competition. Wallowing in a post-breakup haze while exploring the small town that could have been her forever home if not for her unstable single mother, Sammy has to face uncomfortable feelings about herself and the guy that got away. With this sweet and funny tale and its messy and relatable characters, Mejia is a charming new voice in queer romance.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Bestselling YA author Mejia (We Set the Dark on Fire) makes their adult debut with a smart second-chance romance that packs a hefty emotional punch. Sammy Espinoza's career as a music critic is in jeopardy after it comes out that she gave her ex-girlfriend's mediocre band falsely positive reviews in hopes of winning her back. She has one chance to save her job: get an exclusive interview from reclusive former rock star Max Ryan, who's rumored to have a long-awaited debut solo album in the works--and who ghosted Sammy after one "magical" night together 10 years before the book's start. Sammy's hoping she can use his guilt over this to her advantage, and is taken by surprise when Max doesn't remember her and asks her out all over again. She says yes, planning to charm him into opening up before revealing their history and her true motives. As they begin to date, however, she finds herself falling for Max all over again, especially as he supports her through some family turmoil. Sammy proves a delightfully snarky and quick-witted narrator and a subplot about her digging into her complicated family history adds both depth and nuance to this heartfelt rom-com. This is a knockout. (July)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Sammy Espinoza is a music journalist who needs a scoop to save her career. She finds out that reclusive rocker Max Ryan is rumored to be holed up in his hometown, working on an album, and she travels there to try to get an exclusive. What she doesn't tell her boss is that Max broke her heart when he was on the cusp of his big break a decade earlier. To add more complications, Sammy has roots in the same small town, including the surrogate parents who took her in as a child, her best friend and her wife, and an estranged relative. This novel, which digs into some tough subjects, won't be a hit for every romance reader, but it will appeal to people who are looking for real-world problems along with their happily-ever-after. VERDICT While a second-chance romance is at the center of Mejia's (Lucha of the Night Forest) adult debut, this novel builds on the complicated life of the title character to weave a sometimes traumatic but ultimately beautiful story of a complex woman finding her way in the world.--Jenny Kobiela-Mondor

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A struggling music critic returns to her hometown in search of a story but faces up to her past in more ways than one. Sammy Espinoza's career is in jeopardy. After she used her column to try to win back a musician ex-girlfriend through positive reviews, her editor has threatened to ax her, so in a last-ditch attempt to salvage her reputation, Sammy pitches one more story idea. Former rock star Max Ryan hasn't been heard from since his band called it quits years ago, but rumor has it he's recording the beginnings of a new solo album, and Sammy thinks she can get exclusive access to his songs. The problem is that her connection to Max consists of one incredible night they spent together long before his band hit it big. On the other hand, Max is reportedly back in his hometown of Ridley Falls, Washington--the same place Sammy grew up. If she can score an in with Max, she might be able to make a comeback of her own, but Ridley Falls is tied to painful memories that Sammy has tried to forget, including a family she's always been estranged from. Returning there brings with it a lot of old baggage and even more complicated feelings, but Sammy is determined to make her last review her best one yet. What she doesn't count on is falling for the one who got away all over again. Mejia's adult debut is a poignant story about overcoming fears in relationships of all kinds, as Sammy reconnects with more than one aspect of her past. Readers drawn to late-blooming characters and the conceit of long-deserved reinvention will find all that and more to love within these pages. An emotionally resonant second-chance romance. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

1 People like to say you can't go home again, but for me that's more a literal statement than a figurative one. Because I never had a home to come back to. When you spend your childhood following your mother in her search for a great love--or at least for an apartment you won't get evicted from--you end up a bit of a wanderer. It never bothered me much until recently, when life decided to sucker punch me and then keep on wailing. For starters, I broke my rule about dating musicians again. Karma really hates it when I do that. A fact she proved categorically when my indie-rock goddess girlfriend Juniper Street delivered the killing blow to our seventeen-month relationship onstage in a song literally titled "Goodbye, Sammy." Of course, the emotional damage wasn't the extent of it. Because I had to go and break another one of my rules. This time it was the one about not using my well-respected music column (written under the pen name Verity Page) or its thousands of subscribers to lie about said musician's mediocre band in print. In many pieces spanning the entire last month of our doomed relationship. I thought it might save me and Juniper, but instead it lost me my job. (Well, nearly anyway. More on that later.) For anyone counting, that's two major life pillars down in the space of a weekend--and I'm not even done. I started thinking about what people do when their twenties are not what they dreamed them to be. About sleeping in a bed you've outgrown. Letting your parents cook for you when everything is falling down around you. That's when I first had the bright idea to travel to Ridley Falls, Washington. Population seventeen, or something. The closest place to home I've ever really had. The place I lived with a family friend for a year when I was nine because my mom's boyfriend of the moment didn't like kids. The place where my parents grew up, and at least one set of my estranged grandparents still lived. Only when I called Dina Rae, my flighty mother, to run this plan past her did she "accidentally" let slip that my father's father had died the year before and no one bothered to tell me. And she only mentioned it after she had tried to talk me out of visiting "that hellhole" in three other ways. Knowing my mom, she had been hoping this news would activate my too-complicated bail-out chute. The one I inherited from her. Instead, it led to the biggest fight we've ever had. One where I told her she had a lot of nerve trying to control my perception of the world when it had taken me four days to even get her on the phone. Worst of all, it only strengthened my resolve to do the opposite of what she wanted. And in that moment, the opposite of what she wanted was me in Ridley Falls, as soon as possible. What better place to heal, right? I asked myself during an admittedly wine-soaked pity party a few days later. To nurse my wounds and stick it to my flaky mom and remember the joy that can be found in the simple act of living small--or whatever the big-city rom-com heroines say. In my defense, I came up with a lot of awful plans to heal and/or reinvent myself in my post-breakup wallowing period. This one might have stayed at the bottom of the empty bottle with the rest if it hadn't been for the article I read that night--less than five hundred words on a site without a stellar reputation for journalistic integrity. I personally hold that article responsible for the email I sent my boss (a woman whose approval I have been desperately chasing for nearly a decade) at 12:14 in the morning. In said email, I promised I could fix everything. My column. My disastrous love life. The relationship with my mother I was starting to fear I'd outgrown. I wish I hadn't included all of that in the email, but more than that I wish Esme hadn't agreed. Hadn't let me charge a Greyhound ticket to my company card and sent me off on a no-other-expenses-paid odyssey to the absolute middle of nowhere. You have two weeks, she'd written. This is your last chance, Sammy. Like I said, it's been a ride. I step off the Greyhound in Ridley Falls with a kink in my neck and a storm cloud over my head. The guy next to me on the way here from Seattle was a talker. And not just the polite conversation type, but the here's-the-tortured-story-of-my-failed-marriage-do-you-have-any-advice? type. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've spent a bus ride with someone's tragic life story. I attract oversharers like a front man attracts girls with daddy issues. I used to think it was what made me a good journalist--this ability to draw deeply personal information out of the most reluctant stone. But I'm not even sure I'm a journalist anymore. I'm not sure of much of anything, really. Which, of course, is why I'm here. In a town deep in the boonies of Washington State where I spent what could be defined as the most normal year of my childhood. The place I always picture when someone says the word hometown, even though I didn't live here long enough to claim it. I imagined I could sense the shift the moment the bus passed the sign: there's something about . . . ridley falls! Like maybe this was the very moment my life would start to change for the better. But it's been twenty minutes since then. I'm surrounded by shuffling, zombie-like Greyhound ticket holders in the closet-sized station. I try to remember the feeling of watching that sign pass. The feeling that there's something big at stake here. But it's hard not to focus on the negative. And boy, is there a lot of that. Starting with the general approach to sanitation in this building. My phone buzzes in my back pocket, and I lean my massive leopard-print suitcase against my thigh, shifting aside the matching duffel and backpack to retrieve it. I wish for the millionth time I was the kind of person who traveled in sweats, or leggings. Something more comfortable than the tight, expensive jeans and satin bomber jacket I chose for myself this morning. I can hear my mom's voice in my head, chastising me for even daring to think it. How do you know you won't be seated next to a movie star, huh? You know I met Denzel once on a flight to Vegas . . . Even though I'm currently very annoyed with her, there's something about advice your mom gives you. Especially when she's not really the advice-giving type. So here I am, actually dressed even though there's literally no chance a movie star would have taken a Greyhound bus from Seattle to Ridley Falls. I know this, because I sort of already know the most famous person who would ever set foot here. I shudder again, thinking of my oversharing email to Esme. But I shake it off as I extract my phone at last. There will be plenty of time for self-loathing when I'm in a place that doesn't look like it could give me tetanus. As my phone rings, the caller's contact photo takes up the whole screen. Willa's face, squished next to mine on a wine-tasting trip to the Willamette Valley before her wedding, cheeks flushed and eyes a little squinty. Simpler times. "Please tell me you're here somewhere," I answer without preamble. "I'm afraid the guy from the bus is going to follow me to the bathroom for more free therapy." "Boundaries, babe," she says breezily. "And seriously? You need to read that article I sent you about the capsule wardrobe, your luggage is large enough to replace Pluto as the smallest planet." "Pluto isn't even technically . . ." I begin, then trail off, looking around frantically. The line goes dead, and I finally spot Willa in the flesh--all gawky six scarecrow feet of her. Her auburn hair is in a messy bun, her overalls cuffed a solid four inches above her Birkenstocks. There's an even bigger smile on her face than the one in the picture. For a split second, it's enough to make the weight of my luggage (and all my problems) disappear. It was Willa's family who took me in when my mom was on her journey of self-discovery with Robb the childless wonder. I had never met the Crosses before, but Willa's mom was my mom's teenage babysitter when she was a kid, and she promised me they'd stayed great friends. That I'd be in good hands. Even so, the thought of living with strangers had been terrifying. As the grown-up Willa approaches me from across the bus station, I can still see the toothless little girl she was on the porch that day. Her smile hasn't changed at all--except to grow a few important teeth back--and it has the same effect on me today as it did then. I feel instantly at home. Like as long as I have her by my side, I can handle whatever comes. Back then it was a two-week stay with a strange family that turned into a year. Today, it's a breakup, a near-firing, and the growing sense that my entire life is totally out of control. A few seconds later we're face-to-face for the first time in way too long, hugging and laughing and, okay, crying a little, too. Excerpted from Sammy Espinoza's Last Review: A Novel by Tehlor Kay Mejia All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.