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This YA Book Is a Great Queer Second-Chance Romance

What would you do if the one person you loved the most was the one person you cannot remember?

That is the premise that runs through Alyson Derrick’s debut YA novel Forget Me Not. It tells the story of Stevie, an Asian American girl who just graduated from high school in rural Pennsylvania. She has secretly been dating her girlfriend Nora for two years, and they have plans to run away together to California. But then Stevie has a horrible fall that erases the last two years from her memory…

When we meet Stevie at the beginning of the book, she’s living a secret life. Her very Catholic mom and super conservative dad would absolutely not be okay with the fact that she likes girls. So she’s been hiding her two-year relationship to the point where she won’t even speak to Nora on the phone. Any and all mementos shared between the two of them are hidden in a box in a vent, where she knows her parents would never find them. Her entire room has been scrubbed of any and all remnants of the girl she once was; if she starts erasing herself, then it will be easier for everyone when she’s gone.

Stevie and Nora can only meet in secret on the vast farm Nora lives on, or on occasional trips to Pittsburgh where they can be more open about their relationship. Stevie works at a coffee shop and often claims to be working more hours to save up to go to community college. In reality, she’s spending time with Nora. (I do have to say, I love secret romances!)

For the vast majority of the book, Stevie is on a quest to figure out who she was at the time of her accident, and how that version of herself got so far away from the way she remembers herself being. I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up and feel three years younger than you actually are, but Derrick viscerally gives the reader a glimpse into what it might be like.

The hospital scenes are some of the best — but also the hardest to read. When Stevie finally wakes from her medically induced coma, she is panicked and scared. That fear is palpable even through the page as she tries to make sense of everything she’s just been told. Derrick grips your heartstrings and doesn’t let up for what feels like a long time, but then the grip starts to release as Stevie starts to settle into her new normal.

Not only does Stevie have to work to repair relationships, but she has to relearn how to live her life. To try and get some semblance of her life back, she goes back to her job at the coffee shop. Armed with cheat sheets, she realizes that she’s forgotten it all, and even the cheat sheets can’t help. She is heartbroken, and more importantly, embarrassed that she can’t even remember how to do her job. There is great skill in writing the emotional rollercoaster she goes on in those pages, and Derrick nails it.

After her accident, Stevie works to reconnect with her friends Savannah and Rory. The girls have grown apart and Savannah and Rory are eager to take advantage of Stevie’s accident to get their friend back. The thing is though, there’s a reason that they grew apart in the first place. High school friendships are hard; sometimes we fight a little harder to hold on to friendships because they know us and have been there for us when we needed them. But sometimes, we need to let those friendships go because they no longer serve us in a way we need.

In an attempt to shape Stevie more into the friend they wish she was, the girls tell her that she has a crush on Ryan, a boy who works as a waiter at the place they eat frequently. They clearly want her to be interested in a boy like they are, and since she’s eager to fit in with them again, she goes along with it. Ryan is a nice enough guy, and Stevie does make an effort to like him in the way that her friends want her to. But she’s still a tiny queer, even though she doesn’t know it, and the relationship is only going to go but so far. After she begins to realize her feelings for Nora, she goes to Ryan and kisses him to see if she feels anything, but surprise surprise, she doesn’t. As a result, they become very good friends.

On the other hand, the forced relationship with Ryan decimates her friendship with Savannah and Rory. One of the hardest parts of growing apart from your friends is realizing they are no longer the person you remember them being. That’s exactly what happens in this book. Despite making a real effort to reconnect with her friends, she realizes that they aren’t the same people they used to be, and their beliefs no longer align with hers. It’s devastating and infuriating, but it’s an important lesson for Stevie to learn. I unfortunately related to this plot point the most, and I hurt for Stevie because it’s a shitty lesson to have to learn.

Second chance romance isn’t a trope I find myself gravitating towards, but in Forget Me Not, I loved it so much. When Stevie’s in the hospital, the only thing she knows about Nora is that for some reason, she was at Nora’s family’s farm and that Nora saved her. But none of it makes sense because why in the world would she have been at the Martin family farm? Meanwhile, Nora has to look at Stevie, knowing the love of her life has no idea who she is. I can’t imagine how painful that has to be, especially for a teenage girl. Nora has an incredibly tense relationship with her mother, and it really seems like Stevie is all she has.

The question might be: Why doesn’t Nora just tell Stevie about their relationship? How would you feel if you had woken up one day in a hospital and then been told you were in a medically induced coma? And to top it all off, you think you’re only 15, but everyone’s telling you that you’re actually 18 and had recently graduated high school? There’s no way Stevie could have also handled finding out about a secret girlfriend. So Nora knows that the only thing she can do is be patient — hopefully over time, Stevie’s memories will return and they can get back to their plan.

I do have to say that as a reader, it was really enjoyable to read Stevie fall in love with Nora again. You can see they naturally gravitate toward each other but also the pain Nora feels knowing she isn’t telling Stevie the whole story. Derrick does a solid job of mixing both girls’ stories and also sharing peeks into how the accident directly affects Nora through a series of journal posts scattered throughout the book. Those journal entries are from her perspective, written as letters to Stevie to explain how Nora is processing not only the accident but having Stevie get to know her again. It was a clever device since for the majority of the story we are left to wonder what Nora’s thinking and feeling.

Forget Me Not made me believe fate is real. You don’t often see two teenage girls and think of soulmates, but it is absolutely true of Stevie and Nora. The way Stevie finds her way back to Nora despite all of the obstacles in her way tugged at those heartstrings and made me smile. You can’t help but root for them to be together forever. And that’s really sweet.

Forget Me Not by Alyson Derrick is out now.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 115 articles for us.

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