adult contemporary · reviews · romance

beach read by emily henry; a review

title: Beach Read
author: Emily Henry
genres: adult contemporary fiction, romance
publisher: Berkley (US) | Penguin (UK)
release date:
 may 19th, 2020 (US) | july 9th, 2020 (UK)

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❝emily henry’s adult romance debut is quite deceptively named. it speaks of a breezy summer read, meant to be enjoyed under sun rays peeking through straw hats and umbrellas. and don’t get me wrong, beach read fully delivered (and more!) — but it also betrayed me by making me feel emotions not of the light and fuzzy escapist variety. i can’t find it it myself to hold a grudge, however. the winner of the goodreads choice award 2020 for romance is a deep exploration of love, trust, betrayal and what it means to put the pieces of your life back together after it’s crumbled around you.

romance writer january andrews is on a deadline, yet the last thing she wants to do is work on another happy-ever-after — not after she learns that her late father had harboured his affair a secret from his family for years. heart-broken, this once hopeless romantic no longer believes in love.

money is running low, however, and january is forced to move into her father’s beach house in order to finally finish her manuscript. she’s reluctant at first, not wanting to face the reality of her once-perfect family, yet there’s no other option — unless she wants to live on the streets.

the universe seems to have a twisted sense of humour as, it turns out, the house next door is rented by none other than her college rival, augustus everett. the two butted heads in creative writing classes as their styles completely differ from each other – where january writes “chick-lit” for moonstruck fools, augustus creates Real literature that accurately reflects reality. this rivalry carries on to present day where the two authors once again butt heads.

augustus has a secret, however — he’s just as blocked as january is. his agent is pressing down on him to deliver a worthy successor to his previous smash-hit literary novel. as a way to force themselves out of this rut, the two make a deal to swap genres. january will think of the next prize-winning novel while gus has to write a tooth-rotting romance book — without killing off any of the characters. 

what follows is a series of author dates that will help them get in the right headspace. january has to show gus some rom-com magic while he will take her on a journey into the darker parts of life where there are no happily ever after’s. as they spend almost every waking hour together, going on amusement park rides and interviewing survivors of a death cult, they learn there’s much more to each other that meets the eye. slowly, january starts to understand why gus is as cynical as he is. she, in turn, begins to trust him enough to open up about her own struggles. but when stronger feelings arise, the trauma of the past rears its ugly head…

january and augustus are two wounded souls that are simply trying to find their way after being lost for so long. their characterisation is, dare i say, flawless. they’re polar opposites, yet each harbours a bone-deep hurt that can only turn into a deep mutual understanding. they perfectly complement each other, challenging the stubborn beliefs that have been ingrained into their minds through hardship. it’s exactly what makes them a perfect pair. 

i would be lying if i expected something as light as a book named beach read to hit as hard as it did. yet it did. still, i devoured the story and even went back for seconds. emily henry writes with such emotion, it’s difficult not to fall deep while reading. her characters are messy, their relationships are messy; they’re not perfect like you’d expect a pair in a typical rom-com to be. they’re real. and they’re beautiful. 

as much as january wants to stick her head into the sand, ostrich style, at the end she grows into her emotions and faces them head on. the same goes for gus, of course, however, i was more drawn to january’s side of the plot as it resonated more with my own experiences. it’s both rewarding and incredibly devastating when she finally opens the letters her father had left her and has to face the fact that he was neither perfect, nor was he terrible – he was simply human. ms henry handles the delicate situation with such care while refraining from offering a neat solution to trauma, wrapped up with a ribbon. it’s astonishingly masterful, it brings tears to the eyes.

beach read is a perfect blend of both january and augustus. it offers readers an escape in its rom-com setting while also keeping them grounded with reminders that reality is no romantic stroll into the sunset. i’m eagerly looking forward to her new title, you and me on vacation (better known in the us as people we meet on vacation).