Book Content Warnings: Death, Grief, Panic Attacks
Book Lovers is a story about book lovers, for book lovers, by a book lover.
Emily Henry truly knows her audience, and she makes that clear through her most recent novel’s self-awareness. Book Lovers tells the story of Nora Stephens, a seemingly cold-hearted, work-obsessed literary agent who lives in a world of books and classic literary tropes, so much so that she self-identifies as a cynical workaholic who men date before they find the love of their life. She’s accepted this villainous characterization, and resigned herself to her role.
As a favor to her little sister Libby, Nora decides to visit the small town that inspired one of her author’s novels: Sunshine Falls. Instead of falling into a typical small-town romance trope, Nora keeps finding herself bumping into Charlie Lastra, a brooding editor from the city who seems to be the archetype for the grouchy misanthrope. However, over a series of run-ins, Nora and Charlie begin to unpack the books that have shaped them and who they are outside of the book world.
Book Lovers is the perfect rom-com, but it’s able to go deeper than coincidental run-ins and witty banter. Nora and Charlie’s relationship is more than the Mr. Darcy trope, where our main character misjudges her love interest only to discover his pure intentions. Their relationship development tells complex stories about grief, mental health, and family. The love story is used as a vehicle to help these characters come face-to-face with the stories they have and the roles they play in their own lives.
For Nora, this means confronting another role she has given herself: a person who has to take care of everything and everyone. Her complicated relationship with her sister mirrors the complicated relationship she has with work, stemming from her grief after her mother passed away. Whether it be with work or Libby, Nora’s character growth allows us to see how much she truly cares about certain parts of her life. Even though Nora adamantly tells us she isn’t perfect, throughout the book, she starts to show us her humanity. It’s in these moments that she steps out of the pages and comes to life.
Nora is the main character, but she doesn’t see herself as one, and that feeling resonates with just the type of person who would love Emily Henry’s work. Nora Stephens is every older sister, every person in need of academic validation, every workaholic, every person who had to grow up too quickly.
As Nora experiences the forced proximity trope and fated run-ins with Charlie, she starts collecting the puzzle pieces until she can see the whole picture. The moment their relationship clicks for her is one of the most heartfelt moments in their story: Nora is struggling with a panic attack when Charlie finds her and helps her get through it. He shares the story of his difficult relationship with his family and his feelings that he could only disappoint the people around him. Nora relates to him because of how much she gives to her job and her sister. Charlie reassures her saying “I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as you do. Do you know how many people would kill for someone like that in their lives?” In this tender scene, it’s heartwarming to see how the things these characters hate most about themselves are what the other most admires.
Emily Henry allows her characters to be more than the tropes they work with. They have real problems that affect the trajectory of their love story and create significant obstacles they have to work through. However, the darker themes don’t take away from the witty and joyous romance novel that this is. Henry balances the nuanced stories of characters’ very real issues with the challenges of falling in love. Nora’s and Charlie’s dialogue is full of bookish references and intelligent one-liners that make the story so easy to get caught up in. It’s always through words that they seem to find common ground and really understand each other.
As a lover of Emily Henry’s previous work and books in general, it’s stimulating to see characters who love books engage in dialogue that reflects that. The bookish jokes, the references to Henry’s previous work, and even the applications of tropes in their internal monologue made it all the more delightful to read. Book Lovers is a story that centers on love, but is more than romance. It’s perfect for rom-com lovers and rom-com skeptics alike. It’s the perfect rom-com for all book lovers.
—Isabella Villegas, Fall 2022 Staff
EMILY HENRY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Book Lovers, People We Meet on Vacation, and Beach Read, as well as the forthcoming Happy Place. She lives and writes in Cincinnati and the part of Kentucky just beneath it.
Find her on Instagram @EmilyHenryWrites.
Book Lovers can be purchased here.