Skip to Content

Woke Up Like This: Summary and Characters Explained

woke up like this book summary and character analysis

Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea is a love story about Charlotte Wu, a high school senior, and her rival, J. T. Renner. They wake up one day, 13 years older and engaged.

The book follows Charlotte’s journey as she learns to let go of past anger and future worries to find happiness in the present. Turning 30 brings new experiences, ideas, and unexpected events, helping her develop empathy and understanding.

Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea

This is Amy Lea’s third novel. In the acknowledgments, Lea shares that she used to be like the main character, taking charge in group projects and chasing ambitious goals. She learned the importance of being present, a key theme in the novel.

Charlotte goes through a similar transformation, gaining confidence, assertiveness, and the ability to confront challenges. She learns to trust herself and others, letting go of resentments and worries, ultimately finding joy in life.

Summary | Characters Explained

Woke Up Like This Summary

The story starts with Charlotte Wu’s High School Bucket List, which has nine things she wanted to do before graduating. Thirteen-year-old Char has completed four, given up on two, and hopes to finish the remaining three during Senior Week.

With prom just a month away, Char, the vice president of the student council, is eager to pitch her “Around the World” theme to the president and her long-time rival, J. T. Renner. She sees prom as the most important teen event, but J. T. rejects her idea.

This adds to Char’s frustration, as she has a history of conflicts with J. T., starting from him standing her up for homecoming. Char likes being organized and in charge, so she doesn’t want J. T. involved in planning the dance.

Char doesn’t have a prom date and wants to ask Clay Diaz, a boy she’s liked for years. Her resentment towards J. T. began when he stood her up for freshman homecoming and never explained why. Now, as prom approaches, J. T. continues to aggravate her.

During an argument at their lockers, Char’s tampons accidentally fly through the hallway, embarrassing her in front of Clay. She blames J. T. for the incident, unaware that he has feelings for her.

Two days before prom, Char and J. T. go to a rental store to pick decorations for the “Under the Sea” theme. Char’s dad calls, revealing he’s having a baby with his new girlfriend, Alexandra, and invites Char to spend the summer at Alexandra’s lake house.

Char’s dad was absent during her childhood, and she’s resentful of his new family and reduced work hours for the baby. Despite her feelings, she tries to hide them from J. T.

After they return to school and start decorating the gym, Char becomes overwhelmed, thinking about the times her dad wasn’t there for her. J. T. is understanding and supportive, helping her up when she breaks down. While getting scissors, Char discovers their class’s time capsule. Each student is supposed to write a letter to their future self, to be opened in 13 years at age 30. Both get surprised by the metal container.

Later, Char is on a ladder and asks J. T. for crepe paper. When he holds it up, she leans too far and falls towards him and the gym floor. When she wakes up, she’s in unfamiliar pajamas in a strange house next to a naked J. T. Somehow, they are both 30 in the year 2037.

They can’t remember the last 13 years but discover they’re engaged, with a pre-wedding party tonight at Ollie’s house. Realizing it’s not a prank, they work together to return to 2024. They tell Nori about their time leap, and she suggests recreating Char’s fall since it triggered their time travel.

To do this, they must go back to their old high school gym where they both work now—Char as a counselor and J. T. as a gym teacher. However, finding a time when the gym is free of students proves challenging.

Char tries to navigate her new adult life, but J. T. seems to be enjoying himself. She’s amazed at how effortlessly things come to him. They attend the party at Ollie’s, playing the part of a couple in love. J. T. teaches Char how to hold hands comfortably, and his compliments to the crowd feel sincere.

At the urging of their friends, Char and J. T. kiss, and despite its awkwardness, there’s a change in their relationship. Char is upset about her dad not coming to the party, and J. T. is disappointed to learn about his mom’s new boyfriend. They comfort each other, learning to interpret and empathize with each other’s feelings.

Over time, J. T. helps Char let go of worries and resentments. When she finds out her father passed away and she’s no longer friends with Kassie, J. T. supports her in having fun and living in the moment. He eventually reveals the reason for standing her up at homecoming—his mom needed emotional support after the death of J. T.’s little sister, Susie.

This event also led to J. T.’s fear of being disliked, motivating him to make people happy. Char opens up about her need for control and organization, stemming from her father leaving the family.

As Char and J. T. spend more time together, they grow to love and trust each other. Char realizes she hasn’t been able to rely on anyone for a long time, but she can count on J. T.

Char and J. T. attempt to recreate her fall to return to their normal lives, but it doesn’t work. While chaperoning the 2037 prom together, they enjoy dancing and each other’s company. They discover mutual feelings and attraction.

J. T. even suggests doing the iconic lift from Dirty Dancing, but Char declines. Char decides to visit Alexandra and her half-sisters, learning about her father’s pride in her. Craving distraction, J. T. takes her on a fun evening, including thrifting silly outfits, indulging in a candy store, and getting caught in the rain. At the thrift store, they find their class’s empty time capsule, feeling a jolt when they touch it. In the rain, J. T. convinces Char to do the Dirty Dancing lift, which works until his pants split, and Char falls.

When she wakes up, she and J. T. are 17 again. Char struggles to explain her experience and reverts to old habits, treating J. T. as a rival despite the feelings she developed for him. Her friendship with Kassie deteriorates, and after a kiss with J. T., she asks him to prom.

However, J. T. has already asked another girl. Kassie offers a peace offering, and Char enjoys happy moments with her friend. Char gains the courage to ask Clay Diaz to prom, but their date is awkward, revealing no chemistry. J. T. follows Char to her locker, confronts her with his feelings, and she begins to suspect he remembers being 30 too.

During the prom announcement, J. T. and Kassie are named king and queen. Char confronts Kassie about the lie she told four years ago to cover up being rejected by J. T. While she forgives Kassie, Char knows this marks the beginning of the end of their friendship.

Char returns to the gym and finds J. T. by the DJ, who plays the Dirty Dancing song. J. T. invites Char to dance, and they discover they both have the same memories of being 30. Char is upset about Kassie’s lie causing them to lose time together, but J. T. reminds her that they have the present.

Char realizes that true happiness comes from being in the moment, enjoying it without worrying about the future or holding onto past anger. She reconciles with her father, accepts the changes in her friendship with Kassie, and appreciates her time with J. T.

The novel concludes with Char writing a letter to her 30-year-old self, advising herself to be present and let go of the need for control.

Woke Up Like This Characters Explained

Charlotte Wu

Char, short for Charlotte Wu, is the main character and storyteller in the novel. Like many heroines in romance stories, she’s intelligent and proud. Char undergoes significant changes in her perspective on life due to her conflicts with J. T. Renner.

In ninth grade, a clash with J. T. ignited a rivalry, but when they are transported to the future, she learns from her mistakes and understands his point of view. Char learns to read and understand J. T.’s emotions, something she struggled with initially. She realizes the importance of empathy and lets go of her judgmental tendencies.

At the start of the story, Char is consumed by past resentments and future anxieties, but by the end, she becomes someone who lives in the present. As a child, Char’s parents divorced, and her father left, making her self-sufficient due to her mother’s forgetfulness. This led to Char struggling to trust others because her parents were unreliable.

Her father only seemed to show affection when she had accomplishments to report, so she prioritized achievements to gain his attention. Lea uses the motif of lists to characterize Char and represent her struggle to be present in the moment.

Char always focused on the next bucket list achievement, preventing her from appreciating her accomplishments. However, J. T. shows her the fulfillment of living in the present moment.

After her father’s death, when Char and J. T. are 30, she learns the importance of letting go of past resentment towards both J. T. and her father. Initially bitter about her father’s abandonment, learning about his new family and baby increases her resentment.

At 30, after her father’s death, Char is more willing to renew the relationship. Her empathy extends to both her father and J. T., understanding that adults make mistakes, similar to teens, and holding onto anger achieves nothing.

J. T. Renner

J. T. Renner is Char’s love interest and long-time rival, though he’s not a bad guy. In fact, he helps Char grow instead of holding her back. J. T. is a more consistent character compared to Char.

While he gets better at understanding Char’s emotions when they experience life together at 30, his fundamental outlook on life remains the same. J. T.’s behavior is shaped by his past experiences, much like Char’s. He developed a fear of being disliked after his younger sister Susie died. To bring joy to his grieving parents, he became determined to make everyone around him happy.

Since then, he has been charming and funny, genuinely sincere. Char only understands this aspect of J. T. when they travel to the future and he explains why he stood her up at homecoming—he wanted to be with his grieving mom after Susie’s death.

J. T. challenges Char to value herself more, especially in her friendship with Kassie, and to embrace the benefits of having fun. Char, who always wants control and sees herself as more reliable than anyone else, finds peace in trusting J. T. and letting him take charge.

He teaches Char the importance of being present by being goofy, unembarrassed, and unapologetically himself. When Char needs a break from life’s challenges, J. T. is there for fun and distraction. He also supports her during difficult moments, like when she visits her father’s widow and half-sisters.

J. T. is empathetic, giving Char space to feel her emotions about losing Kassie’s friendship and her father’s death. His kindness touches Char and helps her become a happier, more present person.


Nori is the person Char and J. T. believe will believe their time travel story. Creative and open-minded, Nori lives in the moment and doesn’t care about others’ opinions. Char compares her to the expression “dance like no one is watching,” highlighting Nori’s unapologetic self-expression. This mirrors J. T.’s night in a ridiculous thrift-store outfit, both bringing tranquility and fun to Char that she lacks with others.

Nori turns out to be a much better friend to Char than Kassie, though Char doesn’t realize it initially. This creates dramatic irony, as the reader sees Nori as a better friend, and Char’s growth becomes evident when she realizes it too.

Nori and Kassie are friendly, but Nori isn’t a fan of Kassie. Char acknowledges that Nori is the glue holding the group together, caring more about Char than Kassie does. Despite having a girlfriend, Nori never cancels plans with Char for her significant other, unlike Kassie.

By the time they’re 30, Nori is Char’s closest friend, with Kassie completely out of the picture. Like J. T., Nori is reliable, truthful, and present in her own life. She, along with J. T., avoids resentment and bitterness, openly sharing their feelings about Kassie without being vengeful. Nori represents supportive friendship, always boosting Char’s confidence and sense of self-worth.


Kassie is Char’s best friend, but she plays an antagonistic role in the story. Despite Char’s loyalty, she discovers that Kassie hasn’t been as loyal in return. In ninth grade, Kassie told a lie that impacted Char’s entire high school experience, preventing her from having a relationship with J. T. until their senior year.

Kassie can also be critical of Char, accusing her of being bossy without understanding the pain behind Char’s desire for control. Char, however, values her friendship with the popular Kassie, feeling lucky to be her best friend. Despite Kassie’s unreliability over the years, breaking plans to be with her boyfriend, Char struggles to imagine life without her.

She’s shocked to learn that they lose touch by the time they are 30. The realization teaches Char about the unexpected joy and pain of growing up, understanding that friendships naturally change.

Recognizing that their friendship has run its course is a significant part of Char’s personal growth. She learns whom she can rely on and how to move on without holding grudges. By the end, Char matures enough to confront Kassie about her lies and shortcomings as a friend.

She learns to move on without bitterness or resentment. By the time they turn 30, Kassie realizes the detrimental impact of her romantic relationships and creates a life that brings her peace and happiness. This makes Kassie a dynamic character, subverting the romance genre by representing fulfillment beyond romantic love.

Happy reading! ❤️