Transitioning from high school decision-making to goal-setting for adulthood is an oft-overlooked feat for us all. Thankfully, today’s YA audience has a devoted author who excels in uncovering the deeper emotions behind this tumultuous period of life in Kristina Forest. In Zyla & Kai, Forest continues to display excellence in this forte by introducing us to characters whose emotional damage guides their dreams and romance.
Used to making due out of less than ideal situations, Zyla Matthews is determined to take her skills in fashion design to the next level by enrolling in a prestigious French fashion school as soon she graduates high school. She’s had enough of her mother’s inconsistency—especially how easily she is thrown off of plans with her daughter when her latest love has gone awry. Zyla knows in her bones the only way to keep herself from falling into the cycle she’s seen her mother fall victim to time after time is to set and stick to high expectations for herself in all matters of love and life. But when Kai Johnson, star basketball player of the school across town, suddenly begins to occupy space in her self-restrictive life, Zyla has to consider if there may be room for him in her well-crafted plans. For his part, Kai has some long-standing plans of his own. After a traumatic childhood spent as the adopted son of his mother’s twin sister, Kai feels that he has a lot to make up for. Inspired by the stories he hears of his parents while enrolled at historically Black universities in Atlanta, Kai makes every step in consideration of being the sort of person who can extend his father’s legacy at Morehouse. Unfortunately for him, his reputation as a romantic precedes him. When he starts getting close to Zyla he learns that he has more than her aversion for ill-fated love to account for.
Zyla & Kai is definitely a YA title for readers in the mood for a summer romance tale between two serious, yet fun characters. Though my own background makes me relate more to Zyla’s approach to the relationship, I found connection with many of the characters in this story. Forest uses an intriguing hook of missing teenagers to draw readers into the tale, then follows through with an out of the box resolution that matches the couple’s unique dynamic. Try this novel if you’re interested in summertime fun like house parties, carnival jobs, and trips to South Street in Philadelphia, along with the emotional rollercoaster that pervades senior year of high school and first love.