Group Discussion: Ophelia After All

ophelia after allA teen girl navigates friendship drama, the end of high school, and discovering her queerness in Ophelia After All, a hilarious and heartfelt contemporary YA debut by author Racquel Marie.

Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.

So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love—and sexuality—never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all. —Summary via Goodreads

NOTE: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read OPHELIA AFTER ALL yet, go read it and come back! This discussion post will be here when you’re done.

Let’s talk first impressions—how did you like OPHELIA AFTER ALL?

Audrey: This book got me right in the heart! I originally intended to read it across a couple days, but I ended up plowing through it in just one. There were some really wonderful moments that made me tear up. I’m so glad everyone was interested in reading it when we started nominating books for our first 2022 group discussion.

Jessica: Same, same. I ended up reading it in one go. I couldn’t put it down! It’s such a heartwarming, impactful read.

Crystal: It was a quick read for me, too, and I really enjoyed seeing the new friendships develop and the older friendships mature.

K. Imani: Clearly I’m the only one who took a few days to read it, but that is because of outside stuff, and it also took me a minute to get into the book. I had trouble connecting with Ophelia for some odd reason initially, but once I really got a feel for her heart, I was all in.

Ophelia has a lot on her plate in this book! Much of her story focuses on her questioning different facets of her identity and trying to figure out what, if anything, she should share with others. What did you love about our main character?

Jessica: As someone who loves plants and aspires to garden more, I love how Ophelia wholeheartedly dedicates herself to caring for her roses. She isn’t afraid to carve out time for her roses and herself. The way she connects her identity and her understanding of how she is also growing was so beautiful to me.

Audrey: I honestly, truly, loved Ophelia’s introspection. Even though, as a reader, I was pretty sure most of the things she was worrying about would turn out all right in the end, I believed she was right to be worried and/or scared. There was never a moment where I thought she was being completely unreasonable. She was dealing with a sexual identity crisis and a fight with her parents and the impending implosion of her friendship group, and I adored her for her very human messiness.

Crystal: Ophelia cares. She has her many crushes, but she also cares about her flowers and her family and her friends. She allows herself to feel things deeply.

K. Imani: I really loved Ophelia’s heart. Like Crystal said, she cares deeply for everyone and wears that heart on her sleeve. She is so honest and open with her heart and, even in moments of strife, lets the people she cares about know, often without words, that she cares about them.

At the start of the book, Ophelia doesn’t really know Talia very well, but her interest is piqued at a party. From there, Ophelia and the reader start to get to know more about Talia. What did you think about Talia and the romance?

Jessica: I like how it sparked Ophelia’s journey! It definitely took a direction I didn’t expect – and I love that Ophelia came out of this with a better understanding herself, more love for herself, a group of queer friends, and a new connection to her community. One thing I always love to see in queer fiction is queer friend groups and communities. I think it’s particularly important for queer teens to see this portrayed in fiction.

Audrey: I loved that, too! (More queer friend groups and communities always!) Talia was such a great character—it was wonderful watching her open up to Ophelia and vice versa. They had so many moments together that felt genuine, and I especially loved the whole breaking-and-entering sequence and what it meant for both their characters. Ophelia also hit on some having-a-huge-crush tropes that I enjoy, so that was extra fun for me.

Crystal: I enjoyed the friendship aspect between them and there were some twists and turns I hadn’t anticipated. I liked that it wasn’t completely predictable. Like Jessica, I thought it was nice to see the way the queer friends were there for her and each other.

K. Imani: I absolutely loved watching Talia and Ophelia’s relationship grow. They were so cute with each other at the beginning, and I felt like their relationship blossomed like a beautiful rose (yeah, I had to. Not sorry). I’ll admit, I’m not done reading the book and just got to the first twist and it broke my heart. But, I’m trusting the writer and Ophelia’s story, so I’m sure it will all work out in the end.

Prom is a major catalyst for several plotlines in OPHELIA AFTER ALL, and it paired nicely with the coming-of-age themes throughout the book. What moments or plots did you particularly enjoy?

Audrey: One thing that really hit home for me was whenever Ophelia thought about how everything was going to change after graduation. Most of her friend group was going to split up because of the different colleges they were going to, and there were some really poignant moments where she acknowledged that she already knew which friendships would just drift away. I loved the acknowledgment that friendships won’t always last forever and that it’s okay to let go and move on.

K. Imani: I agree with you, Audrey, that I felt the theme of change and moving on was huge in this book. The last few months of high school are filled with so much promise, yet so much anxiety, and I feel like Ophelia’s story really captured that tension.

Jessica: As an irredeemable Shakespeare nerd, I loved all the Shakespeare references and that Ophelia’s own connection to Shakespeare. Ophelia quoting Ophelia’s line “we know what we are, but not what we may be” from Hamlet is so perfect for Ophelia’s own path to understanding herself and the possibilities before her, that it’s okay to be not define yourself or know who you are just yet, and it’s okay to change and be someone other than who people expect you to be.

Crystal: People often make such a big deal about prom, and there are so many expectations. I appreciate the acknowledgement that so many things are not what we dreamed of, but also that maybe a younger self doesn’t know what the older self would dream, and that leads to mismatches.

OPHELIA AFTER ALL has a fairly large teen cast, thanks to two friendship groups starting to merge. Who were some of your favorites in the group besides Ophelia and Talia?

Jessica: Wesley, hands down. He’s such a supportive and thoughtful person, and I loved seeing Ophelia get to know Wesley and Zaq. Not to be a broken record about this, but I really enjoyed seeing Ophelia make more queer friends and to see so many different identities represented.

Audrey: Wesley was definitely one of my favorites, and I loved Agatha as well. There was a great moment where Agatha mentions that she has seen the fashion work of her future college classmates and has realized that she needs to up her game next year in order to really excel, not just excel in high school. I wish I had figured that out before I left for college! (And I also wish I’d realized I just wasn’t into people the same way others were, like she did!)

Crystal: I was also a big Wesley fan. He really pays attention to those around him and cares. He is also good with advice. He’s not perfect, but he’s pretty close.

K. Imani: I’m joining in on the Wesley love! I love how we didn’t know much about him at the beginning, and then we learned how much of a deep and caring person he is. I felt like he was a good balance for Ophelia’s “over-pouring” of love as he had such a quiet presence and was able to really be there for Ophelia.

The other major players in OPHELIA AFTER ALL were Ophelia’s parents. What did you think of their role in the story?

Jessica: I really appreciated the role Ophelia’s parents played. I particularly loved Ophelia’s conversation with her father and how he expressed his love and support for his daughter by telling a story about Paola and his own father. Along with seeing more queer friend groups represented, I think it’s so important to hear about queer people from previous generations.

Audrey: That was a fantastic conversation (and one of the moments that made me tear up!). The thing that I kept coming back to was that, much like we see Ophelia doesn’t always make the right choice or lashes out, the rough patch with her parents in the novel also makes it abundantly clear that they’re also imperfect. They love each other, yes, and care so much about how the others see them, but that doesn’t prevent them from fighting or feeling hurt. They were some of my favorite YA novel parents I’ve read in a while.

Crystal: The parents had their flaws, but you could see the strength of the love they have for each other and their daughter. Like y’all, I found the interactions with her father to be very impactful. He picked up on so much about Ophelia and gave her what she needed. Sharing his experiences was such a good way of connecting with her and showing her that she was not alone.

K. Imani: I loved that Ophelia’s parents were very active in her life as their relationship felt real to me. I could tell that her parents loved her and felt like they knew her, but didn’t fully understand her. However, there were lovely moments, like the conversation with her dad that Jessica mentioned, that showed at least one of her parents paid attention. I really love when there are involved parents in YA so I’m glad that they were an essential part of Ophelia’s story.

And to wrap up: what YA contemporary and/or LQBTQIA+ books are you looking forward to reading next?

Audrey: I’m really looking forward to The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes and Café Con Lychee by Emery Lee, which are both out in May. They sound like so much fun, and I hope I can read them this summer.

Jessica: Honestly, my to-be-read pile is so tall right now, but I’m so looking forward to reading Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters, which is out now, and Flip the Script by Lyla Lee, which is out in late May.

Crystal: I’m looking forward to Adib Khorram’s newest book, Kiss and Tell, as well as Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao. I also plan to read Flip the Script as soon as it’s available.

K. Imani: I really enjoyed Emery Lee’s Meet Cute Diary, so I’m excited for Cafe Con Lychee. I’ve been on a fantasy kick so I’ve been wanting to get my hands on Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao for a while now.