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Avery Yearwood
Peyton and Isabelle
A tale of unrelenting ambition that explores what happens when a person has to choose between the life they always wanted and the person they were destined to be with. Peyton is born to a teen mom in the hollers of West Virginia. After he lands a football scholarship to a Boston prep school, he knows this is his chance to climb out of backbreaking poverty. Determined to make something of himself, he excels on the field and in school. No one can stop him. He falls in love with Isabelle, a fellow student, and feels like he can do anything. Surrounded by kids who are destined to rule society, he starts to see a life where he never has to want again. But senior year, he and his prep school friends set off fireworks that spark a fire in a nearby building. Their decision to flee and cover up their involvement, even after they realize the fire killed multiple people, weighs on him. Peyton begins to realize that all the success in the world may not make up for losing himself. As the decades past, he and Isabelle remain at odds about his decision, and they try to hold on to one another as guilt, ambition, and fear cast shadows across their lives.
Broken love, big dreams, and the toll they take at the end of the day are at the heart of Avery Yearwood's turbulent debut. Unlike most of the students in their prestigious private school, Peyton and Isabelle don't belong to a rich and powerful family—Peyton is the only son of an unmarried teenage mother whose dream was to leave the small West Virginia mining town she was born and raised in. When she meets a man who might represent a way out, Peyton earns a football scholarship and dedicates himself to achieving his mother's dreams of success, a move that eventually leads him to mercurial and sensitive Isabelle, the daughter of a school administrator, who centers her life around her art.

The relationship between Peyton and Isabelle is intense, moves with lightning speed, and will keep readers turning the pages as Yearwood’s story spans the course of these lovers’ lives. Just as it seems they’re on their way to securing their American dream, a tragedy threatens to tear them apart. Yearwood’s unsparing portrayal of the pair—their lives shaped by misogyny, disastrous choices, and Peyton’s brutal tendencies—challenges readers to empathize and understand. Yearwood uses that backdrop, and the contrast between Peyton's childhood and adulthood, as a framework around which she weaves arresting themes of love, justice, inequity, and happiness.

Yearwood’s particular focus is on the repercussions of chasing that American dream—although the older Peyton reaches a level of material success that would shock his younger self, he struggles to achieve true happiness, a theme Yearwood explores in striking prose: “Peyton’s belief in God was one long string of empty lights. When he was young, the bulbs had emanated a strong glow, illuminating his path forward…Until one day, without him even noticing, it went dark.” This poignant novel’s crux is the possibility that living for financial success can cost what matters most.

Takeaway: Young lovers on the verge of achieving the American dream are torn apart by their own choices.

Great for fans of: Philipp Meyer’s American Rust, Ann Pancake’s Strange as this Weather Has Been.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A