A YA contemporary about star student Sasha, who finds herself in a dead heat for the valedictorian title (and the scholarship that comes with it) with her childhood best friend-turned-nemesis Ezra and decides to settle the score with a bet—winner takes all. Filled with heart and sure to make you laugh, this cinematic novel manages to be winsome yet entertaining and sweet yet smart, all while exploring how race, class, and intergenerational dynamics shape teenagers’ goals, ambitions, and drive.
YOU BET YOUR HEART
by Danielle Parker
Joy Revolution/Delacorte, Summer 2023
(via Park & Fine Literary and Media)
Four years after her dad died, Sasha Johnson-Sun’s life is entirely different for her and her Korean immigrant mother: a smaller apartment, Saturdays spent cleaning classmates’ houses, her father’s photo on the bookshelf with other deceased relatives. Only Sasha’s top-of-class grades are the same, because if Sasha knows one thing, it’s this: she will graduate as the school’s valedictorian. After all, this is the dream her father had for her, and that her mother’s many sacrifices have made possible.
Now, two months before graduation, the title and the scholarship prize that comes with it are within grasp. That is, until the principal calls Sasha and her childhood best friend-turned-nemesis Ezra Davis-Goldberg into his office to deliver the second-worst news of Sasha’s life: they’re tied for valedictorian, a first in Skyline High history. And for some reason, Ezra—carefree, effortlessly gifted, uninterested-in-school Ezra—is as determined to win as Sasha is.
These things can’t be left to chance. Sasha and Ezra agree on a winner-takes-all, best-of-three bet, with the loser throwing their grade by failing to complete their final assignment. But as Sasha and Ezra go head-to-head in a series of academic challenges, they each are forced to reexamine not just what they want, but why… With everything hanging in the balance, Sasha can choose to ignore the tide of long-buried emotions that are rushing to the surface, honor her family, and win; or she can let go of the things she thought mattered and choose to believe that we are lovable and worthy because of who we are, not because of what we do. Decide wrong, and she will not just jeopardize her future, but also her shot at healing her heart and maybe, possibly, even finding true love.
Danielle Parker has written a remarkably funny, heart-filled romantic comedy that is sure to win over countless teen readers over: it’s part Election, part To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and part Happily Ever Afters. It is at once a winsome and hugely entertaining high concept romance about two biracial teens falling in love, and a sharp examination of how race, class, and intergenerational dynamics shape teenagers’ goals, ambitions, and drive. It’s also a tender portrait of a mother and daughter still grappling with grief, and of two childhood friends trying to remember why they drifted apart and trying to figure out who they’ve each become in the meantime.
Danielle Parker is a Pitch Wars alumnus and she shares Sasha’s Black and Korean biracial identity. She is a high school English teacher in the Pacific Northwest and has also worked as an editorial assistant at Weldon Owen/Insights Editions. You can follow her on twitter at @onedanip.