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Adulting Is Hard: 6 Clever Novels that Capture the Struggles of Millennials

by  | August 14
Grown Ups book by the pool

Give a warm welcome to author Emma Jane Unsworth, whose new book Grown Ups, about the very real struggles of adulting in today’s world, comes out on August 18. The intrepid millennial main character of her story is Jenny McLaine, whose life is a hot mess. She’s lost her sweet columnist job, and any hope of reuniting with her ex, plus her mother is about to move in with her. Exploring topics of feminism, social media, vulnerability, and more, Grown Ups is being touted as Fleabag meets Conversations with Friends, which is music to our ears. So, of course, we had to ask Emma about some of her favorite reads with a similar vibe. Thanks for joining us, Emma!


Becoming an adult is something that should just happen to us naturally (hahaha—laughs to fade into oblivion). Alas, that’s rarely (never?) the case. It’s a challenge. Maybe the problem is that no one knows what “adulting” actually means. Does it mean looking after yourself? Owning a house? Always having a reusable tote on hand? Keeping a plant alive? What?

These six books that I’m recommending don’t answer that question, but they certainly grapple with the idea of feeling at odds with a world you are meant to have “grown up” into. I love them all. I hope you do too. Happy growing, happy not growing, and happy reading.

Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman

by Sayaka Murata

Getting a job is supposedly mandatory for adults. For the protagonist of this novel, 36-year-old Keiko, it’s more than a life goal; it’s a raison d’être. What starts as an unsettling study of devotion becomes an intense satire that doesn’t give the reader much breathing room, and is all the better for it. If you’ve ever loved your job, this one’s for you. If you’ve ever hated your job, this one’s for you. If you’ve ever chosen a job over a man, this one’s definitely for you.

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Single, Carefree, Mellow

Single, Carefree, Mellow

by Katherine Heiny

Okay, it’s not a novel (it’s a collection of short stories), but let’s not be pedantic when something’s SO GOOD. I truly think Heiny is one of the funniest authors writing today. In these stories, she explores adultery, parenthood, heartache, and self-deception—all the perils of maturity. This book taught me so much about being a young adult—and, most of all, it felt like solidarity in the wilderness of late-twenties life. A slim volume, it punches well above its weight. I’d also heartily recommend Heiny’s novel, Standard Deviation—arguably even more grown-up, and just as funny.

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Queenie

Queenie

by Candice Carty-Williams

Chaos. Chaos is the thing we need to tame if we are to ever truly own our lives. Failing that, we can laugh a lot and have distracting flings. Or maybe not. Queenie is a young Londoner who will make you laugh—a lot—as she tries to master the chaos of her existence and heal a broken heart with a Band-Aid sex spree. Because that always works out well. The book, however, is a joy.

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The New ME

The New ME

by Halle Butler

Having good friends is another classic milestone of growing up. Finding your people. Your squad. We hear so much about that, don’t we? So, it’s really refreshing when a book comes along that smashes all that apart and tells the story of an angry loner. Hurrah for angry loners! Butler’s book is one of the best things I’ve read in years. It follows a young woman temping in Chicago, a millennial lost in a late-capitalist nightmare. Millie suffers from feelings of bitterness, ennui, and inadequacy, but that’s not the worst of it: she just can’t turn off that cursed inner monologue (which, as we all know, is the only thing in this world worse than office politics). She’s mean, sad, and doomed. Good thing she’s also hilarious.

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My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

by Ottessa Moshfegh

Moshfegh’s second novel (after the equally brilliant Eileen) tells of an unnamed young art graduate who ups her medication in order to sleep for a year. Let’s face it, we’ve all been tempted. The protagonist is an anti-heroine of the highest order. She’s out for herself, she’s difficult to relate to, and she’s deliciously destructive. It’s another acidic rebuttal of female stereotypes—another (although I hate this term) “unlikable” female character—and I am all for it. Because if there’s one thing that stops women from growing, it’s constantly endeavoring to be liked. (I say this as a recovering people-pleaser.) It pleases me to read books that remind me not to think I have to be pleasing.

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Eat My Heart Out

Eat My Heart Out

by Zoe Pilger

Dark snark at its finest, Pilger’s ferocious satire follows the skint and heartbroken Ann-Marie around London in the pursuit of love—and modern feminism. Plunging in and out of neon-glazed bars and depressing house parties, Eat My Heart Out is the perfect what-not-to-do manual for young narcissists and hedonists. If acquiring a sense of politics and personal ideologies is part of growing up, this cannibalistic tale shows how wrong we can get it, if we eat everything we are fed from the media.

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Grown Ups

Grown Ups

by Emma Jane Unsworth

Plus, all of us at Get Literary recommend Grown Ups!

Jenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be. Least of all adulthood.

Told in live-wire prose, texts, emails, script dialogue, and social media messages, Grown Ups is a neurotic dramedy of 21st-century manners for the digital age. It reckons with what it means to exist in a woman’s body: to sing and dance and work and mother and sparkle and equalize and not complain and be beautiful and love your imperfections and stay strong and show your vulnerability and bake and box…

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Emma Jane Unsworth is the author of Grown Ups and two other award-winning novels: Hungry, the Stars and Everything and Animals. She wrote the screenplay of Animals and the film, directed by Sophie Hyde and starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, premiered at Sundance 2019 and was released in the UK later that year. She regularly writes essays for newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian Weekend. She also writes for television.