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Photo of three books stacked
Photo of three books stacked
Samira Balsara

Ranking Sally Rooney’s Novels

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Over the course of the pandemic, as avid readers began sharing and recommending their favourite books on TikTok–– eventually coining the name BookTok––author Sally Rooney gained extreme popularity. 

Her books, Conversations With Friends, Normal People, and most recently, Beautiful World, Where Are You? tell the stories of 20 to 30-something-year-olds navigating the complexities of life. Her character-driven plots, playing with themes of romance, friendship, growing up and mental health struggles, have become relatable fiction for many.

I have read all three of Rooney’s novels over the past year and loved them all, but I was still able to pick my favourites.

Here is my ranking in order from least to most favourite (even though they all got a five star rating on Goodreads):

Beautiful World, Where are you?

Rooney’s latest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, published in Sept. 2021, follows the story of four characters: Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon.

Alice is a writer and meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, on a dating app. Eileen is recovering from a break up and falls back into old patterns with her childhood friend Simon. 

The story follows the course of the characters’ lives over many months, and delves into how their experiences intertwine. 

While the story was captivating, it didn’t compare to the others because it was less relatable to me. Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon are in their late twenties, and while they are still trying to figure out their paths in life and deal with the challenges of love, the overall story seemed to focus on issues I would encounter later in life. 

I do, however, like that Rooney decided to focus her story on characters who are a bit older, as her first two novels are about high school to university-aged people. 

Normal People

Normal People, published in 2018, was the first Rooney book I read as BookTok convinced me to buy it. The book was also turned into a hit TV show starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell. 

Normal People follows the relationship between Marianne and Connell, whose stories start in their final year of high school.

Marianne is shy and reserved, while Connell is the star of the school’s rugby team. While this plays into a typical “shy girl meets popular boy” trope, it subverts expectations as the story develops.

Mainly set in Dublin, as all of Rooney’s books are, Marianne and Connell share intimate moments as teenagers and end up meeting again at Trinity College. 

Marianne and Connell have a communication issue, which causes problem after problem throughout the story as they date other people and fail to explain how they truly feel about each other. It can be frustrating at times as a reader, but it makes it all the more relatable as relationships are confusing, especially for teens and young adults. 

Normal People is an emotional read, but it is truly perfect for colder months and lives up to its hype.

Conversations with friends

Lastly, my favourite Rooney book and probably one of my favourite novels ever: Conversations With Friends. This book also made it to BookTok, but it wasn’t nearly as popular as Normal People

The story is about the relationship between four characters; Frances, Bobbi, Melissa and Nick.

Frances and Bobbi are best friends figuring out university life. Melissa and Nick are married in their early thirties.

When the four meet at a party and become friends, Frances finds herself attracted to Nick and soon learns the feeling is mutual. Frances and Nick begin an affair, while Melissa and Bobbi spark up a friendship which causes Frances to feel a bit alienated. 

Frances falls for Nick emotionally and physically, and they begin to depend on each other in different ways. The messy affair causes problems between Bobbi and Frances, as they, too, try to navigate their complicated relationship. 

The reason I loved this book is because you can sympathize with every character. There’s no defined line between good and bad. While Frances is clever and book smart when it comes to Nick, she makes questionable and immature decisions, which is a part of falling in love. Frances also struggles to convey her emotions, and when she does, she is often dismissed. At one point in the book, on the rare occasion that she does attempt to acknowledge how she feels, she is called dramatic, depicting how young women’s feelings often get tossed aside. While I won’t spoil the ending, I think Rooney made exactly the right decision when it came to closing the story. 

Conversations With Friends is peak Rooney writing. Her characters act just how people that age would and it’s easy to see yourself in them.

Samira Balsara is a third-year journalism student at Ryerson University. She is interested in pursuing a career as a news anchor or a career in fashion journalism. Apart from writing, she likes music (mainly Taylor Swift), reading and making Pinterest boards.
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