A friend texted me the synopsis of Beach Read, saying it looked right up my alley. A week or two later, I received a Book of the Month subscription for my birthday and, lo and behold, Beach Read was one of the April picks. Naturally, I took this as a sign that I should choose the book.
As much as I enjoy the experience of reading a paperback, there’s something about the sleek symmetrical Book of the Month editions that just makes my heart sing. The gorgeous hardcover arrived in all its bright, sunny glory, and I… honestly let it sit on the shelf until my May pick arrived, at which point I decided I should probably read a book or two during this whole stay-at-home business.
I’m going to briefly pause here to mention that while many of my posts/reviews try to dance around and avoid spoilers, I had some things to say about some of the events towards the end of this book, so consider this your spoiler alert.
Beach Read was both exactly what I expected and also not that, at all. Since I’ve begun reading more of the new adult romantic comedy genre, I’ve gotten pretty used to a certain formula.
- Meet Cute
- Lengthy romantic/sexual tension
- Almost kiss, interrupted
- Actual kiss
- THE BAD THING
- Sad bad thing aftermath
- Quick rush to the Happily Ever After
I should’ve given Emily Henry more credit.
While this book’s main character, January, writes romance for a living, she’s struggling with the genre in the aftermath of some Not So Happily Ever After insights into her parents’ marriage. Since she hasn’t produced a book on deadline, she’s strapped for cash and ends up moving to her father’s super secret beach house that belonged to him and That Woman.
Naturally, who should happen to be her new next door neighbor but former college rival and fellow writer, Augustus?
I loved the story of former workshop adversaries meeting up again later in life, especially since I’ve lived my fair share of workshops between the BFA and MFA in creative writing.
January’s struggle to adapt her former sunny worldview to new information also felt relatable to me, and as Emily Henry lives in Cincinnati, there were plenty of solid Ohio references as well. In other words, I completely adored the main character and felt she was relatable.
Augustus, on the other hand, felt a bit more like a trope. A completely sexy and endearing trope, sure, but the Brooding Man Who Is Afraid He’s Too Broken to Love nevertheless.
Does that mean I didn’t adore the fun premise of a genre-switching bet that conveniently forces the two rivals to spend more time together? No, my friends, it did not.
Now, back to the formula I mentioned earlier. I expected a book called Beach Read about a woman challenging a guy to write a romance novel would follow the romance formula pretty strictly. I expected a fun, light read that I would inevitably have to rush through after The Bad Thing so I could get back to the good happy times.
For a book with a sunny beachy cover, though, Beach Read packs a pretty strong emotional punch. As Augustus takes January along to learn what it’s like to research capital L Literary fiction, we learn about individuals who lived through the tragedy of a cult’s base camp being set aflame. January, and by extension, the book itself, seems to be asking an unanswerable question–why do bad things happen? Is a happy ending realistic or possible?
I like that finding love with the Brooding Man doesn’t solve or settle this for January. In fact, it turns out that The Bad Thing is more or less… not there in the way it typically is. There’s a setup where you think you’ve reached that moment where the couple drifts apart for a length of time, but it’s pretty shortlived. The emotional linchpin, instead, is January finally facing The Woman and learning about a series of letters from her father.
I liked the fact that the author clearly nods towards the expected formula while also turning it on its head, bringing us instead the understanding that lives are bigger than romantic love, that sometimes what we need most is to understand our families, our selves.
It was also a lot less stressful for me, seeing as I absolutely dread The Bad Thing because it’s so often a frustratingly contrived reason for the couple to misunderstand one another and/or break up over one big fight. So, I found the latter fourth of this book delightfully refreshing.
If you’re looking for a nice read that’s got a light, funny heart with some real emotion at its core, I definitely recommend Beach Read.