Review: ‘Book Lovers’ turns the romantic comedy inside out


Clara McCourt

Author Emily Henry’s third novel “Book Lovers” released this May. The novel reimagines conventional romantic comedy tropes.

Clara McCourt, news staff

Everyone’s seen the Hallmark movie: a big city hotshot is forced into some humdrum — yet charming — Middle America small town. Their life is forever changed by some idealized rough-around-the-edges townie — a shop owner, a single parent, maybe a lumberjack – so they abandon their snooty city roots, break up with their frigid platinum blonde city girlfriend and ride off into the sunset with their new beau. But what happens to the ex-girlfriend, stuck in the cold, uncaring city? Who is she, beyond a plot device?

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

At the request of her younger sister, Nora is dragged to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina — the Hallmark movie small town of her nightmares. But instead of falling head over heels for a handsome stranger, Nora just can’t stop bumping into her shrewd, bookish rival Charlie. 

“Book Lovers” is not a typical romance novel, and Henry knows it. Her previous two works, “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation,” stick a little more closely to the formula: quirky, peppy female leads meet nerdy yet brooding partners in an “opposites attract” scenario, and a love story ensues. Nora and Charlie are decidedly not that, instead they are two sides of the same type-A coin. Henry’s writing shines when these two sharp, impossibly witty characters interact — her dialogue is akin to an Aaron Sorkin screenplay in its incisive, quick beats. 

While “Book Lovers” will certainly hit the romance shelf at the bookstore, the story places Nora’s internal 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 does not question her success and never sacrifices what she has worked for in the name of “true love” — whatever that means. It’s safe to say that Nora and Charlie are Henry’s strongest leads to date. 

Henry dedicates much of the novel to Nora’s relationship with her younger sister Libby. Nora spends a great deal of time worrying about Libby’s well-being over her own (older sisters everywhere, rejoice!) and while it gives the two sisters a lot of room to grow, this B-plot often hogs the spotlight from the novel’s main narrative. There are whole chapters without Charlie, and his absence is almost tangible. While Libby’s oddball escapades — dying her hair pink, setting Nora up on blind dates and saving a local bookstore, to name a few — are entertaining, the brief break from Nora’s keen thoughts and feelings bogs her romantic arc down. 

Nevertheless, “Book Lovers” finds the complexity in love, family and individuality in a fresh, modern way. The story stands out from its rom-com counterparts with its serious thematic arcs while remaining a fun, feel-good read, thanks to Henry’s rich characters, worldbuilding and penchant for banter. It’s both a satire on and a tribute to the romance novel, and Henry’s unique voice will surely prove powerful in her works to come.