Book Review: Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

Happy Hour – Marlowe Granados (Verso, 2021)

I received an Advance Copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Isa and Gala are best friends, twenty-one years old, and ready for a summer of adventure when they meet in New York City. They have a place to stay, a few connections, and just a little bit of money. Their summer is told through Isa’s diary and the story serves as a sort of documentation of youth, friendship, and risk. It is a sort of time capsule of their lives at this exact moment. We get a little bit of information about there past but not a lot and the story ends with quite a bit of ambiguity about their future. Is that not, after all, what it means to be twenty-one?

Isa and Gala live from moment to moment. They have barely enough money to survive in New York and because they’re not US citizens (they’re Canadian) they’re not able to work legally. They have ways of making money under the table and friends who help them when they get into tight spots. Some friends are more loyal than others and some are less friends and more people who want something in return. Isa and Gala’s friendship, too, is tested as the summer progresses. These girls are close though – the sort of closeness that, I would say, is unique to young women at this stage of life. I think of the friendships I had in my late teens and early twenties and there isn’t anything else quite like them. I’ve had deeper relationships since but there is an intimacy to their friendships that Granados captures beautiful here. It’s the shared clothes, the close quarters of rooming together, the nights at bars where you let your safety sit in the hands of your girlfriends. Isa and Gala disagree at times and fight but there is a solidity to their friendship that leaves the reader confident that they won’t drift too far apart.

Interactions and relationships with men are also a frequent topic throughout the summer. I appreciated that neither the novel nor Isa herself rely on men too heavily but instead detail multiple interactions, showing the vulnerabilities and excitements of being twenty-one and single. We see the different ways that Isa and Gala deal with the men around them and we get hints at the reasons for this in the small details of their past that Isa shares. There is, too, the fact that Isa is mixed race and seen as “exotic”. This isn’t a topic deeply delved into in the novel but it is an interesting one to ponder as we watch Isa navigate her way through New York and into adulthood.

This is a deceptively easy to read story. It has something of a “beach read” feel to it with its summer heat and party scenes. But there’s also plenty to think about and Granados does a good job of hinting at greater things behind the scenes. For me, entering into my late 30s, there was a certain nostalgia as I read these pages, tempered also with a thankfulness to have left the uncertainty of twenty-one behind me.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados”

  1. Haha, you’re far too young to be feeling nostalgic! Just you wait – twenty-one seems like a different planet to me now. But we agree on one thing – no desire to go back to those days of intense emotions and uncertainty, fun though they were at the time. I’d much rather be old and boring (though I wouldn’t object to having a twenty-one- year-old body again…) 😉

    1. Oh, you’re never too young to be nostalgic! I loved my 20s and some of the best things in my life happened to me then. But I love the solidity and confidence of my 30s and the life I have now. Sometimes I do miss the 20-something ability to eat and drink whatever I wanted and exist on no sleep though!

  2. I’ve tried to explain to people that the friends you have when you are a young girl are more like dating than our definition of friendship. It’s easy to not want them to be friends with anyone else or date anyone, to want them with you all the time, and essentially breaking up when it’s all over. Recently, the adult cartoon Big Mouth took on this topic, and I was surprised. Usually, the show is quite sexual in nature (it’s about puberty and is . . . uh, a little over the top), so it was nice to see girl friendships taken on.

    1. Oh my goodness, that comparison is clarifying so much to me! Yes, those friendships have the intensity of dating relationships. Some of my most intense friendships from my teens and twenties are not people I hear from much these days and I still feel sad about that because it is more like a breakup than anything else.

    2. Thinking about the endings of those relationships especially, it is like a long-term relationship. We couldn’t make it work the same way over distance or one of us met a guy and it just seemed to die and I never quite understood why.

  3. I felt the exact same way when I read this novel -I enjoyed it, but it also made me so thankful to be past that stage of life. I follow Granados on twitter, and the things she posts are very much like the book – eating out at restaurants, dressing in fancy gear, etc. I live vicariously through her! haha

    1. I read an interview with her and got the sense that there is a bit of an autobiographical sense element to the story. So it doesn’t surprise me that her feed is filled with such things!

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