To acquire wisdom, one must observe

I read four Emily Henry books in four days

A darling of BookTok, I often see Emily Henry’s books when I’m scrolling through Instagram Reels. I started to read her books last year, and was recently informed by a Kindle advertisement that she has a fifth book coming soon. This motivated me to read or reread all of Emily Henry’s work in preparation for the upcoming fifth book release. I read all four of these books over the four-day March break, so I am now here to do a small review of each.

While each Emily Henry book is different enough to avoid criticism of being formulaic and repetitive, I did notice some similarities between all four of her books. Each walks the line between romantic comedy and literary fiction. Some of her work leans more one way or the other, but all of her books are a mix of both. Her female leads tend to be career women in their late twenties who are now stuck in a rut (regarding career, personal life or both) and her male leads are usually a steady and more serious foil to the more frenetic energy of the female leads. Henry also likes to set her books in some sort of vacation or getaway setting, away from the drudgery of everyday life and in a magical vacation space where anything can happen.

Beyond these points, however, Henry’s books are fairly variable, so I will now go through them in order of publication.

“Beach Read” (2020): Henry’s first book certainly lives up to its name, as I think the ideal place to read it is at the beach. It’s a breezy, undemanding read that I was able to get through in under two hours. In my opinion, “Beach Read” is the closest Henry comes to a pure romcom. January is a romcom writer. Augustus (Gus) writes literary fiction. Yes, those are their real names. Both are living in neighboring beach houses and both have writer’s block. They strike a deal to swap genres to escape their creative rut. I’m sure you can see where this is going. “Beach Read” is probably the most trope-y of Henry’s work. Gus and January are a classic grumpy/sunshine couple, and most of the book sees them growing to like, then love each other in a mild enemies-to-lovers plotline. While “Beach Read” is a fun read, it definitely feels overly fluffy and padded out compared to Henry’s other work. The third act breakup is frustrating, and the book lacks the depth that Henry would later come to be known for. But it’s a fun read and if you’re looking for a well-written, engaging romcom to get you out of a reading slump, this is a great book to pick up. 

“People We Meet on Vacation” (2021): This is the book that went viral and made Henry famous on BookTok. It’s also the last of her books that I read, mostly because the concept was the one that interested me the least. “People We Meet on Vacation” follows best friends Poppy and Alex, who met in college but both come from the same part of Ohio. Poppy is a travel journalist; Alex is a teacher. The two are almost polar opposites—Poppy is full of wanderlust, hates the feeling of being tied down, is terrified of boredom and deeply resents her hometown. Alex craves stability, aims to put down roots, wants a quiet life and loves his hometown. Every year, the two take an epic vacation together. During the main trip of “People We Meet on Vacation,” the two fall in love. Where “People We Meet on Vacation” really shines is tracking the friendship between Poppy and Alex and how it evolved over the years, from college through their early careers to their more established lives now. Unfortunately, this strength is also a weakness, because the platonic friendship between Poppy and Alex ends up being more dynamic and interesting than the two as a romantic pair. At the end of the novel, I still wasn’t sold on the two of them as a couple, which kind of sabotaged the romcom appeal for me. I did love how Henry tracked a friendship over the years, and the non-linear storytelling is a hint of Henry’s litfic talent that she utilizes more in later work. 

“Book Lovers” (2022): “Book Lovers” to me was a great balance of literary fiction and romcom. Where it really shines is its lead, Nora. Both January and Poppy were cheerful, wild, witty leads who leaned more to the sunshine romance trope. Sometimes, I found their incessant positivity incredibly irritating. Nora is not that. She is a cutthroat literary agent, a serious, type-A career woman and is Henry’s response to the “girlfriend back home” trope in Hallmark movies. I saw myself in Nora far more than I did in any of Henry’s other female leads, which made me love the book. I also appreciated that Nora resented being on vacation, forcing Henry to earn the “vacation magic” feel she loves, rather than just taking it for granted. The most engaging plot point to me was the relationship between Nora and her sister Libby. It was certainly the most mature writing Henry had crafted at this point in her career, and the flashback scenes of how Nora had to step up to raise Libby after their mother passed is the only time a Henry book has brought me close to tears. “Book Lovers” also shows us how Nora learns to put her own wants and needs first, and it’s overall a great character arc. The story does have some weaknesses though, mainly the fact that the male lead, Charlie, is not the most memorable. I completely forgot his name until I reread the book. The romance is sweet and well-written, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the way Henry crafts Nora’s individual arc. However, I’m still a big fan of “Book Lovers” and it’s definitely my favorite Emily Henry book so far.

“Happy Place” (2023): “Happy Place” shines as the book where Henry really nails the supporting cast. The book follows a friend group that met in college and has done a group trip to Maine every summer. The group is now growing apart as everyone is in their late twenties, but nobody wants to be the one to break it. Our main characters are Harriet and Wyn. They are ex-fiances, but as far as their friends know, they are still engaged. So, for the trip, they have to pretend to still be together. It’s a slightly more believable twist on the fake-dating trope (still one of my least favorite romcom tropes), and of course, by the end of the book, they are back together. Like “Book Lovers,” the main weakness of “Happy Place” is that the non-romance elements of the book are stronger than the romance. I was more invested in the friend group as a whole than I was in Harriet and Wyn getting back together. And like “People We Meet on Vacation,” my favorite part of the book was tracking the group’s friendship over the years. I suspect “Happy Place” will be a book I’ll want to revisit in my latetwenties, as it grapples with what that stage of life means in a really touching and vulnerable way. I appreciate “Happy Place” for its strong supporting cast, its interrogation of friendship and how it evolves, and for how well it tackles serious topics like mental illness. I didn’t fully buy the romance, nor did I love the way Harriet’s character arc concluded, but “Happy Place” was still a fun read and another great book for getting out of a reading slump.

If you’re looking for a fun, easy read that carries a bit more depth and bite than the average romcom, I would certainly recommend Emily Henry’s work. “Book Lovers” is my favorite, but there are strong points to all of her books. I’m excited to read her upcoming book “Funny Story,” and see how Henry’s style develops further.

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