I have only recently been introduced to Emily Henry and I swear I crave her books like a dog craves a bone. I finally realized why I enjoy her writing so much (Beach Read included) - with each book, she imparts a bit of wisdom on how to survive the rollercoaster that's called life. She doesn't season it up with wishful thinking and fairytale moments. She reminds us that life can be down right brutal at times but we will get through it and come out on the other side strong. And if we don't, that's ok too.
January Andrews is dealing with enough issues in life right now - family secrets, a loss of a parent, a recent breakup - the last thing she needed was writer’s block! Having lost the beacon of light and hope that fueled her creative process, she escapes to North Bear Shores, Michigan - determined to crank out something that resembles a book while trying to ready her late father’s house to go on the market. As if writer’s block wasn’t a worthy enough adversary - January soon learns that the obnoxious neighbor who’s loud music is making her ears bleed is coming from the house of no other than her college crush turned arch nemesis - Augustus Everett. The same boy, now man, who made her college experience an absolute nightmare (even if she couldn’t take her eyes off him!) Same boyish charm with that fiery yet judgmental look, January’s dance card is officially full and she just can’t deal with anything else but with a small town, you can run but you can’t hide. So if you can’t beat them, join them. Alone, flustered, and running out of options, January is willing to try just about anything to make a book materialize, even accepting a bet with Augustus (Gus) to write something well outside of her normal range. She just has to keep her promise that she won’t fall in love with him, which she believes will come right after witnessing pigs fly.
This book was different from the other books I have read by Henry but I couldn’t put my finger on how. Enjoying it immensely, it is probably the first slow burn book that kept my interest the entire time. The ebbs and flows of their relationship kept you guessing what would happen next but helping you stay in the moment. Were they friends, would they become more, would they become less, was there a future, was the change that made them so compatible now temporary? I think what was intriguing was feeling like I was inside of the head of the many authors I enjoy. It was a reality check of the amount of pressure they must feel to give us readers what we crave, what we desire. Will we be happy? Will we resent them? I think that’s what felt different. While I enjoy the characters in most books, January felt more real to me, as if Emily Henry was speaking to the readers through her - letting us know that she was struggling but would find a way to deliver.
January’s story was incredible! The pallet of baggage that she had to carry would break any normal person. She was experiencing loss in a multitude of ways, loss of Jacques, loss of her father, loss of the relationship with her mother, loss of happily ever afters, loss of what she believed was the example of pure and wholesome love between her parents. On top of that, she still had to carry on - writing in a voice that no longer belonged to her, facing a reminder of her past that was messing with her present, longing for a friend that was close but yet so far - she was everywhere but was still trying to find her center.
Augustus Everett is the embodiment of the antihero. The way Henry wrote him, you desperately wanted him to find something, anything to make it all worth it. The despair, the abandonment, the relentless search of permanency, of being wanted, accepted, chosen - his character was everything but believed he was nothing. To believe he wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough, was simply a plague that destroyed everything he touched was gut wrenching. He constantly hid behind a shield that had protected him for so long, he didn’t even realize it still existed.
The sexual tension between these two characters was sensational. What I have always appreciate about Henry is that she writes with such sensuality and intimacy that it doesn’t feel like a hot and heavy scene, it feels like a overdue tender moment between two people who are so drawn to each other, nothing else but being together makes sense.
This book was just real in every way. January wasn’t a damsel is distress looking for her Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet. Augustus wasn’t the bruiting male lead who had everything in life but the love of a good woman. They loved and lost, they had disappointments, heartaches, up and downs, good and bad childhoods, secrets, and lies - they were us, they were real, crap happened, things didn’t work out, life sucked. It was a refreshing break away from the lightheartedness of most romantic comedies. While the laughs were still there (the banter was strong with this one!), the rawness of just being human and surviving was there too. Behind every laugh, every smart remark, every comeback was a person simply trying to keep it together. Isn’t that all of us to an extent?
Love is hard, love is messy and it may not always work out like the fairytales but we are resilient, strong, and will survive. Love stinks but it doesn’t mean we should lose hope. That is the overarching message I got from her book - it may not come in the form you desire or work out how you picture it but giving up and turning your back on the idea ruins any possibilities of not happily ever after, but happy for now moments.
While her stories are officially fiction, she ensures her characters keep one foot in the real world, connecting our realms and allowing us to see, feel, and appreciate what is happening and how we may apply their reasoning to our every day woes. Beach Read teaches us that nothing is guaranteed - life, love, or happily ever afters. For this reason, we need to embrace the "now" of things and leave the "buts" for tomorrow.