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Emily Henry: A FUNNY STORY That Lacks Punch

Content Warning: Mentions of emotionally abusive and absent parents. Minor plot spoilers.

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Content Warning: Mentions of emotionally abusive and absent parents. Minor plot spoilers.

 

Emily Henry: we all know the name, or have at least been exposed to it with a simple scroll across our TikTok feeds. Beach Read, You and Me on Vacation (or People We Meet on Vacation), Book Lovers, Happy Place—nine times out of ten, you’ve been recommended one of these books. The BookTok maestro makes her annual return with Funny Story, promising readers a rom-com all about the complicated mess of love and relationships. As a self-proclaimed Henry connoisseur and enthusiast, it’s no surprise this was a highly anticipated read for me.

 

We’re introduced to Daphne, fresh off a break-up and counting down the days ‘til her departure from Waning Bay (the town where the story is set), along with her seemingly strange, miserable roommate Miles. Though both have clear differences in character, their lives have become entwined for a shared reason – their exes. Best friends Peter (Daphne’s ex) and Petra (Miles’ ex) have ditched their respective partners for one another, leaving Daphne and Miles in a joint living situation with uncomfortable interactions and forced proximity abound. It’s a classic best friends-to-lovers formula, except, we’re thrust into the lesser known perspective of the heartbroken. It’s an exciting premise, yet as I approached the book’s end, it’s safe to say that I should’ve lowered my expectations.

 

What should’ve been a deep retrospective on heartbreak and personal growth, an element I’ve always appreciated with her other books, Funny Story falls flat. Daphne’s absent parents and Miles’ emotionally abusive upbringing, along their relationship histories, shows why they’re the way they are. It instigates mature conversations between the two, allowing for humane reactions and decisions. Yet, with such a great set-up for personal development and change, by the book’s conclusion, I thought both characters remain stagnant with no hints of growth.

 

Daphne’s character is underwhelming. It’s clear she’s been imposed with random quirks to compensate for a lack of personality, further noticeable when compared to Henry’s other female protagonists. A major qualm I felt was that parts of her personality or interests were mostly repetitive and shown through ‘tell’ not ‘show’. Like, they repeatedly mention the ‘Signature Daphne Moan’ where she groans when eating good food (???). It’s moments like these where it doesn’t feel like a book written by Henry—her usual protagonists with stark characterisation and wit cannot be found. Ironic, given the book’s title. In typical Henry fashion, the book has a third-act conflict. It’s a device most are tired of, but it’s one I enjoy when done right. Yet as we’re subjected to a make-up scene where Daphne voices a jumbled monologue that reads too confusing and rushed, Miles utters that he doesn’t understand. Me neither.

 

Speaking of Miles, there’s a growing sentiment around readers that he’s a quasi Nick Miller. As someone who periodically rewatches New Girl every winter, it’s almost offensive. Is it because of his gruff appearance? His charm as someone who easily got along well with other people? Well, unlike Nick, and Henry’s other love interests, Miles is an unsure leading man. With Henry’s preceding male characters, we were confident of their affection for their female counterparts. I mean, isn’t that the whole point of romance? With Miles, it was a struggle to view him as a fitting partner for Daphne. His feelings for Petra are muddy even at the end, where it seems he remains attached and confused. It could be from a lack of his POV, but with no clear resolution for Miles and Petra, it’s a worrying problem for the future.

 

And as most fake-dating tropes go, forced affection and gradual intimacy made its occasional appearance. While it helped speed up Daphne and Miles’ relationship, there was nothing too memorable that left me giddy. It’s a disappointing realisation: it’s obvious they’re together by convenience rather than choice. Their own chemistry, or lack of, only fails to triumph over that hurdle.

 

Waning Bay, the small town, is a redeeming point that comes alive in Henry’s writing—its charm almost comparable to the quirky Sunshine Falls of Book Lovers. It’s also obvious that Henry is becoming much more comfortable with bigger ensembles, with side characters being strong additions to the plot. Her exploration of diverse ages and backgrounds cements her burgeoning writing skills, though it’s unfortunate it doesn’t apply to the protagonists.

 

Funny Story was a light and breezy read, understandable as a romance novel. However, part of Henry’s charm lies on lit fiction stories with meaningful themes – veiled as romance for its sharp, sweet moments. While it could’ve been a new approach on the genre, it meant feeling disappointed with each turn of a page. Maybe it needs a reread, but there’s not a single part that’s drawing me to do so.

 
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It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

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