It’s been an exciting time recently for Sally Rooney fans with the release of her newest novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, this past September and the adaptation of Conversations with Friends hitting Hulu this month! If you’re a dedicated fan like me, though, you’re constantly craving more. Are you looking for must-reads that explore complex relationships written so eloquently you’ll feel like you’ve had the breath knocked out of you? I’ve put together the perfect list for you.
MILK FED is a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, and spiritual longing. This story is about the relationship of Rachel, a lapsed Jewish woman with an eating disorder, and Miriam, an Orthodox Jewish woman who works at Rachel’s favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Like Rooney, Broder excavates the unspoken passion that brews beneath the surface of everyday encounters. Rachel reminds me the most of Frances from CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS in that both women fall victim to negative thought spirals. Despite their flaws, I couldn’t help but root for these characters in their journeys toward self-acceptance.
Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, Time, Esquire, BookPage, and more
This darkly hilarious and “delicious new novel that ravishes with sex and food” (The Boston Globe) from the acclaimed author of The Pisces and So Sad Today is a “precise blend of desire, discomfort, spirituality, and existential ache” (BuzzFeed).
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, through obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Rachel soon meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
“A ruthless, laugh-out-loud examination of life under the tyranny of diet culture” (Glamour) Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is “riotously funny and perfectly profane” (Refinery 29) from “a wild, wicked mind” (Los Angeles Times).
Both Austin and Rooney write characters with unforgettable voices, acutely portraying what it’s like to be trapped in your own mind. In EVERYONE IN THIS ROOM WILL SOMEDAY BE DEAD, a morbidly anxious young woman named Gilda stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and soon finds herself obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death. Like many of Rooney’s characters in BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU, Gilda struggles with existential anxieties and what it means to grow up and find your place in this world.
This hilarious and profound debut for fans of Mostly Dead Things and Goodbye, Vitamin, follows a morbidly anxious young woman—“the kindhearted heroine we all need right now” (Courtney Maum, New York Times bestselling author)—who stumbles into a job as a receptionist at a Catholic church and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death.
Gilda, a twenty-something, atheist, animal-loving lesbian, cannot stop ruminating about death. Desperate for relief from her panicky mind and alienated from her repressive family, she responds to a flyer for free therapy at a local Catholic church, and finds herself being greeted by Father Jeff, who assumes she’s there for a job interview. Too embarrassed to correct him, Gilda is abruptly hired to replace the recently deceased receptionist Grace.
In between trying to memorize the lines to Catholic mass, hiding the fact that she has a new girlfriend, and erecting a dirty dish tower in her crumbling apartment, Gilda strikes up an email correspondence with Grace’s old friend. She can’t bear to ignore the kindly old woman, who has been trying to reach her friend through the church inbox, but she also can’t bring herself to break the bad news. Desperate, she begins impersonating Grace via email. But when the police discover suspicious circumstances surrounding Grace’s death, Gilda may have to finally reveal the truth of her mortifying existence.
A delightful blend of warmth, deadpan humor, and pitch-perfect observations about the human condition, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a crackling exploration of what it takes to stay afloat in a world where your expiration—and the expiration of those you love—is the only certainty.
I have always admired how Rooney writes about relationships, so I was drawn to LIE WITH ME for the same reasons. As an adult, Philippe meets a young man outside a hotel in Bordeaux who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a reflection upon the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Philippe and Thomas reminded me of Connell and Marianne from NORMAL PEOPLE who also have a secret yet deeply intimate teenage relationship that trails after them into adulthood. Both authors illustrate how your first love (and heartbreak) can shape and follow you as you grow into yourself.
“I remember the movement of his hips pressing against the pinball machine. This one sentence had me in its grip until the end. Two young men find each other, always fearing that life itself might be the villain standing in their way. A stunning and heart-gripping tale.” —André Aciman, author of Call Me by Your Name
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
The critically acclaimed, internationally beloved novel by Philippe Besson—“this year’s Call Me By Your Name” (Vulture) with raves in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, Vanity Fair, Vogue, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Out—about an affair between two teenage boys in 1984 France, translated with subtle beauty and haunting lyricism by the iconic and internationally acclaimed actress and writer Molly Ringwald.
In this “sexy, pure, and radiant story” (Out), Philippe chances upon a young man outside a hotel in Bordeaux who bears a striking resemblance to his first love. What follows is a look back at the relationship he’s never forgotten, a hidden affair with a boy named Thomas during their last year of high school. Thomas is the son of a farmer; Philippe the son of a school principal. At school, they don’t acknowledge each other. But they steal time to meet in secret, carrying on a passionate, world-altering affair.
Despite the intensity of their attraction, from the beginning Thomas knows how it will end: “Because you will leave and we will stay,” he says. Philippe becomes a writer and travels the world, though as this “tender, sensuous novel” (The New York Times Book Review) shows, he never lets go of the relationship that shaped him, and every story he’s ever told.
“Beautifully translated by Ringwald” (NPR), this is “Philippe Besson’s book of a lifetime...an elegiac tale of first, hidden love” (The New Yorker).
HIS FAVORITES is about a teenage girl, a predatory teacher, and a school’s complicity. Told from the girl’s perspective many years later, the story coolly describes a series of shattering events and a school that failed to protect her. Kate Walbert blew me away with her portrayal of adolescent vulnerability and the psychological toll of abuse, just like Sally Rooney managed to do as I read all three of her novels. Both authors unearth the intricacies of power imbalance—however Rooney explores this inequality within the context of consensual relationships while Walbert explores it within the context of predation.
A trademark of a Sally Rooney novel is candid commentary on what it means to be a writer in this day and age. WRITERS & LOVERS follows Casey, a wannabe writer in her thirties who's dating two men, dealing with her mother's death, and trying hard to make her writing career happen. Casey has a lot in common with the characters Eileen and Alice from BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU, who are also writers grappling with coming of age into their thirties and what that means for your relationships and your future.
I highly recommend LOVE MARRIAGE for those who were interested in the discussion of class in NORMAL PEOPLE and were left craving more. Twenty-six-year-old Yasmin Ghorami is training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father) and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast, along with the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe. The story’s themes of class and sexuality resemble the schisms in Marianne and Connell’s relationship in NORMAL PEOPLE; though LOVE MARRIAGE has a stronger emphasis on class, in Rooney’s novel it is one of many captivating plot threads.
Set in London now, Love Marriage marks the magnificent return of Monica Ali, the Booker Prize shortlisted, “splendid, daring, brilliant, refreshing” novelist (The New Republic) “with an inborn generosity that cannot be learned” (The New York Times Book Review).
Yasmin Ghorami in twenty-six, in training to be a doctor (like her Indian-born father), and engaged to the charismatic, upper-class Joe Sangster, whose formidable mother, Harriet, is a famous feminist. The gulf between families is vast. So, too, is the gulf in sexual experience between Yasmin and Joe.
As the wedding day draws near, misunderstandings, infidelities, and long-held secrets upend both Yasmin’s relationship and that of her parents, a “love marriage,” according to the family lore that Yasmin has believed all her life.
A gloriously acute observer of class, sexual mores, and the mysteries of the human heart, Monica Ali has written a captivating social comedy and a profoundly moving, revelatory story of two cultures, two families, and two people trying to understand one another.
Monica Ali’s Brick Lane was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was named a best book of the year by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic.
VLADIMIR is a razor-sharp, timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own. Julia May Jonas highlights power dynamics and human impulses in a way that mirrors Sally Rooney. The marital infidelity especially harkens back to Frances’s affair with an older married man in CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS, not to mention that this story is yet another example of a strong female narrative voice.
A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students—a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own...
“When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me.”
And so we are introduced to our deliciously incisive narrator: a popular English professor whose charismatic husband at the same small liberal arts college is under investigation for his inappropriate relationships with his former students. The couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, but with these new allegations, life has become far less comfortable for them both. And when our narrator becomes increasingly infatuated with Vladimir, a celebrated, married young novelist who’s just arrived on campus, their tinder box world comes dangerously close to exploding.
With this bold, edgy, and uncommonly assured debut, author Julia May Jonas takes us into charged territory, where the boundaries of morality bump up against the impulses of the human heart. Propulsive, darkly funny, and wildly entertaining, Vladimir perfectly captures the personal and political minefield of our current moment, exposing the nuances and the grey area between power and desire.
After a messy breakup from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places . . . including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying her brain space and a bad job of affirming her self-worth. Carty-Williams and Rooney both capture portraits of young women struggling to love themselves and move past their traumas. However, Carty-Williams also adds the factor of race to the equation. I admire how each author remarkably shines light upon what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.
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