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Friday, June 14, 2024

Alumnus’ debut novel is a nostalgic homage to UF student life

Dan Ymas’ book recounts the thrills and troubles of young adulthood in Gainesville

Graphic by Shelby Cotta
Graphic by Shelby Cotta

Described as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” meets “The Catcher in the Rye” on Amazon, Dan Ymas’ debut novel is UF’s newest coming of age story.

The Nights We Won’t Forget” follows the life of a nameless Hispanic UF junior trying to navigate the world of young adulthood in Gainesville. With honorable mentions of Gainesville staples like Grog House Grill, Leonardo’s Pizza, Tatu Restaurant & Lounge and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Ymas’ book details the adventure, pressure and excitement that comes with being a college student at UF.

Self-published on Amazon June 26, “The Nights We Won’t Forget” is 283 pages long and is currently ranked No. 29 on Amazon’s Teen & Young Adult Hispanic & Latino American Fiction eBooks list.  

Ymas was born in Argentina in 1994. Eight years later, his family moved to Weston, Florida, where he spent his childhood and adolescence aspiring to be an astronomer and professional tennis player. His time at UF, however, would ultimately propel him to become a software engineer by graduation in 2017 and an author by 2021. 

Ymas reflected on his own experiences as a Hispanic student at UF to build the narrator’s Hispanic identity.

“I think the narrator has this tendency to kind of go on tangents as the story unfolds, and I think his culture definitely plays a big role,” Ymas said. “Feeling that there's this dual identity between being American and having grown up in the U.S., but also being Hispanic and kind of trying to keep that part of himself alive as well.”

“The Nights We Won’t Forget” is a recount of lessons learned from college, according to Ymas.

“I think the book is pretty much a coming of age story from this narrative point of view,” he said. “It's a guy going through his junior year of college talking about pretty typical college things — falling for girls and things not working out, drinking and then stopping the drinking.”

After graduating from UF with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, Ymas moved out west to Seattle to work for a tech company. Having to face a brand new social environment along with the bitter Seattle weather made him nostalgic for his college years in the sunshine state.

“My girlfriend was at UF still, so I was in Seattle feeling pretty lonely,” Ymas said. “The winters in Seattle get very bleak, and it’s cloudy all the time.”

While in Seattle, Ymas began journaling about his time at UF, filling pages of notebooks with memories of love, heartbreak, partying and maturing. Eventually, he decided to draft his journal entries into one all-encompassing novel.

While “The Nights We Won’t Forget” is fictional, Ymas said many characters in the book possess traits of real people he knew in Gainesville.

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“The characters are based on friends or people I knew, but a lot of the characters are a mix of people,” Ymas said. “There's not a one-to-one mapping.”

Samantha Morocz, a 2018 UF alumna, read “The Nights We Won’t Forget” after receiving an advanced copy from Ymas. One of her favorite themes from the book is the coming-of-age storyline.

“In college, you’re kind of in the middle of becoming an adult, but you’re still a kid,” Morocz said. “You have to handle that transition more than any other time in your life, and I think I really related to that.”

As a Venezuelan American, Morocz said Ymas’ detailing of college life for Hispanic students is told with empathy and understanding. 

“I think the narrator says something like, ‘When you’re from two different places, you sometimes feel like you’re from neither,’” Morocz said. “I think the narrator captures that feeling of ‘where do I belong?’ very well.”

Ymas plans to write more books in the future and eventually develop a career as a writer.

“That’s actually been a dream of mine, to do this full-time at some point. But for now, I'm writing in my spare time, and hopefully, we'll have something else next year.”

Contact Brenna at Follow her on Twitter @BrennaMarieShe1.

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