Emily Henry tries her hand at a more serious ‘Funny Story’

Book Reviews

This was first published April 20, 2024 in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you were to type the words “emotional,” “romance” and “comedy” into a recommendation algorithm, you would get suggestions for movies like “When Harry Met Sally” or “The Proposal.”


If you asked for a book, you might get “Funny Story,” the newest from cherished author Emily Henry, the Nora Ephron of modern rom-com novels. While mining many of the tropes of the genre, Henry manages to remain at the top of her game by writing characters who are clear eyed and quirky, yet unsentimental.

Take Daphne, the protagonist of “Funny Story,” a children’s librarian and self-described bookworm who can’t wait to get out of Waning Bay, Mich. She moved there with her fiancé Peter, and “Funny Story” begins as her engagement implodes.

For years, Peter has talked about his best friend from childhood, Petra. Daphne was never threatened by Petra — and even befriended her. If something romantic were to happen between Petra and Peter, Daphne reasons, it would have happened years ago. Peter has known Petra his whole life and swears she is just a friend.

Readers, you all know what’s coming: Petra is not just a friend. Yet, knowing the plot twist won’t diminish this book in any way.

When the breakup happens, in the naked truth of Daphne’s shock, she realizes the house, and their lives in Waning Bay, belonged to Peter. With nowhere to go, Daphne moves in with Petra’s ex-fiance, Miles. On the surface, this move makes sense, because they can commiserate.

Also, Daphne and Miles are about as likely a couple as a mime and a karaoke machine.

When they get invited to Peter and Petra’s wedding, in a desperate attempt not to look sad or pathetic, Daphne decides to tell everyone that she and Miles are dating. It’s a great setup for a romantic comedy, especially one titled “Funny Story.”

And, as in most rom-coms, fate jumps in.

Daphne and Miles — the most mismatched pair since Burger King introduced the French Toast Bacon Cheeseburger — find that they click more than expected.

Set in the Great Lakes of Michigan, a place Henry fans will recognize, the story hits every rom-com note without being trite. Unlike her other books, the place is a bit less prominent as its own character, but it’s still ever-present in the background.

Henry has always been a master of dialogue and this book is no exception. Scenes between characters are so engaging, a reader will practically hear the characters speak.

At one point as Daphne articulates the type of woman she thinks she might like to be, as Miles puts sunscreen on her:

“Cool, laid-back girls never face consequences for their spontaneity. It’s how they’re able to keep being cool and laid back. They’re genetically predisposed to health. They’re not allergic to poison ivy or shellfish, and they never get migraines, even if they only sleep for three hours in a cold tent, and they never burn in the sun.”

Miles later responds, “I just realized I’m a cool laid-back girl.”

Readers used to Henry’s books mimicking one another in some ways will be elated, or disappointed, that this book is something a bit different. Daphne’s story is about rebuilding a life when everything that was seemingly important is stripped away. This book is definitely more “rom” than “com,” and is tinged with sadness.

Sure, it’s still firmly in genre, with all the tropes that entails (fake dating, forced time together and attraction between opposites), but the tone is slightly different than previous books — with less joy.

Example: At one point in the book, Daphne calls Miles cynical. “It’s not cynical,” he responds. “If you don’t give other people responsibility for your feelings, you can have a decent relationship with most of them.”

While this seriousness is certainly appropriate at times, the differences in the author’s style are clear, especially when juxtaposed with Henry’s last book, “Happy Place,” in which friends spend a good portion of the book getting into shenanigans and have story arcs just as important as main characters.

Longtime Henry fans won’t mind the shift because the hallmarks of her writing stand: She is witty, playful and, as always, able to tell a delightful and funny story.

Meredith Cummings is a freelance journalist and teaching assistant professor of journalism at Lehigh University.

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