Review: The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

by Joli
The Celebrants Book Review

Man, I have so many feelings about The Celebrants! I have to admit, I was expecting something like The Guncle, and that’s really not so much what I got. But did I love it?? Read on to find out.

The Summary

It’s been a minute—or five years—since Jordan Vargas last saw his college friends, and twenty-eight years since their graduation when their adult lives officially began. Now Jordan, Jordy, Naomi, Craig, and Marielle find themselves at the brink of a new decade, with all the responsibilities of adulthood, yet no closer to having their lives figured out. Though not for a lack of trying. Over the years they’ve reunited in Big Sur to honor a decades-old pact to throw each other living “funerals,” celebrations to remind themselves that life is worth living—that their lives mean something, to one another if not to themselves.

But this reunion is different. They’re not gathered as they were to bolster Marielle as her marriage crumbled, to lift Naomi after her parents died, or to intervene when Craig pleaded guilty to art fraud. This time, Jordan is sitting on a secret that will upend their pact.

A deeply honest tribute to the growing pains of selfhood and the people who keep us going, coupled with Steven Rowley’s signature humor and heart, The Celebrants is a moving tale about the false invincibility of youth and the beautiful ways in which friendship helps us celebrate our lives, even amid the deepest challenges of living.

My Review

First of all, THANK YOU to NetGalley and G.P. Putnam’s Sons for letting me read this book, even though I didn’t get to it before it ended up coming out a couple weeks ago.

With some authors, you just know what to expect. Right? A Fredrick Backman novel is going to be, well, like a Backman novel. Having read two of Steven Rowley’s previous books (Lily and the Octopus and The Guncle), I thought I knew what to expect. But really, I found The Celebrants to be a departure from those two!

For the first quarter of this book, I was getting into it, thinking okay, this is going to be really good. However, at that point it seemed to just keep going without much really happening. This is really a character-driven story…there’s not a ton of storyline. At first, that really threw me off and I was pretty unsure about the whole thing. Where was this thing going??

In reality, it’s just a succession of the friends’ “funerals” that are had during personal crises. If you’re looking for a really riveting story, you’re not going to find it here.

HOWEVER. starting at about 55%, the whole thing started to affect me more deeply, and I started really loving a couple of the characters. It just took a while for me to get there! I almost felt like giving up on it, but man, the payoff in the second half is so worth getting a little bored in the first half.

This book had some serious Midnight Library vibes, but in my opinion, was better. It really dives into topics of found family, what really matters in life, re-finding yourself, grief, and all sorts of super touching stuff. I highlighted a bunch of beautiful sentences and sentiments, and almost felt like my eyes were welling up at the end.

Overall, I do recommend The Celebrants, but don’t expect The Guncle! Go in thinking character driven, emotional story of friendship and found family and you’ll be in a better head space for it. | Amazon | Goodreads

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