Title: Beach Read
Author: Emily Henry
Genre: romance; contemporary; fiction; women’s fiction; adult fiction; humor
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
They’re polar opposites.
In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
Review: 4 stars (perhaps with a bit of spoilery bits?)
I received this book as a Book of the Month choice for the month of April. I know, I’m a month behind, but I’m a teacher, and the distance learning / pandemic thing threw me way off. But like, I truly enjoyed this book. I’d never heard of Emily Henry before, and when I was looking through the April selections, I just remember thinking, I need something easy. So, I picked Beach Read.
When I say “easy,” I do not mean that in any kind of condescending sense. Honestly. I mean that the same way someone puts on their favorite sweater instead of a cute outfit to go out. I mean it in the same way a person chooses the same series instead of starting a new one. I was in a place professionally, mentally, personally, all-ly where I needed the next book I read to be something that felt familiar and safe. With a title like Beach Read, and a synopsis and Book of the Month preview that read, “Nothing like a “friendly” writing competition to set the scene for some quirky, cute, inter-author love” I knew it would be something that could get me out of my reading slump.
The last book I’d read was Crescent City (the review is posted here) and that book took me longer than it should have, but I got through it mostly because it was SJM. (I was definitely, obviously, always going to finish it… even if it took me 3 weeks.
This was different. I finished it in two days. I loved it cover to cover. I felt seen and written through January immediately on page 1. She writes, “Maybe, for example, you didn’t have much control over your life as a kid. So, to avoid disappointment, you learned never to ask yourself what you truly wanted. And it worked for a long time. Only now, upon realizing you didn’t get what you didn’t know you wanted, you’re barreling down the highway in a midlife-crisis-mobile” (Henry 1). I mean like…. damn, Henry, you called me out in the second paragraph of your 358 page novel.
As a character, she felt well rounded and clear. She felt whole, and imperfect, the way characters should be. She was a unique and clever, quirky, but she didn’t always know what to say, or have those perfect one-liners for every single moment, which the clever, quirky leads tend to do in love stories.
She starts broken, but *spoiler* she isn’t saved by a man! hooray! A romance that doesn’t depend on one character saving the other. I mean, I’m sure there’s an argument somewhere out there where someone says the male lead does save her, but I think she honestly figures herself out.
The way she thinks and acts in the relationship is totally relatable too. She tries so hard to be impartial, to be okay with the one time idea, but then she starts overthinking, and I’m like, girl same. At one point she thought, “There would be consequences. This had to be a bad idea” (Henry 244). There’s a part around 250 where he starts saying “If you want to go” a lot and she starts to question whether he’s trying to give her an out, or if he actually wants her there or not, and I felt that to my core. Like, she already agreed, so why was he asking her “if you want” again?? See, relatable.
All that aside, the dynamic between her and Gus is truly great. There’s humor, there’s reality, there’s awkwardness, there’s angst, there’s sorrow, but there’s also a deep respect and true mutual understanding. It’s just this raw, spectrum of what it’s like when two people are dealing with trauma separately and come together to unpack it. Henry’s ability to create those honest moments between two broken people are really touching. When someone compares themselves to a black hole, and the other to a bright light, problems are bound to arise. And they do.
The best relationship is obviously the one between her and Shadi. The best friend in a book like this has to be good or the book will fail. Shadi fits in perfectly. She’s comic relief where it’s needed, but she also reminds January about what love and falling in love is all about. The part that gets me is when Shadi explains that part to January — January the romance author who has always believed in love (until very recently) and is supposed to be the expert in it. “Falling’s the part that takes your breath away. It’s the part when you can’t believe the person standing in front of you both exists and happened to wander into your path. It’s supposed to make you feel lucky to be alive, exactly when and where you are” (Henry 338). I love that Shadi, wild, lovely, perfect, best friend, Shadi is the one who has to explain this to her. Sometimes, we need someone to remind us of what’s important.
Another little thing that I loved is when January and Gus are talking about the reason why January’s last relationship wasn’t her forever. She mentions that she wasn’t excited to wake up next to him in the morning. Her goal is to find someone she truly wants to wake up next to every day. I loved that tiny moment between them.
The fact that this book is pretty meta is cool too. A book writing itself is pretty profound. I’m sure the concept has been done before, but I’ve never read anything like it, and I loved watching it unfold. I’d love to read the novels that came from their bet, honestly. Even though we got to see what went into them, I’d really like to read them.
I still haven’t even gotten to the family secrets. That’s the catalyst for the whole novel, January’s unraveling, and her shaken faith in love and her writing slump. She has to realize that it’s not the mistakes that make the person, it’s how they come back and make amends, sort of? Regardless, she learns that she doesn’t have to hold onto that hate and anger, and that she can still love someone, despite their mistakes. I needed to hear that message too.
This book was all around just good for me in this moment.
Thanks, Emily Henry.