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Invariably, your twenties are considered the defining decade of your life. For many, it means graduating from higher education and therefore losing a safety net, and we feel obliged to follow a path that years of schooling has set us on. For those who didn’t attend university, the pressure may feel even greater, as our elders speak of head starts and established careers. However, in reality we may find ourselves wondering through a no man’s land, where we feel neither like a child nor adult. Fears of finances, relationships and careers are undoubtedly universal, but these worries can feel painfully personal and isolating. To aid in what may be a time of crisis, we want to recommend four books that may provide some guidance to anyone in their twenties. Our selections are a departure from the typical self-help books, and instead encapsulate not only the trials and tribulations of being in early adulthood, but offer validation, solution and hope through memoir and fiction.


by sally rooney

No stranger to essential reading lists, Sally Rooney’s Normal People is a must-read for anyone in their twenties. Rooney’s second novel explores the interweaving lives of Marianne and Connell, whose relationship ebbs and flows through their school and university career. To their classmates, they couldn’t be less alike, but the unlikely pair find solace within each other and are simply unable to let go. Normal People was long-listed for the Man Booker and Women’s Prize in Fiction in 2018 and won the award for the Waterstones Book of the Year. Although there are many reasons why Normal People appears on this list, its exploration of mental health amongst young adults is one of the most important. Both Marianne and Connell suffer with their mental health, and although their illnesses differ, they can be equally as debilitating. The way Rooney addresses their struggles with respect and unabashed honesty is overdue. She normalises these issues without saying it’s something we should tolerate, and for anyone who is burdened by their brains, Normal People feels like a breath of fresh air.


by kiley reid

In 2020, Such a Fun Age was long-listed for the Booker Prize and the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Fiction and won in the Best Debut Novel category. Kiley Reid’s debut novel centres around Emira Tucker, a twenty-five-year-old black woman who works as a babysitter for a wealthy white family. When a security guard accuses Emira of kidnapping Briar, the child she cares for, Such a Fun Age establishes itself as a compelling social commentary novel that tackles issues of race and questions the expectations of adulthood. Throughout Such a Fun Age, Reid crafts Emira Tucker as the epitome of a struggling young adult who feels they are moving too slow in a fast-paced society. From this comes a conversation about the relatively of success, a discussion that is often absent from popular media. Emira worries about losing her free healthcare and feels judged by her friends who are in higher respected jobs than she is, but that does not make her dissatisfied with her life. She loves Briar far beyond the transactional nature of their relationship, and she is good at what she does, so why can’t that be enough? This opportunity for introspectiveness is just one of many in Such a Fun Age, as with every turn of the page there is a new opportunity to question what makes us the people we are and who we long to be.


by patti smith

Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids is a heart-wrenching and humorous deep dive into her life with Robert Mapplethorpe, as they navigate New York City in the hope of achieving their dreams. In her own words, Patti Smith tells the London Review Bookshop Podcast that at its heart, Just Kids is about ‘evolving as a person’ through her and Robert’s ‘trials and tribulations and triumphs. ‘Just Kids won the 2010 National Award for Nonfiction and appears in the New York Times bestseller list of 2010.

Patti Smith’s life appeared to be absent of rules and the constraints of a capitalist society. Although for most of her twenties, herself and Robert had neither money nor permanent homes, their lives were fuelled by their adoration for one another. Through this exploration of their relationship, Smith’s memoir reminds us of our freedom, and how in our twenties, everything is still possible. The never sleeping New York acts as the backdrop to Smith’s story, with even its darkest corner romanticised. By doing this Smith encourages an appreciation of our own surroundings and highlights the beauty in the mundanity. You will come away from this reading experience feeling renewed.


by dolly alderton

Shortlisted for the Waterstones Book of the Year and winner of the National Book Awards prize for Best Autobiography in 2018, it is no surprise that Dolly Alderton’ Everything I Know About Love is one of the most refreshing memoirs of recent years. Alderton proves that there is no step-by-step guide to getting through your twenties, and although letting it play out organically can be hard at times, the beautiful memories made along the way will make it worth it.

Everything I Know About Love tackles the making and breaking of Alderton’s relationships, and her career-shaping opportunities, but also pays homage to the smaller, understated moments of her twenties, such as a Rod Stewart themed birthday party. It’s these insights that make Everything I Know About Love so humanistic and makes Alderton so relatable no matter your differences. Her memoir is a perfect encapsulation of the defining decade dilemma, and despite pinpointing some of the key reasons why being in your twenties can be stressful, Alderton always ends on a note of hope.


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