Happy Place by Emily Henry is the author’s most divisive book so far, yet that’s not exactly a bad thing. Rather, it’s fascinating to witness the discourse around the novel to understand what people want and don’t want to see in their romances. The book isn’t for everybody—that much is clear from the beginning. The second chance romance is challenging as a trope, for it’s often difficult with dual timelines for some readers, and when one person is the cause of the other’s heartbreak, it makes it tough to trust the character’s motives.
For me, Happy Place by Emily Henry is no Beach Read or Book Lovers, but it’s a beautifully reflective canopy of nostalgia that stings a little too hard. And that’s perhaps why the book doesn’t resonate as intricately as the others because while I appreciate so much of what Henry brings to the forefront here, it’s not a place I want to revisit. I’m comforted by the resolution the characters experience, but closing the book leaves me in a state of sadness. I’m fine leaving it in the past because the emotions it touches on are a bit too relatable and a little too painful.
While not every reader has lost a parent* or comes from a broken family like former novels, at some point in our lives, we’ve all looked back at a period of our past, wanting more than anything to hold on for a little bit longer. In Happy Place, Henry somehow encapsulates that heartache so vividly and so brilliantly that it’s agonizing to look back with Harriet, even when there’s a happy ending on the horizon. It’s complicated to experience all the uncertainties with her. And that’s perhaps it—the happiness is the end of the novel, seldom the middle. *(And I’m one who’s lost a father, but Beach Read is still a tremendous comfort read for me.)
The middle is a muddy sea of the good, bad, and ugly, striking the parts of us that still throb from the wounds we’ve yet to heal from—the places we aren’t ready to go back to or understand quite yet. As many point out, the novel isn’t an outright romance as much as it is fiction. While the happy ending surely merits its categorization, the vividly hot pink cover and title blur the lines a bit, making us think we’re picking up one thing when it’s the opposite in many ways.
Emily Henry is an astounding writer. There’s no denying that—ever. And in a myriad of ways, Happy Place is a brilliant book, but it’s darker and more heartbreaking than any of the stories she’s written before. It’s deeply frustrating at times but worthwhile because she’s diving into human complexities and exploring them through behaviors that feel innately organic. There are no rose-colored glasses here; it’s all grey and raw and tenderly vulnerable. Almost every character has an unlikable moment, allowing them to feel that much more realistic and well-written. It’s easy to recognize someone we know in each of them.
The faults in Happy Place by Emily Henry aren’t tied to the writing or the story, but they’re tied to the emotions that are a little too familiar and a little too grueling. We can’t all return to our happy place—we can’t hold onto it because so much is out of our control. And some faults are even tied to marketing. Yet, that’s the thing—despite the mess of it all, it’s a book worth picking up, at least once, because the prose remains top-tier, and the introspection is downright stunning. I might not have any interest to ever re-read, but it’s a novel that I wholeheartedly hold respect for.
Happy Place by Emily Henry is a story about best friends, stillness and silence, and the spaces in between. It’s about learning to do better and understanding what a happy place truly looks like. It’s about losses and depression and the importance of apologies. It might not be the kind of comfort read that Beach Read and Book Lovers are, but it’s a significant one, still, in every way.
Happy Place by Emily Henry is now available wherever books are sold.