Sally Rooney is back in her characteristic style with her latest release ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ which follows the friendships and relationships between two friends, Alice and Eileen as they (attempt to) navigate life and love with Felix and Simon, respectively. Exploring contemporary thoughts on success, religion, philosophy, sex and, of course, beauty, the book details their pursuit of hope in an often hopeless world. If you can get over the lack of punctuation in her writing and are a seasoned Rooney reader, give this one a go. But if you’ve already done with it and are now dreading to wait for Rooney’s next book, don’t worry anymore! Here are some great books like ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ for the fans of Sally Rooney.
If not, then what are you waiting for? If you enjoy books like Beautiful World, Where Are You, I’m sure you can’t help but admire them as well.
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12 Books Like ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’ by Sally Rooney
In her books, Sally Rooney so perfectly encapsulates what it is to be a young person looking for the meaning of life in the world we live in. There is that certain clarity, a matter-of-factness about her writing that is just beautiful to read. It’s like you’re actually reading your own thoughts and not someone else’s work. Here are some books like Beautiful World, Where Are You, where you can experience, to some extent, similar feelings.
1. Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
Sullivan’s Friends and Strangers highlights a friendship between two women belonging to two very different stages in life. It’s hilarious, relatable, unputdownable, and one of the great books like ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’. Much like Rooney’s book, the characters here are also trying to figure out their next steps in life. The book accurately examines complex relationships, social issues, money and class distinctions, privilege, and family struggles. The premise of the book reads thusly:
Elizabeth is a successful journalist and published author from New York City. She and her husband have just moved to his smaller hometown upstate and Elizabeth is adjusting to a new stage in her life. When she decides to hire a part time nanny for her baby, she meets Sam, a student at the local women’s college. The two women hit it off immediately and forge a relationship that both of them need. Like Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’, this book is character driven, delivering thoughts on complex adult relationships, marriage and family drama.
2. Expectation by Anna Hope
In Expectations by Anna Hope, we meet Lissa, Cate and Hannah first when they navigated London together in their twenties, when they ‘still have time to become who they are going to be’. When we meet them again, we see them all gone down different paths, whether it be marriages, children or neither. We see the choices they made for their lives, their regrets at these choices or their longing for the ‘what if’s’. They strived towards different goals, but often these goals haven’t lived up to their expectations.
I highly recommend this book if you’re a Sally Rooney fan, or if you’re just having what feels like a constant quarter-life crisis that your life isn’t completely what you expected. The book is not about the friendship anybody would aspire to, but it’s the friendship we often forge in real lives and it is this real-ness that makes us adore the book!
3. Three Rooms by Jo Hamya
Incisive, original and brilliantly observed, Three Rooms is the story of a search for home and one’s self. Desperate and optimistic in equal measure, the book poignantly explores various contemporary issues like politics, race and belonging, as Jo Hamya asks us to consider the true cost of living as a young person in 21st century England. One of the books like Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’, the novel presents an insight of a millennial’s struggle to find a room and a purpose.
The book is set around a young woman who is looking for a bit of normality in a busy, expensive and rather chaotic period in her life. We never learn the name of that woman, but we do learn a lot about where she lives, and what she does. Her obsession with social media is close to home and she feels disconnected from ‘real’ life. The world is busy, politics and current affairs are all around her and she’s just floating through life. Is she happy? Does she like her life and the people around her?
4. Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
An intriguing book for the fans of Sally Rooney, Exciting Times portrays the millennial lifestyle most accurately. The issues discussed in the book are quite similar to ones that Rooney discusses in ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’. For instance, there is indecisiveness of committing in a relationship, casual sex, internet obsession, privilege, nihilism, and pretentiousness. Moreover, the protagonist of the story is a little lost and battling with insecurities.
Ava is in her early twenties when she moves from Ireland to Hong Kong. Here, she teaches English and avoids her annoying roommates. Then she meets Julian, a British banker in his late twenties. Though the two spend most of their time together, their relationship is confusing and undefined. When he takes a temporary job in London, Ava meets Edith and falls in love. But when Julian eventually returns, Ava has to make a decision. Can she keep both people in her life or does she have to choose one? Or will she lose both in the process?
5. How Do You Like Me Now? by Holly Bourne
A brilliant contemporary novel, How Do You Like Me Now? is extremely honest and hilarious about life. About being in your late twenties or early thirties, about your friends moving on while you’re left behind. It has an incredibly powerful message in its depths and one that shouldn’t be alien to us.
Our protagonist, Tori, is a successful self-help author whose life is teetering on the edge of disaster. She goes on a journey of self-discovery, loathes it, meets a guy and falls in love and writes a bestselling book about it. Fast forward six years, everything is not as it appears in her seemingly perfect life. Bourne explores so many raw emotions in this novel, which blends fear and hope and an aching need to achieve the unattainable perfect life in a compulsively readable way.
6. The Idiot by Elif Batuman
The Idiot is a witty coming-of-age novel, but also tender, at times even sad and moving. Batuman has captured communication between people in such a realistic way—the miscommunication, the way certain people never seem to stop talking while you’re just there listening, the way your words seem so awkward and stupid when you’re talking to your crush. Similar to Sally Rooney’s ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’, the story here unfolds through the emails exchanged between the protagonists.
Set in the 90s on Harvard’s campus, our main character is the daughter of Turkish immigrants, trying to find her way in life, love, and with language. The novel is playful and whip smart, and our protagonist is lost in all different ways but she’s willing to travel across the world to try and find whatever she’s looking for. Some of the most interesting bits of the book come from the protagonists’ email exchange, which is the crux of the book. The author has weaved these emails into the story in such a natural and smart way.
7. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Wolitzer’s The Interestings is one of the must-read books like ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’. It’s about how life happens to people—how we open and close doors and how doors are opened and closed to us by talent, perseverance, economics, biology and trauma. Similar to Rooney’s book, the story here relies heavily on character development rather than being plot-driven.
The book revolves around a group of friends who meet at a Jewish summer camp for the arts in 1974. It’s about the ways in which their destinies diverge as adults, even while individual bonds between them largely remain strong. The book delves into broken dreams and being satisfied with your aspirations for life and envying your friends. Also, it lays out all of the changes that occur when we grow from teenagers into adulthood and middle age.
8. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
Funny, tender and painfully relatable, Ghosts is more aptly the story of an aging millennial woman struggling with evolving relationships. The book presents a sparkling, empowering and engaging look at the recent crime of ‘ghosting’ and the ways technology impacts our lives in a modern world. If you’re a fan of Rooney, this whip-smart tale of relationships and modern life will definitely be your cup of tea.
The book follows Nina George Dean, a successful food writer in her thirties, as she contends with the evolution of a number of important relationships: with her best friends, her ailing father and struggling mother, a new boyfriend, and with her career. Moreover, the novel is so much more than ‘ghosting’; it’s about coming to terms with your own ghosts, things that haunt you.
9. Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Set in London in the mid-2000s and bookended by Obama’s presidential win and the death of Michael Jackson, Ordinary People is an enthralling tale of contemporary, metropolitan life. The title takes its name from the well-known John Legend song, the lyrics of which carry the thematic heart of the novel. Evans’ writing is clever, beautiful and absorbing.
The narrative follows two discontented couples as they experience different angles of the same crisis, and try to balance the demands of family life with the desire for independence and romantic love. Both couples are trying to work their way around a loveless relationship altered at the hands of ‘strangulating domesticity’. Thus, the book is about the state of modern love as well as modern families and the ways identity is inevitably changed and reconfigured within these structures. It presents such a full portrayal of what everyday life is like for people who make a choice to settle down.
10. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
Generous, relatable and laugh-out-loud hilarious memoir, Everything I Know About Love is surely one of the books like ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You’. It charts the messy, painful, joyous process of growing up, staying sane and finding your path—all whilst navigating the pure chaos that is surviving your twenties. Dolly’s candid reflections, hilarious anecdotes and wry observations all ebb around a central thread that enshrines female friendship as the great, formative, enduring love that it truly is.
The book is light, funny and so incredibly relatable. In fact, it’s a book that no matter your age, anyone would benefit from reading. It makes you contemplate life but not in a deep, pessimistic way. Rather, in a light, uplifting way that makes you consider you happiness. If you haven’t already read this book, I highly recommend it.
11. Promising Young Women by Caroline O’Donoghue
A perfect piece of contemporary, feminist, millennial fiction, Promising Young Women will remind you, to some extent, of Sally Rooney’s book. It’s a really great exploration of navigating your twenties when so much is expected of you, but you’ve got no idea what to do. It’s also about navigating all the confusing elements of modern life and relationships.
The story follows Jane Peters who is an adrift twenty-something embarking on a relationship as ‘the other woman’. And what she starts out as a drunken mistake quickly unravels, soon putting her friendships, her sanity and even her life into jeopardy. Thus, what starts out as a kind of edgy contemporary novel about female friendships, morphs into something much darker including sexual assault, mental health and what it means to lose grip on your sense of self.
12. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
Extremely fantastic and captivating, Firefly Lane revolves around the complexities of friendship. Set in the scenic Pacific Northwest, and in an epic multi-decade timeline from the 1970s to the turn of the millennium, the story pulls at the heartstrings. Firefly Lane is also a Netflix series, starring Katherine Heigl as Tully and Sarah Chalke as Kate, but the book is quite a bit different.
Kate and Tully have been best friends for years—ever since they met as 14 year olds on cozy Firefly Lane. Kate has a loving family and Tully has Kate’s family (except on the rare occasion when Tully’s mom decides to be a parent). The novel follows them from their teenage years through all the ups and downs of life—journalism school, rocky and stable relationships. But one incident changes everything and gets them separated. Will their friendship survive that incident?
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