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The YA novel One Way or Another by Kara McDowell was released fairly recently in October of this year. Since then, it has now received a five-star rating on the Barnes and Nobles website and a four-star rating on Goodreads. In the spirit of the holidays, I had started a search for new romance books and this one’s cover featured the slogan “One choice. Two chances to fall in love,” so of course, I picked it straight off the shelf. 

I was happy to see that McDowell’s novel focuses on a variety of topics. On the surface, it’s a story about a girl, Paige, who’s afraid to confess her love for her best friend, Fitz. Another layer of drama is added by the author choosing to split her life into two timelines: one where she spends Christmas with said best friend and one where she goes to New York and finds another potential love interest there. So it’s a great mix of hometown, holidays, and love yet it also focuses on a larger topic of anxiety. 

candy cane heart with a christmas tree in the background
Photo by fotografierende from Unsplash

The main character, Paige, struggles with symptoms of anxiety all throughout the book. In fact, the blurb starts out describing just how much making the smallest decisions can overwhelm her out of fear of picking the wrong choice. As someone who has dealt with anxious tendencies, I was excited to see how this book portrayed them. Thankfully, McDowell did so in a way that was realistic (in showing the downsides of feeling hindered by anxiety) but also caring (in how she attempts to normalize it and emphasize hope by the end). 

There is also a well-rounded amount of reactions shown to Paige’s anxiety from the other characters ranging from annoyance to acceptance. If you’re someone who has never dealt with or understood anxiety then the main character might come off as annoying or over-worrisome but that’s the exact point McDowell works to demonstrate through Paige— that anxiety isn’t illogical and no one wants to bear that weight of constantly overthinking. Having the book diverge into two parallel timelines was also interesting to see in how Paige thinks choosing one over the other may ruin her life, yet neither does. 

Woman sitting alone
Priscilla Du Preez, via Unsplash

The book even has some tips, shared from characters who do try to understand and accept the way Paige’s brain works, on grounding techniques. For example, Paige’s best friend helps her go through the 5-4-3-2-1 method and find the rainbow method. Adding these in casually to their conversations was a great touch and step toward normalizing experiences such as panic attacks. I wish I would have read a book so entertaining but also educating when I was in high school and unaware of how to deal with my own panic attacks. If you’re looking for a cheesy holiday romance (or two!) with the added depth of a non-neurotypical main character, give One Way or Another a go!

Shanelle Huynh

UC Riverside '22

I am a fourth-year creative writing major, business minor at UCR learning to define my own way of living as a "writer" and sharing what I find out on my journey along the way.
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