- What: Beach Read
- Who: Emily Henry
- Pages: 350 pages
- Genres: Chick lit and contemporary fiction
- Published: 2020
- The lit: of 5 flames
I had read that author Emily Henry had suffered from terrible writer’s block when she started her 2020 novel, Beach Read. That idea eventually led to a main theme in the book where the main character fails to have any clue what her next book will be about despite a looming deadline. And, boy can I relate.
For a few months in 2021, I also suffered from writer’s block. There are a slew of things I could have blamed it on, but I just didn’t feelt motivated to write and blog. I usually procrastinated until the last possible moment before I started my reviews — which really tested the memory. And worse than that, I hadn’t even felt motivated to read. It’s not that I had read bad books that steered me away from my favorite hobby; in fact, five of the eight that I’ve finished in 2021 have received four flames. There was really no explanation; all I knew is that it was taking much longer to finish books I was enjoying than it normally would. That is, until I met Beach Read.
Just like Henry’s characters, I needed a little something to spark some motivation and creativity. That presented itself in the form of 350 pages of a fun and flirty storyline with something important to say. I read this book in one weekend, and I don’t remember the last time I felt like I just could NOT put down a book. I closed this one and felt a little bit more like myself. Now that is what I call a powerful piece of art.
January Andrews has had a year (haven’t we all). Her father unexpectedly passed away, leaving behind years of secrets that hurt just as much as his passing. On top of it, her mother won’t talk to her about her father, her boyfriend of six years recently broke up with her, and she has zero money. Oh, and she has intense writer’s block, making that lil money issue a pretty big deal and her nearing book deadline an ominous presence.
January has never been in this place before. Writing romance novels has always been her sanctuary, and she’s always possessed an infectious hope and belief in happily ever afters both in real life and in fiction. That sunny disposition, though, has been clouded in the past year, and she can’t find the spirit in herself to write about love. So she packs her bags and heads to her dad’s mysterious lake house for the summer to hopefully find some solace that will translate into a romance novel.
She finds much more than she bargained for when she discovers her literary nemesis, Augustus Everett, living next door. He writes about death and heartbreaking reality and is known for — in a very sexist world — writing “great American novels.” They could not be more different except he too is suffering from writer’s block. They make a bet to write a book in each other’s genres to prove several points about each other’s views on the world and about what does and doesn’t make a good novel. He’ll take her on morose interviews as part of his research, and she’ll show him how a rom-com montage comes to life. By the end of the summer, they will hopefully have produced two successful books and will 100%, most definitely not fall in love.
My love for the genre in which Beach Read was written has been publicized many, many times, but let me make one more (and definitely not my last) statement. Many may argue that my use of the words “chick lit” only proves some stereotypical and sexist point about this genre, but I disagree. This is my way of taking back the literary power in a genre that has long since been misunderstood. Plus, men and women are not equal, so if we want to have our own genre that women may enjoy but are not required to, then so be it and more power to us.
I believe Beach Read was Henry’s way of reclaiming the chick lit genre as well. Henry makes many poignant statements in this book, but my favorite is how she explicitly calls out the sexism that the chick lit genre experiences and the many stereotypes about it. By pointing out the similarities between January’s books and Augustus’ and between their own experiences, Henry flips the script on and proves the staying power of her own genre — which happens to be her main character’s genre as well (very meta here). Further, by creating a male character who also suffers from emotional shit, she removes some of the unhealthy masculinity we see too frequently in pop culture, especially in how we perceive books and their authors.
“There are more than enough steamy scenes to sustain the slow-burn romance, and smart commentary on the placement and purpose of ‘women’s fiction’ joins with crucial conversations about mental health to add multiple intriguing layers to the plot,” writes Kirkus Reviews.
And steamy scenes indeed. The number of actual sex scenes in this book are quite few (though delicious), and it takes awhile to get to them. If that’s what you look for in chick lit (c’mon, we all want some degree of it), don’t be deterred. Better than the steamy scenes is the build-up to those moments where the sexual tension between January and Augustus is so palpable you just know some sexiness is about to go down … until they both bow out for fear of rejection, awkwardness, and all the other 1,000 reasons we tell ourselves when we’re around our crushes.
Henry also offers superb characterization in January and Augustus, and their interactions provide intriguing dialogue and commentary. They’re both extremely witty and sassy, making for some one-liners that zing and for some inner thoughts that make you laugh and relate. It’s simply a fun book — my favorite — that still manages to incorporate many complex layers. I was a little skeptical to read a book with a title that I thought told me everything I needed to know about it. Fortunately, it delivered on so many other levels and really surprised me, and it *hopefully* got me back into the swing of reading. I’ll drink to that.