As Apr. 23, 2023 approached, I frequently commented to my friends that this was “my joker.” I would not be able to stop talking about this for at least a month, if not longer. By this, I meant author Emily Henry’s new book, “Happy Place.”
I eagerly pre-ordered the novel, practically ran to the mailroom to pick it up and ripped open the packaging to reveal a brand new, shiny, hot pink book. I proceeded to consume the story in a rapid three days, during which many tears were shed, laughs were had and I enthusiastically checked all five stars on StoryGraph just minutes after closing the book.
It was an exhilarating reading experience–in fact, I have felt this way with nearly all of Henry’s other three novels. I couldn’t put the book down, while simultaneously experiencing an acute sorrow at the thought of reaching the end. It made me wonder, where did this author that I’ve come to cherish and adore come from? How did I end up in this situation in the first place?
It is safe to say that Emily Henry has a grip on Gen Z romance lovers everywhere, and I’m not mad about it. She is the author of a handful of young adult novels, four adult novels and has a fifth on the way. She has become a staple name in the world of contemporary romance literature, but surprisingly, that isn’t how she got her foot into the business.
Henry graduated from Hope College, a small university in Michigan, and returned home to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she worked as a technical writer. This mundane job sparked her creativity, and she began to write young adult (YA) novels about magic realism.
Writing stories became her postwork pastime, her secret hobby. Eventually, she began to write a story about two writers in an enemies-to-lovers, small-town narrative, which would eventually turn into her first adult novel, “Beach Read.” However, to Henry’s surprise, this story didn’t turn out to be a classic, light-hearted romance; instead, it dealt with extremely human themes, such as grief, death and complicated family dynamics.
“Beach Read” was released in May 2020, and isolated, pandemic-exhausted readers fell in love with January and Augustus’s story. “People We Meet on Vacation” and “Book Lovers” followed, released in 2021 and 2022 respectively. Henry has sold over 2.5 million print copies of her books, and given her success, that number is expected to only rise.
Emily Henry has, as Vulture Magazine puts it, “cracked the modern romance novel.”
What readers can expect from an Emily Henry novel is always the unexpected. While the original premises of her books feel typical, at times even cliche, Henry manages to add a depth that other contemporary romance writers simply don’t have.
Her characters, male and female, sing songs of mental health awareness, of the incomprehensible nature of grief and its impact, of diversity in strength and character and more. A sex scene written by Henry always includes discussion of consent and contraceptives. Her romances and characters feel real, even when the pages are riddled with classic tropes. As Annie Berke, in her review of “Happy Place,” puts it, “Her characters are funny in the way real people are, her romantic moments thrilling.”
As an author, Henry is all too familiar with her primary audience of young women. Herself a Taylor Swift fan, Henry frequently pairs her novels with Taylor Swift songs. “Happy Place,” according to Henry, relates to “Dancing With Our Hands Tied,” and the main character, Harriet, relates to “mirrorball.” She even has joked that she would love to write a novel with Swift about “the last great american dynasty,” further appeasing the hopeless romantic, Taylor Swift-loving gals who read her books.
It is safe to say Henry is a fan-favorite for young women everywhere. I spoke with a few of my friends who also enjoy her books.
Junior Monse Mora: “I love Emily Henry because she does an amazing job at providing me with a book that envelops me in her own world (allowing me to forget my own) while not sacrificing good writing and storytelling in the process.”
Junior Lila Singley: “I think that people are quick to discount things when women like them. It feels like women are not allowed to just really like something. Emily Henry‘s books are a perfect example of this. Her books are (mostly) happy. They have happy endings. Sometimes we want sunshine and rainbows and that is completely fine.”
Junior Olivia Cherry: “Emily Henry creates relatable characters that force you to look internally at your own relationships. Oftentimes, rom-com’s are corny with half-developed characters, but Henry writes great stories, while maintaining a classic fun and cheesy rom-com vibe.”
Junior Carly Sear: “I loved ‘Beach Read’! I read it on a lake vacation and it was the perfect summer read for the dock. I spend so much time studying and working that I gravitate towards novels that I know will be an engaging but easy read, and won’t make my brain think too much!”
The best characteristic of Emily Henry’s novels is that each book is different. From enemies-to-lovers to friends-to-lovers to forced proximity, her novels are sprinkled with tropes, but in nuanced and unexpected ways. There is something for everyone.
I highly recommend marching to your nearest bookstore, picking up an obnoxiously colored book and giving Emily Henry a try–you won’t regret it.