The Celebrants: Book Review

Some books take your heart on a journey you didn't know you needed, reflecting your life back to you as clearly as the bathroom mirror. Steven Rowley's latest novel, The Celebrants, was one of those books for me. With its unique take on life and death, love and loss, this book is a modern masterpiece. In The Celebrants, Rowley delivers a heartfelt friendship story with his trademark warmth and wit.

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The Celebrants Book Review

Quick Look⁣

  • contemporary fiction
  • deeply profound friendships⁣
  • existential life questions
  • grief/loss themes
  • LGBTQIA representation⁣
  • not the Guncle⁣

Pub Date: May 30, 2023⁣

Thank you to @PutnamBooks for the advanced e-copy.

Publisher's Synopsis

A Big Chill for our times, celebrating decades-long friendships and promises—especially to ourselves—by the bestselling and beloved author of The Guncle.

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 point is, we were all figuring out this thing called life, and in truth we probably are still. But there is always someone a little farther down the path, and if they have a kind heart, if they truly care about others, every so often they turn back and light the way.”
― Steven Rowley, The Celebrants

My Review

The second I finished the advanced reader copy of this book I knew I NEEDED TO OWN A COPY OF THIS BOOK STAT! This one hit me like a ton of bricks. I was expecting The Guncle, Part 2, which this is not. Sure, it has Rowley's wit and warmth, but the story of this lifelong group of friends is powerful.

Every single character in The Celebrants is relatable in some way. Every single interaction is packed with meaning. I saw myself and my friendships reflected in these characters, the good, the bad, and the deeply ugly. My childhood best friend overdosed on prescription pain medications in 2002, and his memory still motivates me every day. His death has shaped every part of who I am now, and this novel mirrored that for me in a way no other has. I felt seen reading this, which is what a really great book should do. The grief journey Rowley maps out for his readers in The Celebrants is realistic and relatable.

This book is a celebration of all things: who we were, who we are, and who we have yet to be. Is the premise a little morbid? Maybe. But death is life, and to pretend otherwise is meaningless. Rowley's characters show us how to live an honest and raw life, and it's simply breathtaking. ⁣

“Everyone was on the same ticking clock. They might fool themselves into thinking that more time affords them opportunities to do more things, that the future is open-ended. But the world is simply too big. We weren’t meant to see everything, we weren’t built to do everything, we aren’t capable of knowing everything. At a certain point, peace has to be found with the choices we’ve made.”
― Steven Rowley, The Celebrants

My Rating

This book ripped my heart out and chewed it up but in the best way possible. It was so heartfelt, funny, and soulful. I think anyone who has experienced loss will appreciate Rowley's take on the grief process in The Celebrants, and anyone facing down the middle-to-latter years of life will understand the morbid fascination with life and death. This was one of my favorite reads of 2023, and I hope it will be one of yours, too!

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About Carlie

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