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These Three Sally Rooney Novels are the Perfect Read for College Students

I read my first Salley Rooney novel “Normal People” two summers ago, right before I left for my freshman year of college, and I was hooked. I read Rooney’s other two novels, “Conversations With Friends” and “Beautiful World, Where Are You?”, over the course of the following year. Although there are other texts by Sally Rooney, I’m going to give you a breakdown of her three most popular novels and why they are the perfect books to read as a college student. 

As college students, we are constantly exposed to new experiences and overwhelmed by the complexities of everyday life: whether that experience is an on-and-off relationship, career confusion, or roommate struggles. 

A majority of Rooney’s characters are college students themselves and she articulates their lives in a manner that made it impossible to take my eyes off the page. While her character’s experiences weren’t always completely relatable, their emotions were, and I still find myself reflecting on them long after I have finished the books. The biggest criticism her novels receive is that nothing extraordinary occurs, however her captivating writing about the complexity of everyday life is exactly what makes her novels worth the read. 

In fact, this is just another reason Ronney’s novels are perfect for college students, they include little to no fluff. She leaves a majority of the details up to the imagination by spending very little time explaining the setting or minuscule details, and strictly sticking to the events of the story. The pace of her writing is one of the best aspects of her novels. This Irish author manages to write stories about the relationships between a young individual and their friends, their careers, their families, their sexuality and themselves.

My first and favorite novel is “Normal People” which follows the delicate relationship between two characters from high school to college to adult life. Connel Waldron and Marianne Sheridan weave in and out of each other’s lives as they face toxic relationships, college decisions, family struggles, grief, depression, career choices and protecting the people they love. This novel is the most eventful of her novels and is a great first read to get used to her writing style. What stuck with me the most from this novel was the shift that the two characters face when they move from high school to college. 

Rooney gives an exceptional illustration of how mental health reflects your environment. She explores social status and friendship as both conflicting with and complimenting each other. The Hulu adaptation of “Normal People” also has outstanding reviews. Even if you’re not a fan of the novel, actors Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones do such an incredible job portraying these characters that you may enjoy watching the story more than reading it. “Normal People” is the book I would suggest starting with. I promise you will not be able to put it down once you’ve started. 

“Conversations With Friends” is Rooney’s other novel in which the main characters are college students. This story follows two female college students, Frances Flynn and Bobbi Connolly, and their connection to an older married couple, actor husband Nick Conway and author wife Melissa Conway. Rooney takes these characters through a journey of sexuality and infidelity. She pulls back the curtain of a seemingly perfect marriage and exposes an open relationship. She uses jealousy, insecurity, and guilt to manipulate these characters’ experiences. She takes a close-up look at how our past relationships affect our future ones and how those relationships shape the way we view ourselves. 

Along with romantic relationships, the main character Frances Flynn faces complications with her health, a rocky relationship with her alcoholic father and financial instability. However, what makes Frances a character that appeals to college students is the confusion she faces about her career, passions, and ambitions. There is a Hulu adaptation of “Conversations With Friends” as well, which received much more criticism than “Normal People”. However, if you are a Joe Alwyn girly, it is so worth the watch. “Conversations with friends” is truly a novel about two young people trying to figure out their place in the adult world, while struggling to still fit into the role of a college student. 

Lastly, I want to talk about Rooney’s most recent release “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” which is the story of college friends: Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon, now in their late 20s. This story confronts the stress that many students face as they approach graduation that the world outside of college feels unlivable. So many of us feel overwhelmed with the constant pressure that everything is getting more expensive, global warming is destroying the planet, politics are taking a nosedive and there is so much unescapable evil in the world. 

These characters look at the world from a fearful, young perspective and search for the beauty in a place that seems so ugly. She takes a bit of a different approach in this novel by switching the focus of each chapter based on which character she is writing about and sprinkles in a few chapters written as email correspondence between Alice and Eileen. 

Another unique aspect of this novel is that she includes the experience of the COVID-19 quarantine;  it is very evident that the pandemic was her inspiration to write the novel. As college students who lived through it, it is almost refreshing to read a story in which the virus isn’t the whole plot but simply a subplot in the greater thread of the characters’ lives. “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” provides validation to the fear of growing up as well as comfort in the fact that we can still find hope within ourselves and each other, even in a world that seems so hopeless. 

Each of these novels captured me from the first page to the last and lingered in my mind since reading them. Rooney’s novels are almost hand-tailored for the anxious and confused college student. She touches upon most stressors that students face and I find a piece of myself in every character Rooney creates. These characters, the experiences they have, and the emotions they cope with are a reflection of the young adult experience and changed my perception on personal expressions of love, ambition, friendship and identity.

Jane Richards

Northeastern '25

Hey!! My name is Jane, I am currently a Sophomore at Northeastern University studying Health Science on the Pre-PA Track. I am super interested in the OB/GYN Physicians Assistant. Aside from medicine, I have a passion for writing and reading. I am so excited to work on a platform like Her Campus where I can share my love for all things feminine with other creative and passionate college students!