Review: ‘Book Lovers’ turns the romantic comedy on its head

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Everyone’s seen the Hallmark movie: A big-city hotshot is forced to move to an unremarkable — but charming — small town in Central America. Their lives are forever changed by an idealized, rough-and-tumble city dweller – a shop owner, a single parent, possibly a lumberjack – so they abandon their arrogant city roots, break up with their icy platinum blonde girlfriend, and move on. go into the sunset with their new beau. But what happens to the ex-girlfriend, stuck in the cold and indifferent town? Who is she, beyond a plot?

“Book Lovers,” author Emily Henry’s latest foray into women’s fiction released May 3, turns that trope on its head. The novel follows Nora Stephens, a no-nonsense New York literary agent, who has already been dumped several times by the stereotypical romantic comedy Romeos. Nora is a powerhouse in her field, nicknamed “The Shark”, and clashes with an equally cold editor, Charlie Lastra.

At the request of her younger sister, Nora is dragged to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina – the small town from the Hallmark movie of her nightmares. But instead of falling head over heels in love with a handsome stranger, Nora can’t help but stumble upon her shrewd, bookish rival, Charlie.

“Book Lovers” is not your typical romance novel, and Henry knows it. His two previous works, “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation,” stick a bit more to the formula: eccentric and energetic female protagonists meet nerdy but brooding partners in a “opposites attract” storyline. », and a love story ensues. . Nora and Charlie are decidedly not that, rather they are two sides of the same Type-A coin. Henry’s writing shines when these two sharp and incredibly witty characters interact – his dialogue resembles an Aaron Sorkin script in its incisive and rapid rhythms.

While “Book Lovers” is sure to be on the romance shelf at the bookstore, the story puts Nora’s inner development front and center. While traditional rom-com material is often trope-filled and sexist, Nora feels like a real person, full of complexities. It’s refreshing to see a female character who doesn’t question her success and never sacrifices what she worked for in the name of “true love” – ​​whatever that means. It’s safe to say that Nora and Charlie are Henry’s best leads to date.

Henry devotes much of the novel to Nora’s relationship with her younger sister Libby. Nora spends a lot of time worrying about Libby’s well-being compared to her own (older sisters everywhere, rejoice!) and while this gives both sisters plenty of room to grow, this B-plot often monopolizes the star of the main novel. narrative. There are whole chapters without Charlie, and his absence is almost tangible. While Libby’s bizarre escapades — dyeing her hair pink, setting up blind dates for Nora, and saving a local bookstore, to name a few — are entertaining, the brief pause from thoughts and Nora’s strong feelings bog down her romantic arc.

Nonetheless, “Book Lovers” finds the complexity of love, family, and individuality in a fresh, modern way. The story stands out from its rom-com counterparts with its serious thematic arcs while still being a fun and enjoyable read, thanks to Henry’s rich characters, world-building, and penchant for banter. It’s part satire and part homage to the romance novel, and Henry’s unique voice is sure to prove powerful in his works to come.

★★★★☆

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