Elsie and Ben share a classic love-at-first-sight romance. Overcome by their feelings, the couple head to Vegas mere weeks after meeting to tie the knot. Ben dies days after the ceremony. (No spoiler: It happens within the first pages of the book.) At the hospital, Elsie gets a rude awakening: Ben never told his mother about her or the wedding.
Why we love it: Taylor Jenkins Reid delivers such an emotional wallop we were instantly captivated — even though we knew from the start the outcome for the couple is terrible. Jenkins Reid cleverly interweaves chapters about their love story with ones about Ben’s death and Elsie’s strained relationship with her reserved mother-in-law, Susan. Because of the briefness of their time together, “the legitimacy of Elsie’s grief is called into question throughout the book,” says Jenkins Reid, “not only by other characters but by Elsie herself. Does she have the right to be this sad? Was she really the love of his life?”
What it’s about: This passionate, heart-breaking yet frequently funny debut novel explores what happens if you lose the love of your life soon after you’ve found him. Still reeling from Ben’s death, Elsie is faced with a mother-in-law who is devastated by her own loss, feels she was betrayed by her son and Elsie, and refuses to acknowledge the marriage.
The inspiration: Jenkins Reid says the book began very much from real life. “I eloped also and was shocked at how overwhelmingly in love I was,” she says. “I became terrified that I would somehow lose this happiness I’d just discovered and decided to mine that fear to find a story.” At the heart of the novel is the exploration of different kinds of love: that of a mother for her son, early romantic love, and the love of friends for one another.
Talking points: Love, death, grieving, hope and female relationships.