The chances that Simone Elkeles, above, would cross paths with Jose Ibarra are slim at best. She's a New York Times bestselling author in the Chicago area; he engaged in gang-related activity as a New Jersey high schooler--and hadn't cracked open a book since he was a young boy. That they'd become lifelong friends is even unlikelier, but this inspirational story came to be after Ibarra's former teacher encouraged him to read one of Elkeles's books.
Mia Searles thought Elkeles's Perfect Chemistry would appeal to Ibarra because it featured a character with a similarly rough background. Once he finished it, he set out to become a different man. It helped Ibarra realize "that lifestyle you're living isn't the lifestyle that you need."
Searles then reached out to Elkeles to let her know how much she had influenced the teen. Moved, the author sent goodies to Ibarra. Then, he wrote a thank-you email about how her book encouraged him to change the direction his life was going for himself and his young son. His words solidified his place in Elkeles's life.
Since then, Elkeles and Ibarra, now 24, have gotten together a few times. And after he and the mother of his three children decided to get married, Ibarra knew just who to ask to be in the wedding party.
"We got real close after I sent that email," he said. "We want her to be a part of my day since she changed my life."
Despite living halfway across the country and not being a bridesmaid in 20 years, Elkeles gladly accepted the offer.
"I think it's a very unique gesture," the author said. "I feel a connection with people and I love inspiring them, and I will do anything to help."
Congratulations to the bride and groom--and the bridesmaid.
Now check out some of the funniest wedding photos you'll ever see.