Skip to main content

Conversation with Friends by Sally Rooney: Literary Fiction Book Review


Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

TWs: suspected miscarriage, self harm, mentions of alcoholism 

Overview: Frances is 21, in university, and lost in life. She does not aspire to have a career, even though she really needs money. She doesn't have much direction at all. Her current friend and ex-girlfriend, Bobbi, was always the special one in Frances's mind. When a writer wants to profile them after seeing them perform Frances's spoken word, Bobbi and Frances are thrown into the lavish world of this writer and her actor husband. With an affair, messy parent relationships, and a whole lot of confusion, the book is both drama filled and plainly spelled out life of a girl trying to figure it all out. Overall: 3.5 

Characters: 4 These characters are definitely better than the two cardboard cut outs that populated her second book, Normal People. Frances is bi and navigating what that identity means to her further after getting out of her first committed relationship. I feel like I don't know Frances super well despite living in her head because she's always stating how she feels or trying to suppress how she feels instead of showing it. Frances makes a frustrating habit of avoiding feelings at all cost, never saying what she means, and often doing or saying the opposite of what she wants for no apparent reason. While there are definitely people in the world who have similar personalities, it makes for an incredibly frustrating main character to follow and a hard one to cheer for. I did like that the book showed Frances getting diagnosed with endometriosis and navigating her very intense symptoms over the course of the book. I've read a lot of books and never seen endometriosis or reproductive health issues really discussed, so I appreciated that part quite a bit. 

Bobbi is kind of the guiding compass through the book who grounds the story and clues the reader in to when things have gone too far. Bobbi is the performer. She has that magnetic personality that doesn't necessarily make everyone like her, but they are drawn to her. She guides the spoken word parts of what Frances writes. She broke up with Frances, and though they stayed friends, it still did a number on Frances. Frances idolizes her and sees her as larger than life, like she'll escape the monotony of our world because she's so special. Bobbi is always quick to bring her down to earth and shatter the illusion of Frances's writerly infatuation. She also gives small warnings throughout the book to Frances about her affair. While Frances rationalizes it for the reader pretty well, Bobbi does a good job of reminding you of the total toxicity of being inside the relationship and not able to see the bigger picture. 

Then there's Melissa and Nick, the married couple at the center of the book. Melissa is pretty bland. She just seems a bit bitter and mean and disengaged. Frances is not a fan of Melissa, which probably adds to this. Bobbi is originally infatuated with her, but she later takes off the rose colored glasses about the writer. Nick is the half we spend a lot of time with. He's very passive and also does not enjoy talking about his feelings or asserting what he wants for real. The thing I can't stand most about the relationships in both of Rooney's books is that there's never a building of emotional connection or depth between the couples. It's less pronounced in this book, but it's still annoying. Nick feels like a ghost to me. 

We also learn about Frances's parents. She spends lots of time with her mom and grapples with her father's alcoholism and having to put up boundaries when it comes to loving a parent. There's also another couple that often hangs out with Melissa and Nick that build up the world. These side characters definitely work to build a richer world than what existed in Normal People.

Plot: 3 This book is interesting because nothing happens and everything happens all at once. Summarized in a few sentences, it all sounds quite dramatic. These artists fall into this rich people world, the main character has a affair with a married man, they're on again off again, and there's so much angst. They break up and make up. It's a whole rollercoaster that you can't quite cheer along. But the thing is, all of this happens slowly and over the course of many repetitive scenes. I did find myself caught up in these chapters and wanting to get into the next one, but it just doesn't have a strong sense of urgency. The plot feels kind of rainy and gray. 

Writing: 3 I find Rooney's writing very jarring, especially at the beginning. Her books always start in the middle of scenes, and it's extremely hard to find your footing for a while. It always takes a couple chapters for me to get into the actual story and over my confusion. Also, the lack of quotation marks adds to that. You definitely get used to the style by the middle of the book, but it's still a challenge at the start. 

I also just feel like the book does so much telling and very little showing. There isn't much rumination or conversation on emotion in the book. Characters often reach emotional high points, and instead of looking for resolution, they walk away or change the subject. Everything feels both intense and incredibly removed at the same time. The book has no urgency, which is weird coming from YA. 

I definitely enjoyed this story far more than Normal People, and I feel like the story was better articulated. Of the two, I would definitely recommend this one, and even if you didn't like her other book, I'd give this a try if you were curious. I picked it up on a whim from the library based on a friend's recommendation. I switched over to this one because I'd been reading one YA book for two weeks and felt totally stuck. I wanted something different but still fiction, and this definitely delivered. I think Rooney's books are still a good choice if you're looking to cross over from YA into more adult fiction or if you're looking for college aged characters. But it does make me appreciate the visceral voice of YA. Also, it ends on such a twist cliff hanger that I'm already frustrated that I'll never get answers. 

It proves to be a good reminder that adult fiction doesn't center around learning lessons or finding answers the way YA does. In literary fiction, sometimes the grand ending is repeating the mistake you just worked through for like 6 months leading up to that moment. It's definitely messy. 

More From This Author...

Normal People Review


Popular posts from this blog

Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi: YA Book Review

  Yolk  by Mary H.K. Choi Overview: Jayne is in fashion school in NYC. Well, she's enrolled. It's debatable how often she actually attends. June has a fancy job in finance, or that's what everyone thinks. But when June gets cancer, the estranged sisters are pulled together because June needs Jayne's identity to get treatment. By pretending to be her sister to get the life-saving procedure, June is forced to come clean and pull Jayne back into her orbit. Though their relationship stays rocky, they're suddenly glued together, forced to admit that their respective glamorous lives are actually filled with roaches and trauma and missteps. Overall: 5+++ This book made me happy cry (that's never happened while reading) and sad cry. Characters: 5 The book is told from Jayne's perspective in an extremely close first person. This book has plot. Things happen in the way that life happens, but it's mostly just characters getting split open and probed for all their w

YA You Need To Read: April 2021

It's already April! School has been super super hectic, and I'm starting my old job as a bookseller again, so I haven't had much time for reading lately (ironic, I know), but I did want to talk about some books coming out in April that I can't wait to read (one day) that might inspire you to pick them up. I particularly can't wait for My Epic Spring Break Up! It's been on my list for a while now (I mean, look at that cover), but I also found some new books that hadn't been on my radar while browsing around the internet that I wanted to bring to your attention.  Let me know in the comments what April books you can't wait for!  Zara Hossain Is Here by Sabina Kahn  April 6th Zara has lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for a while. She's always dealt with the Islamophobia that's rampant in her high school, but when the star football player gets suspended, Zara becomes the target of a racist attack by the rest of the team that puts her and her family'

Once Upon a Quinceañera

Once Upon a Quinceañera   by Monica Gomez-Hera Overview: Carmen hasn't graduated high school, even though it's the summer after senior year. When her senior project fell through, Carmen has to scramble to complete the project over the summer. That means no college (not that she applied) and no future plans beyond becoming a Dream (floating around in a Belle costume at children's parties) with her best friend Waverley. So maybe it's not the summer Carmen wanted, but it's fine. At least until her ex-boyfriend who ruined everything, Mauro, also shows up on the team and then they get assigned to work her nemesis and younger cousin's quinceañera, which becomes the big event of the summer. Nothing ever quite goes to plan for Carmen, does it? Overall: 4 Characters: 4 I enjoyed hanging out with Carmen for a while. She's super witty and cynical in a way that I appreciate. I also loved reading about a character who's just out of high school and doesn't have a

Olivia Rodrigo'a SOUR As YA Books: Track By Track

This list turned out to be much harder to make than I anticipated when I came up with the idea last week. I set out to match songs to SOUR because what goes better with an album written by a 17/18 year old than YA books, but it turns out that YA books are just too hopeful for this album. Unlike many of these songs, I couldn't find books where the characters ended the book totally despondent and broken up. It took a bit of brainstorming, but I think I found a book to match the essence of each SOUR track. Le me know in the comments which songs on SOUR are your favorite. Mine are "brutal", "favorite crime", "deja vu", and "jealousy, jealousy".  1. "brutal" : War and Speech   by Don Zolidis War and Speech just radiates the same badass, discontented with teenage life energy as "brutal". This was the first book that popped into my mind when I thought about making this post. Just look at the cover. Sydney's life has been fa

Halsey's I Would Leave Me If I Could Poetry Review

  I Would Leave Me If I Could  by Halsey  I've started this review a couple times and scrapped all of them. I've written hundreds of reviews before, and this is the first time I have absolutely no clue how to review a book. It's not just because it's poetry. And it's not because I don't have thoughts on every single poem. I've read the book twice and scrubbed a million notes around her words and highlighted every poem on my second read through. I have so many favorites, and my heart feels like it's going to burst after finishing each poem. Halsey exceeded every expectation I had set to the high bar of her music. I almost feel like this book is too good for my review to remotely do it justice, so I don't even know where to begin.  This book is extremely vulnerable. Halsey has never held back on telling the ugly truth in her lyrics, but the poetry takes it so much farther. She has space to tell the entire story, fewer constraints than what will fit in

Writing Morally Gray Characters: A Guest Post by Laurie Devore, Author of A Better Bad Idea

Laurie Devore is stopping by the blog today to talk about her new book from Imprint, A Better Bad Idea , which is out now! This mystery/thriller/romance fusion is Laurie's third book, and it's a new twist on her usual contemporary YA stories. For this guest post, Laurie talks about crafting morally gray characters that your readers will still feel attached to and cheer on. Here's her best writing tips:  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what people will do when they’re pushed to their brink. While my new novel, A BETTER BAD IDEA, may seem like a departure in some ways from my previous novels, I actually think their DNA is quite similar. The stakes are higher, but as ever, this book is about girls making unimaginable choices because of their circumstances, whether self-inflicted or not.   I’m constantly thinking about what it means to write morally gray characters, and I think the main takeaway from me is that I’m just much more interested in what people do and w

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston: NA Book Review

  One Last Stop  by Casey McQuiston Get Your Copy! Overview: August moved to New York for yet another fresh start and hopefully to finish out college (finally). In her attempt to find a place, she stumbles into an apartment full of interesting people who will quickly become her best friends. They fold her seamlessly into their lives. And then, on the subway, August meets a girl who will change her life forever. As time goes on, August finds out that Subway Girl, or Jane, is stuck on the Q metro line by some kind of energetic force. With the Q shutting down for maintenance by the end of the summer, August and her friends have to band together to get Jane unstuck, even if that means bouncing her back to 1977 where she came from and never seeing her again. Overall: 4 Characters: 5 I genuinely loved everyone in this book, and they gave me such warm, fuzzy, and hopeful feelings. The book would be New Adult if that was a category that publishing actually used (please can we make this more of

End of Summer YA to Preorder: August TBR

I know I always start these posts by panicking about how it's somehow already *insert whatever month here* because I'm always genuinely surprised when a new month rolls around and I realize it's already time to make a TBR post. But this month it's extra scary because I'm going to start this month at home like normal and end the month in a a brand new city, on my own, and starting in college in person for the first time. I have a road trip and a million boxes and probably a few tears in my future. (More on that later because I think I'm going to actually write a wrap up for this month sometime this week since there are about to be a ton of big changes!)  Anyway, here are the books I'm most excited for during the month of August. This list is a bit shorter than usual, but it has a bit of everything I love: a college YA/NA, a pop star story, and a book from an author I've enjoyed before.  If you're excited about any of these books, make sure you get you

Swimming Lessons By Lili Reinhart Poetry Review

  Swimming Lessons  by Lili Reinhart  Overall: 5 This is the first poetry book I've ever read in its entirety outside of Shel Silverstein, so I've checked off one of my reading goals for the year with this one. I've now read a graphic novel and a book of poetry. I've been anticipating Swimming Lessons  so long that I can't believe it's actually in my hands. I've been a fan of Lili since Riverdale, and I've continued to be a fan of hers even when the show got a bit too ridiculous for me to keep watching every week. I've been excited for the chance to get to see something completely created a controlled by Lili.  I'm not sure what I expected from Swimming Lessons . I think I had almost no idea what it would be like or the topics it would cover. After the first couple poems, I was completely hooked. In the intro, Lili prefaces the collection by noting that poetry has always given her solace in knowing other people felt the same specific emotions tha

This Is How We Fly by Anna Meriano: YA Book Review

This Is How We Fly  by Anna Meriano  Overview: Ellen is grounded for the entire summer. The whole summer. With one loophole. Quidditch. It wasn't even Ellen's idea, but her best friend, Melissa, isn't letting her summer get ruined by Ellen's unfortunate situation. Stuck in a constant battle with her step mom, Connie, and feeling utterly lost as her friend group shifts and realigns before college, Ellen is at a total loss with how to feel about her life, let alone her impending move to college in the fall. Everything is a mess and nothing makes sense, but there will always be hot Houston sun, buckets of sweat, and Quidditch. Overall: 3.5 Characters: 4 I really relate to Ellen, and I'm surprised I haven't seen a YA character more like her before. She's extremely conscious of social issues and the deep flaws in the world, and the hate, injustice, and pure stupidity of things often sends her down somewhat dark spirals about the state of the world when she spends