Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Audiobook Length: 12 hours
First Published: 2023
I received a complimentary copy of this book from G.P. Putnam’s Sons through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Just before graduation, an apartment of students at Berkley is shocked when their roommate Alec overdoses. Gathering together, they make a pact that when they are in desperate need, they can each request a living “funeral” – a gathering where they are reminded that life is still worthwhile. They’ve been there through Marielle’s divorce, Naomi’s parents’ death, and Craig’s art fraud conviction. But now Jordan’s diagnosis has him and his husband facing a living funeral that might preceed an actual funeral.
I wanted to like The Celebrants more than I did. I liked the idea of the book – the examination of life’s struggles and our need for deeper connections. Yet, the characters fell flat for me and the friendships didn’t seem genuine. In Rowley’s last book, The Guncle, I felt drawn to every single character but in The Celebrants, none of the characters evoked any emotion in me. The funeral format of the plot resulted in a lot of telling about the characters instead of showing details of their lives. In all, The Celebrants was a heartfelt story that missed the mark for me.
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. That’s 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—and living well.
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.