Her inexperience didn’t feel charming or virtuous, like she was some good-girl persona from a movie. It felt furious and heated, humiliated and childish, as if physicality were a language she was supposed to have learned, and here she was in senior year, surrounded by a horde of native speakers, unable to translate the most basic concepts.
—Final Draft, by Riley Redgate
Someday, high school senior Laila Piedra wants to tell stories that transport people to other worlds, that inspire them to think and discuss and speculate and dream—she wants to do for other people what her favorite writers and show creators have done for her. And her creative writing teacher thinks she has what it takes to do just that.
When he ends up in the hospital just a few months before graduation, he’s replaced by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Nadiya Nazarenko. And Pulitzer Prize-winning author Nadiya Nazarenko thinks that Laila’s writing is, in a word, crap. Nadiya thinks that Laila’s writing is such crap—based on trope and archetype and cliché rather than life experience and an understanding of humanity—that she torpedoes not only Laila’s dreams for the future, but her GPA, and with it, her hope to get pulled off the waitlist at Bowdoin.
Laila has three months. Three months to cram in enough life experience to bring her writing up to Nadiya’s standards; three months to bring up her grade; three months to maybe, hopefully, get accepted into her first-choice college, to take the first step on the journey that she’s dreamed of for so long.
As in Noteworthy, Redgate takes a familiar story arc—in this case, a teenage girl squashing years-worth of living into a few short months—and tells it in a way that makes it feel original, fresh, nuanced, emotionally honest, and entirely specific to her heroine and entire cast of characters.
It’s a story about a girl who finds joy in creation through writing, but it’s also about how easily that joy can turn into anxiety, obsession, self-doubt, and depression.
It’s about people using other people as tools, rather than interacting with them as fellow human beings.
It’s about imposter syndrome as experienced by creatives, and it’s about imposter syndrome in terms of cultural and ethnic and familial identity.
It’s about close friends on the cusp of heading out into the world in different directions, and it’s clear-eyed about the likelihood of those friendships and relationships surviving the college years.
It’s a story about a girl realizing that she’s in love with her best friend, but it’s also about how the impulse to protect your own heart can lead to preemptively cutting it right out of your own chest.
On top of all that, it’s so, so smart about pop culture and genre.
Redgate shows the importance of Being Present—without phones or screens or distractions—while also showing the connections and communications and safety nets that technology facilitates. She shows the digital realm as both a way of building community AND of hiding from the world; she shows how, as strong as those online relationships can be, that it’s often much easier to walk away from them than it is to walk away from a person standing right in front of you. That said, she still doesn’t tip her hand in either direction, allowing the reader to THINK about all of it without suggesting that there’s an easy answer, let alone a correct one.
And finally, Final Draft deals with the importance of empathy in art, but it’s also, very much, about the importance of empathy in real life, and especially about how teaching without empathy—especially teaching children and teens—may very well do more harm than good. I read Nadiya Nazarenko as the love child of Ayn Rand and Lionel Shriver, which… oof.
Highly recommended all around, but in terms of voice and tone, I could see it pairing particularly well with The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.