Review of Beach Read by Emily Henry
Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Beach Read is a gem for your light fiction-escapism-pandemic-era reading list.
Is it fair for a person (me) with particular requirements for light fiction (ideally: not too outlandish of a hook and premise, characters who follow somewhat logical steps in their lives, inner voices that feel real, human connections that warm my heart, and a little romantic something-something) to continue reading light fiction while kind of expecting disappointment?
Yes. Yes, it is. Because I suspected that Emily Henry's Beach Read was going to be a major gem on my light fiction-escapism-pandemic-era reading list. And fortunately, I was correct.
It took five (short) chapters to take off for me, with some minor early grumbles on my part.
The very early scene-setting didn't feel as authentic to me as the rest of the book. We kept hearing about the person January was before her father's death and before his affair was revealed, but no glimpses of that personality were apparent, so I kept feeling told without believing it. The hints at this prior, whimsical person were jarring to me and maybe I was too grumpy for the idea of her, because she felt more off-putting than charming. For example, she meets the small-town barista and within moments thinks, "Honestly, I liked her so much that it sent a little pang of longing through me. For the old January. The one who...couldn't go to the gas station or stand in line at the post office without winding up making plans to grab coffee or hit up a gallery opening [with strangers]..." Just afterward, she says "...that [old] January probably would've slathered herself in glitter, put on her favorite velvet loafers, and shown up at the front door [of a next-door stranger having a loud party] with a bottle of champagne..." But January soon shows herself to be a character capable of overcoming great pain, engaging in wise self-examination, and achieving messily hard-fought resilience, all of which I cared about.
Beach Read met all of my criteria above; it's sweet and funny, it's about writing and books, there are wonderfully faulted love-crossed main protagonists with a shared history, and they share a sexy-playful-obsession-maybe-heartbreak-maybe-love.
Henry's characters make references I adored (Veronica Mars!), and their banter is so smart and funny, it made me laugh repeatedly. They're perfectly imperfect, not over-the-top light-fiction perfect with fake flaws, nor are they wholly broken and in need of saving. They are complex characters who have been through tough experiences and are at interesting tipping points in their lives.
January's reflections are surprisingly deep; for me, the "real," messy, vulnerable character of January far exceeds the impact of the fanciful sense of self she keeps telling us once existed, and which she purports to miss.
The examination of the writing process and the feelings evoked by falling into writing a story were lovely. The sections of this light fiction book that are about writing light fiction felt very true and real. And I loved spending time with Gus and January.
What did you think?
Henry has four other books, but I haven't read any of her others yet.
Another light fiction book I enjoyed this summer, but which had characters with job-interview-level fake faults (too caring, too beautiful, too artistic) was The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez.
I mentioned this book in Three Wackily Different Books I'm Reading Right Now, 9/3/20 Edition.