In April, the Library hosted bestselling author Shelby Van Pelt. Following her presentation, during the Q&A, an audience member asked what she was currently reading. She shared that she had just finished a new book by Steven Rowley called The Celebrants. She loved it and thought that it was a powerful, thought-provoking read.
I am a Rowley fan, so I knew I had to read his latest and immediately added myself to the Library’s hold list. Several weeks later, the book was ready for me and I could hardly wait to start reading it.
It is the story of five long-time friends – Jordan, Jordy, Craig, Marielle, and Naomi. A pack that used to be six, but a few weeks before the group’s graduation from Berkeley, their friend Alec died. His death, right on the cusp of their group entering the adult world, without each other, left them shaken and questioning what their lives and connections would look like after graduation.
After Alec’s funeral, the friends gather at Naomi’s parent’s house in Big Sur, and spend the time comforting each other and rehashing Alec’s death. During the visit, Marielle suggests the remaining friends make a pact. The rules of the pact being, they will drop everything and get together when one of them calls and requests it. They will throw the requestor a living “funeral.” A group celebration to stop and remind themselves that life can be hard, but worth it, especially with one’s friends in their corner. During times of need these gatherings will be pockets of time where they share their love for one another.
During the next 28 years, the five friends meet up for “funerals” on three occasions, but the newest call to action is different. Jordan has something he has been keeping from the group and it will not be an easy secret to share, and for the group, not something easy to process.
Rowley has crafted a beautiful composition to the power and beauty of friendship and what lifelong support looks like. This is not a sappy story, more of the matter-of-fact, read between the lines, style that Rowley is known for, but the elements combined to make an emotional (grab the tissues) and heartfelt offering that reminds readers to not leave anything unsaid.
Full disclosure, I did not love this book when I first started reading it. Some, if not all, of the characters are not very likable, at least not from the beginning of the book. They are flawed, and Rowley’s writing style and the way the book jumps between points of time, make this more challenging. But I am so glad I stuck with and finished it.
At one point, it all just clicked and I was able to realize why he had written it to move from present day to past events in the uneven manner that he did. The story and the friendships really resonated with me. Friends are there to provide hope, encouragement, and to remind you why this life is worth living. Kudos, Steven Rowley, you have crafted another winner.
Find the book in the catalog.
Review written by: Jeana Gockley, Joplin Public Library Director