Who doesn’t love a good YA contemporary romance in the summertime? We sure do, and Zyla & Kai by Kristina Forest is the perfect one to enjoy while you’re relaxing on summer vacay. Plus, it’s perfect, because the story begins in the summer!
Content warning: depression, anxiety, death of parents.
Summary: 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.
One of our favorite things about this book besides the sweet, realistic romance between the two main characters and the strong friendship and family dynamics was the use of music to set the scenes!
Whether it was a vibrant party, a day at Sailor Joe’s amusement park, a quiet moment, or a moment that was made deeper by music, we loved how Forest incorporated songs into the emotion of the story.
In honor of that, here are five songs you should listen to as you read Zyla & Kai!
‘everything’ by Kehlani
The lyric “from the moment we fell in, I knew we couldn’t fall back” captures Zyla and Kai’s relationship perfectly.
When Zyla meets Kai at Sailor Joe’s during their summer jobs, she’s determined not to let his playboy reputation reel her in. Meanwhile, Kai is on a dating ban from his aunt and uncle and tries to push away his crush on Zyla.
From then on, as their friendship grows, they try to deny their obvious feelings for each other and (spoiler alert, but not really) fail.
Of course, love prevails, and that’s why this song would be so fitting on a Zyla & Kai soundtrack! They truly become each other’s everything.
‘Free Spirit’ by Khalid
During the penultimate Valentine’s Day scene which is the catalyst for the climax of the story, Kai puts on a Khalid song as he and Zyla exchange gifts.
“We’ll be free spirits,” Khalid croons on this 2019 track. Because the couple do something a little…risky…for their Valentine’s date, we feel like this track fits. The two of them are totally free spirits with each other and find a love that allows them to be their true selves together.
‘Back At One’ by Brian McKnight
This R&B classic is one that’s directly mentioned in a scene, but we think it captures the theme of the whole book.
In the beginning of the book when Zyla is still pretty cynical about love, she must comfort her serial dater mom over her breakup with boyfriend Keith. ‘Back At One’ comes on the radio and makes her cry, and Zyla doesn’t really understand her mom at that point. As she learns and grows in her relationship with Kai, she comes to a better understanding of her mom.
The song is also representative of the book’s structure, as it flips back and forth between the present and the beginning of Zyla and Kai’s relationship.
And without giving too much away, we feel like this song applies to Zyla and Kai’s ending, too.
It shows that you can always go back and start over, whether it’s Zyla’s relationship with her parents, with Kai, or with friends.
‘Raspberry Beret’ by Prince
Zyla is a passionate and talented fashion designer, and at one point she sets out to craft a cow print beret, which leads to her and Kai’s first solo hang out trip.
The place she buys her fabrics at is called Genie’s, and we are obsessed with the vibes! It’s a store that seems like it came straight from the 80’s and 90’s and when the duo arrive, a Prince song is playing.
We feel like ‘Raspberry Beret’ is both fitting literally and musically, because it encapsulates the joyful energy of this day between Zyla and Kai.
‘In The Party’ by Flo Milli
Zyla and Kai and company attend several parties over the course of the novel, and this Flo Milli track is a certified party jam.
This song is the best hype song for a party and we can totally see Zyla and Kai’s friends turning up to it.
Zyla & Kai is available to preorder now!
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