Ophelia After All (2022) is a young adult novel by author Racquel Marie whose title character is just your typical high school girl trying to graduate, have a good time with her friends, and tend to her rose garden. A romantic at heart, Ophelia has always been boy-crazy… But when she begins to catch feelings for a girl named Talia, her self-conception is shaken.
In true coming-of-age style, the bulk of the book takes place in the weeks running up to the end of Ophelia’s senior year, with the buzz of prom and graduation, and the ever-present fear of “the future”, hanging overhead. For typical American teenagers, this is one of the most tumultuous yet exciting times of their lives, and it’s no different for Ophelia. Like so many teens, she is desperate to get out into the world and find herself while being equally terrified of what change will mean for her friends and friendships. She wants to change, and yet she also wants everything to remain the same, an inner conflict that plays out over the course of the story.
So what worked for me? There is nothing linear about Ophelia’s journey to understanding her bisexuality and achieving self-acceptance. Like many of us who have been through a questioning phase, she struggles with internalized homo/biphobia. Marie handles the waves of fear, shame, and embarrassment that Ophelia experiences with great compassion, showing the reader that these are normal parts of the exploration process for some queer people. Given that this is a book aimed at younger readers, who are likely to be experiencing their own growing pains, it is comforting to see that it can take a long time to work out who you are, and it’s totally okay if you’re not there yet.
The novel also demonstrates how coming to terms with bisexuality doesn’t mean you have to give up the parts of yourself that don’t fit the “gay” stereotype. Ophelia loves her rose garden, her Cuban cuisine, and is proudly “boy crazy.” None of this changes as she comes to terms with her sexuality, and she feels no pressure to dress or act a certain way in order to conform to people’s expectations.
Throughout the story, Marie explores discussions of coming out with laudable nuance. Ophelia cites the many reasons why she feels afraid to acknowledge her crush on Talia, saying,
I know what they are. An accumulation of every questionable joke made by Sammy. Every hateful comment made by people like Jeremiah. Every expectation of mom's. Every assumption of dad's. Every judgment of Lindsay's. Everything that made me so scared to admit to how I felt about Talia.
Ophelia gives voice to what most LGBT people know — that there’s never just one reason people stay in the closet.
One of the strongest aspects of Ophelia After All was its accurate and moving depictions of found-family friendships. At the core of Ophelia’s life is a tight group of friends who truly adore one another, despite the messiness of high school drama. The relationship dynamics are crafted with such lifelike authenticity that the reader feels like a member of the group, walking the school hallways right beside them. They love each other, are in love with each other, compete against each other, and sometimes don’t even truly like each other; just like every real peer group I was a part of in my teenage years. As they continue to grow, they learn just how important it is for them to find their places outside of their circle as well as inside of it. It was beautiful to see this demonstrated so artfully on page.
Most importantly, Ophelia After All is not a “she gets the girl” book. It is a book, as the title would suggest, about Ophelia. About her life, her family, her friends, her thoughts and feelings, and most of all, her journey towards the acceptance of her bisexuality.
What didn’t work for me? The book was, in certain respects, a “slice-of-life”, being set over such a short and specific period of time, which didn’t leave room for much of a plot to develop. Much of the story revolved around crushes and prom dates, and the petty dramas that come with being a teenager. Whilst this narrative choice certainly fit for a young adult novel, it left room that felt unexplored. The main conflict arises when Ophelia feels she isn’t being taken seriously by her friends because of a crush she may or may not have. With such a large cast of characters, at times it could be a little tricky to keep up with the who’s-with-who of it all.
The writing itself could also have been more polished. There were too many instances of “I said, I feel, I thought.” The problem of telling the reader rather than showing is one that recurs in young adult fiction told from the first-person perspective, and Ophelia was no different. The novel was nevertheless greatly enjoyable, but it’s something to keep in mind!
Overall, I’d give Ophelia After All a solid four out of five stars. It made me laugh, smile, blush, and more than anything else, it warmed my heart. It reminded me of what it was like to be young and unsure and figuring it all out. It’s the book I wish I had at 15, and I can’t wait to put it in the hands of my younger siblings when they reach their teenage years. If you’re looking for a lighthearted queer read in the vein of Heartstopper, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before or Sex Education, then this is the one for you!