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I am a connoisseur of contemporary romance novels.  Not only do I read them voraciously, I also teach a high school senior literature elective on the history of romance and its role in the current zeitgeist. I’d like to believe my taste is discerning. In fact, I’d say I have a pretty hard time with most #BookTok picks. There needs to be more than well-written spice for me to enjoy a tale. I want to watch two broken people heal and find love and peace together. 

One recent release that has been popular on #BookTok and worth the hype is How To End A Love Story, the debut romance by screenwriter Yulin Kuang. Kuang is known throughout the romance community for her upcoming adaptations of Emily Henry novels, including a role as director for the film adaptation of the popular Beach Read. So while there are many reasons to praise Ms. Kuang, one example of her talent can be found by simply visiting a bookstore and picking up her novel.

How To End A Love Story centers on Helen and Grant, two writers bound by a tragic event, who find themselves, thirteen years later, working on the same TV show: an adaptation of Helen’s own popular YA series. As Kuang explains in an interview with Elle: “I wanted to explore what a shared wound would do to two different people who were coming at it from different angles.” The two not only battle their past trauma but also their very different perspectives on just how to navigate a Hollywood writers’ room. All this while they are battling their feelings for each other. Kuang suavely uses her own experiences in adaptations to give readers a glimpse behind the curtain, and the insights are quite a treat. Who knew, for example, how much time TV writers spend swapping personal stories?

However, what makes the novel magical is the witty repartee between Helen and Grant, reminiscent of Hepburn and Tracy. These two have a past, so with each barb there’s an extra emotional punch. Plus, just behind Grant’s gentle teasing of Helen lurks a keen insight into her wants and needs. Grant sees Helen, even though she’s terrified of being seen.

The yearning! Oh, the yearning… 

Take, for example, this line by our leading man: “You don’t have to be completely healed to be everything I want. To be mine. I want every part of you, you silly infuriating woman. I love the parts of you I haven’t even met yet.”

While How to End a Love Story is a romance novel, so we know it will have a happily ever after, there’s more emotional resonance and, yes, more darkness than we might expect. Helen fights not only her lingering grief but also the expectations of her Chinese immigrant parents and her own higher-than-healthy standards. Can she make peace with herself in time to welcome love?  

In a recent interview with Vogue, Kuang notes, “There is a very interesting tension between what’s popular and what’s prestige. And I feel like romances with happy endings are not perceived as prestige, in a way that really irritates me, quite honestly.” It saddens me to think people will write off this tale of very relatable growth between two lost souls just because they may resist the genre. If you are looking for a book that will enter you into the world of well-written contemporary romance, pick up How To End A Love Story. Get ready to weep, laugh, and, yes, blush.

Emily Ansara Baines

Emily Ansara Baines is the author of The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Narrative, Jezebel, The Independent, Read It Forward, and Peaceful Dumpling. She lives and teaches in the suburbs outside of Los Angeles. When Emily is not reading or writing, she is exploring the San Gabriel foothills with her son, husband, and golden retriever. Her favorite word is murmur.