I love discovering lists about which books to read, as I’m always looking for something new to read. I’m not a reading-monogamist, I like to try new things and often, and I’ll never commit to just one genre. So these lists ensure that my bookshelf is always stuffed full and that I never have to think too hard about where I’ll find my next book-fix. The only issue with a lot of these lists is that they’re always non-fiction books. When they recommend which books women should read or people in their twenties, they consistently mention non-fiction titles, without a novel in sight.
I think non-fiction can do a lot for you, but so can fiction. We often underestimate the advantages of reading fiction, of how it strengthens our empathy, feeds our creativity and de-stresses us. But some fiction novels go a step further, and they teach us important lessons that can change our daily lives. These five novels did that for me; they made me stop and think, they made me question the way things are. In each of these novels, I found a sliver of myself, and so it highlighted the mistakes I’d rather leave on the page.
Here are five fiction books I think every woman should read in her twenties, and if you’re past that, read them anyway, because they’re excellent!
So this novel is a bit of a bold choice as the characters are already leaving their twenties. But this will be a recurring theme on this list, as I think a lot of the lessons of our twenties are learned too late, so by reading their reflections, you can aim to learn the same lessons a little sooner.
This novel felt like releasing a deep breath. It reminds me a lot of Sally Rooney, but without that characteristic detachment. It reminds us that everyone is on their own path with their own struggles and hurdles, but that we shouldn’t feel guilty for fixating on our journey. It reminds us that friendships grow, evolve and sometimes go. I was surprised to find myself relating to Lissa, who differs from me in many ways, and yet felt like a twisted reflection of what I would be if I let go.
“In this sharply observed novel set in and around London, three college friends, now in their thirties, must come to terms with the gap between the lives they imagined for themselves and reality in the face of marriage, fertility struggles, and loss.
In her first year of motherhood after an unplanned pregnancy, Cate is constantly exhausted, spiraling into self-doubt and postpartum anxiety. Her husband Sam seems oblivious, but maybe she’d prefer he remain in the dark. How can she admit the unthinkable—that she misses her freedom?
In contrast, Hannah continues to endure round after round of unsuccessful IVF treatments. The process is taking its toll on her physically and emotionally—and, she worries, creating distance between her and her husband Nathan. She is godmother to Cate’s son, but every time they get together, it’s a trigger.
Beautiful and unattached, Lissa is re-evaluating what it means to be an actress in her thirties. While she fiercely resists convention, she’s lonely. A chance encounter in the British Library with Nathan has her wondering if she missed her best chance at love when she introduced him to Hannah.
As each woman longs for what the others seemingly possess, will their bonds of friendship sustain them in this liminal phase of their lives—or will their envy and desire tear them apart?” - Expectation
It was hard for me to choose between Sally Rooney novels, as I am quite the fan! But even though ‘Normal People’ holds a very special place in my heart, it wasn’t the best choice for this list. Rooney’s latest novel is breathtaking, and even though the characters are edging towards the end of their twenties, I think it holds messages that any twenty-something can relate to. The novel reminds us to keep questioning, look further than ourselves, and focus on who we are within this larger context. It reminds us that things don’t always go our way, but with a good friend by your side, you’ll be okay.
“Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.
Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young―but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?” - Beautiful World, Where Are You?
This was the first book I read with my pandemic book club, and it was a hit! Candice has an incredible writing style, very personal and mimetic of an individual’s thought process. I like how the book dived into so many themes, including race, mental health, relationships and more. Yet, at its core, at least in my eyes, it was a novel about identity and how friendship can fit into that. I liked seeing how different Queenie was with her varying friends, as that’s something many of us have experienced and can lead us to doubt our true selves. But each self was a fragment of her true self. The recurring self-sabotage sometimes made it hard to keep reading, but it’s also something we’re all so guilty of, and through witnessing Queenie go down paths we know too well, maybe we can learn to take a different one next time.
“Queenie Jenkins is a twenty-five-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up 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 brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her.
With “fresh and honest” (Jojo Moyes) prose, Queenie is a remarkably relatable exploration of what it means to be a modern woman searching for meaning in today’s world.” - Queenie
A lot of us enter relationships in our twenties that we hope will last forever. And a lot of us, unfortunately, discover that ‘forever’ is a lot shorter than what we thought it would be. There are quite a few books about breakups or taking time apart, so they can quickly fall into familiar cliches. But Taylor managed to avoid that and steer away from what the reader expected. Instead, it’s a story about reexamining your history, of trying to work out what led you to this point. I was going through a break-up when I read this book - a wonderful act of self-sabotage- and the character’s pain felt so familiar; there was a raw element to her experience. I think this novel can remind us that plans change, lives change, people change. It’s a story of finding your way when you didn’t even know you were lost.
“When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.
Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?
This is a love story about what happens when the love fades. It’s about staying in love, seizing love, forsaking love, and committing to love with everything you’ve got. And above all, After I Do is the story of a couple caught up in an old game—and searching for a new road to happily ever after.” - After I Do
I am a big Marian Keyes fan, and earlier this year, I devoured four of her books within a month, and they’re pretty big! I think Marian is an expert in creating complex characters that you can’t help but root for, and she does this well in Rachel’s Holiday. Rachel is a prime example of this, as she is flawed in many ways, yet I adored her. I think this novel is an excellent example of the issues many of us suffer from, not the substance abuse itself, but everything in Rachel’s sense of identity and priorities. Rachel’s journey is touching and difficult, and it reminds us to keep going and keep improving.
“The fast lane is much too slow for Rachel Walsh. And Manhattan is the perfect place for a young Irish female to overdo everything. But Rachel's love of a good time is about to land her in the emergency room. It will also cost her a job and the boyfriend she adores.
When her loving family hustles her back home and checks her into Ireland's answer to the Betty Ford Clinic, Rachel is hopeful. Perhaps it will be lovely—spa treatments, celebrities, that kind of thing. Instead, she finds a lot of group therapy, which leads her, against her will, to some important self-knowledge. She will also find something that all women like herself fear: a man who might actually be good for her.” - Rachel’s Holiday
They always say that you learn from your mistakes, but can I just learn from the mistakes of fictional characters instead? Can I watch where this road leads and then decide whether I’ll take a different direction? That’s the magic of reading; it’s like one big game of “what if…”; it’s like a daydream that’s been scripted for you.
Your twenties are a magical time, filled with possibility, lessons, hurdles and laughter. Cherish this time and dive further into it with your reading choices. Next time you’re browsing your kindle or heading to the local bookstore, pick up one of these five books about being in your twenties.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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