Zyla & Kai
by Kristina Forest
Releasing on June 7th
Published by Kokila Books
Young Adult Fiction—Contemporary, Romance
A fresh new YA romance novel by Kristina Forest, Zyla & Kai is an epic star-crossed love story about first love and not just the will they, won’t they— but why can’t they?
While on a school trip to the Poconos Mountains (in the middle of a storm) high school seniors, Zyla Matthews and Kai Johnson, run away together leaving their friends and family confused. As far as everyone knows, Zyla and Kai have been broken up for months. And honestly? Their break up hadn’t surprised anyone. Zyla and Kai met while working together at an amusement park the previous summer, and they couldn’t have been more different.
Zyla was a cynic about love. She’d witnessed the dissolution of her parents’ marriage early in life, and it left an indelible impression. Her only aim was graduating and going to fashion school abroad. Until she met Kai.
Kai was a serial monogamist and a hopeless romantic. He’d put a temporary pause on his dating life before senior year to focus on school and getting into his dream HBCU. Until he met Zyla.
Alternating between the past and present, we see the love story unfold from Zyla and Kai’s perspectives: how they first became the unlikeliest of friends over the summer, how they fell in love during the school year, and why they ultimately broke up… Or did they?
Romantic, heart-stirring and a little mysterious, Zyla & Kai will keep readers guessing until the last chapter.
Disclaimer: I was provided a digital galley via Edelweiss+ and my employer, as well as a physical copy by the publisher, in return for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion.
Zyla & Kai is a weaving, intricate and capturing story of teenage love that showcases both the ups and downs, as well as the tribulations of past memories and grief.
Kristina Forest has quickly become an author to look forward to reading more from. She has a beautiful writing style that keeps your eyes glued to the pages of her book, and she threaded so many emotions and feelings into each chapter. One thing that was immediately noticeable was the pacing chosen for the story. While not a huge fan of slower-paced books, this one littered surprise in which it dealt with the pacing in a way that was not overbearing but entirely enjoyable. The slowness of the story allowed for needed build-up in many scenes, and that was well-captured in most.
However, it can be pointed out that, towards the end of the story, the “lessons” the characters learned and the realizations they came to did feel a bit forced into the story. It almost felt as though the rest of the story and those specific scenes were separate threads that had not yet been connected, and it was noticeable due to that.
It was easy to connect with both Zyla and Kai through their separate viewpoints. Zyla’s character held a lot of pain from her parents’ relationship and the relationships that followed the split thereafter. She was distrusting in love and what it came with, which is completely understandable when one takes in her past memories. Kai is a bit the opposite. Kai wants someone to love without the fear of them leaving. Having lost his parents, he struggled much with trying too hard to make everything perfect. While both Zyla and Kai’s characters were likeable in their own standings, the continuous time skips that occured throughout the book made it a bit difficult to feel the connection between their characters at first. Though as the book went on, it became easier to see and even felt realistic. Kyla and Zai are teenagers in this book, and Forest made it possible for them to really be 21st century teenagers. The issues they faced during their relationship came about in ways that were entirely believable and true to what can be seen in today’s age.
It was especially likeable to see how the side characters went through their own development as well. Beatrice and Jamal especially were very supportive of their friends, and it was nice to see friendships that did not appear onesided or one dimensional. Though Camille’s character can be intensely disliked throughout the story, even her character was as well developed as the others.
The plot of the story was thoroughly enjoyable. While the ending did come as a bit of a surprise that was not as anticipated as what readers had been led to believe, it did make sense when relating it to the characters and their motivations. The centering of the story is that Zyla and Kai are similar to Bonnie and Clyde, but not in the sense that everyone believes or portrays them to be. And Forest wrote that through extremely well.
Overall, Zyla & Kai was a fantastic book. It can be said that the book did feel a bit long in places and that a bit much happened, but past that, the book was very good and memorable. For that, I give it a starred rating. I look forward to picking up Kristina Forest’s backlist, and I look forward to whatever she might put out in the future.
Kristina Forest is the author of romances for both teens and adults, including I Wanna Be Where You Are, which The New York Times called, “a big hearted story,” and Now That I’ve Found You, a Book Riot Best Book of 2020. Her next YA romance, Zyla & Kai, will publish with Kokila Books in Summer 2022, and her adult romance debut, The Neighbor Favor, will publish with Berkley in February 2023. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at The New School and she can often be found rearranging her bookshelf.