Long Beach has a long literary history, both as a home of authors and a setting for stories, but it’s rare that a writer here makes an impact as quickly or as deeply as Elise Bryant.
After two successful books, the Long Beach resident has earned her place as a celebrated YA author, and this week will mark the release of her third novel set in the city she calls home.
Like her earlier books, “Reggie and Delilah’s Year of Falling” is centered around a diverse cast of Long Beach teenagers. And, as with its predecessors, the book is likely to be a success. It’s been selected as the Target YA Book Club pick for February and will be featured in stores nationwide. It also received a coveted starred review in Publishers Weekly.
Bryant, who lives in Long Beach with her husband and two young daughters, already feels like an enmeshed part of the city’s artistic fabric. It’s hard for her to believe that her NAACP Image Award-nominated debut came out just two years ago.
“It’s gone fast. It’s definitely gone fast,” she said in a recent interview. “Even though this is my third book, it was actually the first one I wrote after I had been published because I wrote the second book in that little bubble before the first was published. So the only voice I was hearing was my own. This book was really challenging for me because there are a lot more voices in there now.”
Bryant’s third book is the strongest of the three, in part because of the way she grappled with those voices. The protagonists are Reggie, a Black Dungeons & Dragons gamer who struggled with where and how to fit into society, and Delilah, a biracial singer who helps catapult a young rock band to viral stardom, only to find herself uncomfortable with how she’s seen by a white audience.
“Being biracial, having people tell you you’re not ‘really’ Black, that was something I dealt with when I was, you know, a kid,” Bryant said. “And I dealt with it and thought I was good. Then now I’m in my 30s and I’m getting hateful and racist messages online and it’s like, ‘Wait, am I good?’ And that’s some of what I wanted to get into with Delilah’s character, that exploration of your own identity and how other people view you. I thought about that a lot.”
The love story between the two teens is told from both of their perspectives, as they spend a year falling in love, marked by different holidays. Bryant’s books have been well-reviewed and received for being believable love stories about Black teens, but this book rings especially true in the back-and-forth tension between its protagonists.
This comes largely from the way Bryant’s characters think through their identities, the way real teenagers do, with ideas that are sometimes messy and contradictory. There’s nothing tidy about the way the characters figure themselves out.
“Having all those voices in my head, listening to them, it was a battle trying to write this book,” said Bryant. “It took a little longer. But I had to get back to that space where I wrote my first two books: What do I like? What’s making me sit and giggle at my desk? What’s bringing me joy? And shutting everything out and focusing on that let me write something genuine to me. Once I got back to that place it was fun again.”
Long Beach readers will enjoy looking for local landmarks in the book—parks, dessert shops, neighborhoods—as they did with Bryant’s first two books. Like those books, even though it’s a major national release, she’ll be launching it locally, at Bel Canto Books on Fourth Street.
The store will host a ticketed release party with Bryant and fellow YA star Christina Hammonds Reed at 6 p.m. (A few tickets are available here), and they also have signed copies of the book.
“I’m really excited to celebrate in Long Beach because this is my home and it’s where all my books are set,” she said. “I love doing a first launch event here.”