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Beach Read

Recap, Summary & Spoilers

The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for Beach Read by Emily Henry are below.

Quick(-ish) Recap

January Andrews is a chick lit novelist whose life is a bit of a wreck following the death of her father, Walt. At the funeral, she meets Sonya, his mistress, revealing that he had been cheating on his mother the whole time and shattering her idea of their happy marriage. January is also now semi-homeless and single, because her (now ex) boyfriend Jacques couldn't deal with her emotional fallout. As a result of it all, January is disillusioned about love, which has made it hard for her to write about romance.

Sonya also gives January a letter from her father and the key to his secret love nest, a lake house in North Bear Shores, Michigan. January moves there to write, and her neighbor turn out to be the handsome but grumpy Augustus Everett ("Gus" or "SEG"), a former college rival. In college, they both competed for the same writing prizes, and he made fun of her upbeat writing. He was also a womanizer and commitment-phobe. Now, he writes literary fiction.

When January confides in him about her writer's block, they come up with a challenge. Gus will write a happily-ever-after, and January will try her hand at literary fiction. Whoever sells their book first, wins. The loser has to help promote the other's book. They also agree to educate each other on their respective genres. January and Gus each work on their books during the week, hang out at night, and on weekends they each get one day to plan an "educational" activity for the other. Gus takes January on a series of interviews and visits regarding a cult called New Eden that was once located in the area. January takes Gus to things like a beach day, a carnival, a rom-com movie marathon, and other romantic fodder.

As they get to know each other, January tells Gus about her mother's cancer, her father's betrayal, her her ex and so forth. Gus is more guarded but, with some help from Gus's aunt Pete, January eventually learns about Gus's abusive father, the death of his mother and how his ex-wife Naomi left him for his best friend, Parker.

Things heat up romantically between January and Gus, but January also recognizes that he has deep trust issues that need to be addressed. When January finally confronts Gus about his behavior, he admits that he's been crazy about her since college and has been scared of his feelings because he's still such a mess right now. Their romantic relationship continues to grow and January finally finishes her book. However, Naomi then shows up looking for Gus, and afterwards he is nowhere to be found.

Sonya also shows up, demanding to talk to January. She explains how Walt was her first boyfriend back in high school, and they had initially reconnected when January's parents were separated. Walt had been planning on moving to North Bear Shores until January's mother was diagnosed with cancer, which ended things. However, Sonya and Walt later rekindled their now-illicit romance, but again it petered off when January's mother finally got better. Sonya also urges January to finally read the letter he left her. It leads January to a stack of letters from her father, one written on each of her birthdays, as well as the keys to a boat that is named after her.

When Gus reappears, he tells January that Naomi has split up with Parker and wants to get back together. However, he knows he wants to be with January. Nine months later, January receives the advanced copies of her book, and Gus's book has been completed as well. When Gus's advanced copy comes in, January sees that it is dedicated to her, and she tells him she loves him.

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Section-by-Section Summary

Chapters 1 – 4

January Andrews is a chick lit writer whose father has recently passed, leaving her life in tatters. Her father’s funeral resulted in the discovery that he had been cheating on her mother. (Her mother knew, but January did not.) His mistress, Sonya, also gave January a letter from him and passed along the keys to his secret love nest, a lake house in Michigan, which he willed to January. January’s boyfriend, Jacques, didn’t want to deal with her emotional fallout from her father’s death and broke up with her.

As a result, January is now single, semi-homeless and having a very hard time writing about romance (i.e. making a living) because her happily-ever-after worldview has been shattered. Financially strapped, she goes to stay at the lake house in North Bear Shores, Michigan. Her plan is work on a book and then sell the book and the house. The letter from her late father goes unopened.

At the house, January calls her best friend Shadi and asks her grumpy neighbor to turn down his music, who she soon discovers is Augustus Everett (“Gus” or “SEG”), a former college rival. In college, they competed for the same writing prizes and now they are both novelists. His writing was always brooding and serious, while hers was upbeat and full of happily ever afters. Gus is handsome, but was a serious commitment-phobe in college. He doesn’t seem to recognize her.

Meanwhile, Anya, January’s agent, urges her to finish her book which she owes to her publisher, Sandy Lowe Books.

Chapters 5 – 8

January is invited over a get-together by Pete (a nickname, real name is Posey), an older woman who is the proprietor of the local coffee-shop-slash-bookstore, Pete’s Coffee. January shows up, but finds Sonya (the mistress) there as well as Gus. She also realizes it’s a meeting for a book club that reads spy novels. January gets drunk, so Gus drives her home. On the way, he stops to pick up his hangover cure: donuts.

Things are getting flirty until they start talking about their writing and Gus mocks her happily-ever-after-type books. Gus finally recalls that they knew each other, though he can tell that she seems troubled compared to when they were in college. (January also remembers a night in college where she and Gus had almost hooked up, but had been interrupted by her best friend, Shadi.)

As January confides in him about her writer’s block when it comes to happy novels, they end up coming up with a challenge for each other — Gus will try to write a happily-ever-after novel, while January will try her hand at serious literary fiction. Whoever sells their book first, wins. The loser has to help promote the other’s book. They also agree to weekly excursions to educate each other and help with research on their respective genres.

Chapters 9 – 14

January starts her book, and not knowing what else to write about, she starts writing about her own experiences and parents’ marriage. She also contemplates how she was affected by her mother’s cancer; January had tried to live her life in a way that would make her parents believe that she was “okay” despite of it.

When Friday rolls around, it’s Gus’s day to introduce January to his research process for literary fiction. They go to interview a woman whose sister was in a suicide cult. Afterwards, Gus tells her about working on a book about cults for the last five years. January confides in him about her father. The next day, January takes Gus to a carnival, describing it as a great place for characters to fall in love. She admits her parents fell in love at a carnival. January also tells Gus about her ex, Jacques, who Gus also knew in college. He tells January about his parents as well, and his awful dad. He hadn’t understood why his mother didn’t leave him, which is why the topic of cults and why people stay in situations against reason interests him. Gus moved here because a cult, New Eden, used to be situated nearby.

Back to working on her book, January changes the names, time period, occupations and small details to divorce the characters from her life, with only a skeleton of the original inspiration. As the days pass, they get into a comfortable rhythm of writing and chatting from across their respective balconies. When an interview subject (Dave) stands them up, January and Gus end up having dinner and holding hands.

For January’s excursion, she plans a Meg Ryan rom-com movie marathon. She’s also increasingly aware of her desire for Gus, but she knows it’s a bad idea because he’s a commitment-phobe who only engages in casual relationships. Nonetheless, they end up kissing and getting increasingly physical until they get kicked out of the movie theater.

The next few days, Gus is nowhere to be found, and January feels angry at herself at how crazy it makes her feel. Meanwhile, Shadi texts January, updating her about Ricky (who she nicknames “Haunted Hat“), a man she is falling for.

Chapters 15 – 16

January goes to Pete’s bookstore to sign copies of her books. Pete casually mentions that she’s Gus’s aunt, to January’s surprise. Pete also fills in why he was grumpy on the day January moved in. It had been his birthday, and his wife had previously left him his birthday. Each year his friend throws a party for him to try to get his mind off of it, which is why the music had been so loud. All of this is news to January who had no idea he had been married and divorced.

When Gus reappears again, with no explanation, January tries to keep her distance, feeling hurt and emotionally vulnerable after realizing how little she knew about him and how unwilling he was to share information about himself. However, Gus ends up telling her to come over because Dave, a former New Eden member and their absentee interview subject, had shown up at his place. Dave talks about how his family had been drawn into the cult after Dave had been hit by lightning and survived. His parents had become interested in religion, but ended up finding New Eden instead. After two years, his mother took him out of there since she knew something was wrong. His dad stayed and died in a fire soon after.

Afterwards, January notices that Gus had gotten a tattoo, which he doesn’t explain. January leaves, thinking about how she doesn’t want the type of emotionally distant and secretive relationship that seems to be all that Gus is capable of.

Chapters 17 – 21

January and Gus go to a cowboy-styled bar and dance club, the Black Cat Saloon, the following Saturday. They have fun dancing and drinking, but as they sober up, January finally confronts Gus about all the things he hadn’t told her. He’s defensive and angry about it, but finally tells her about his wife, Naomi, leaving him for his best friend and college roommate, Parker. They have a margarita night the next day and Gus reveals more about his ex-wife, a visual artist who he was married to for two years. Gus also tells her that he never met her father or Sonya. They are getting physical again when they’re interrupted by their food delivery arriving.

The next week they meet with Dave as well as his mother Julie-Ann to get more insight into his story. The day after, they go to the beach. Gus talks more about his father, how his mother had passed away, and how Gus been left to take care of his father even though his father was abusive. January and Gus acknowledge that they’ve come to care for each other.

Meanwhile, Shadi texts January to tell her that she thinks she’s in love with Haunted Hat guy. Also, January is in contact with Sonya about some leftover furniture, and Sonya asks to meet up with her to talk.

The next week plan to go to Pete’s 4th of July cookout and visit the New Eden site the next day. Before the party, January and Gus finally have sex, but immediately afterwards Gus gets a phone call and January leaves, which she feels weird about. At Pete and Maggie’s (Pete’s partner) place, January notices something is off with Gus. When she suggests that they sneak into a bathroom for a quickie, he declines. January thinks about how Gus is someone who mistrusts other and needs to be “fixed”. She also realizes how much she wants him anyway.

Chapters 22 – 24

The next day, they go to see the charred remains of New Eden. There had been a series of fires at the camp, which is what had ended the settlement. At the site, Gus admits that he was upset yesterday because of a call from his divorce lawyer (and best friend), Kayla Markham, and he reassures January about his feelings for her. He also admits that he’s been crazy about her since college, but has been scared that he’s too much of a mess to give her what she needs. January assures him that she wants to be with him, and they make love again. Later, Gus tells January that he liked that January’s writing makes the world seem happier.

The days pass, and eventually Gus and January tell each other that they love each other. By August, January has written the final chapter of her book, Family Secrets, one month before her September 1 deadline from Anya. She sends off the draft. Gus is nearly done with his book as well. At a bookstore event hosted by Pete and Maggie, Naomi shows up, looking for Gus. Meanwhile, Sonya comes looking for January and insists on talking to her.

Chapters 25 – 27

Sonya explains that she met January’s father (Walt Andrews) in high school, and he was her first boyfriend. Years later, they ran into each other around here while January’s parents were separated. They started spending weekends together, he’d bought the lake house and was planning on moving there.

When January’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, things changed and January’s parents got back together. However, when January’s mother’s cancer returned for a second time, Walt ended up reaching out to Sonya for comfort. When the cancer abated again, he grew distant and things ended. Much later, Sonya was surprised when the lawyer reached out after his death, asking Sonya to give January the letter and the key. Sonya thinks it’s because Walt wanted January to know the truth about him, and he thought January’s mother would never tell.

After Sonya leaves, January finally opens the letter from her father. It’s now been a year since his death. The letter directs her to more letters, stored in a safe. January reads the stack of letters, one per year of her life, each dated on her birthday. There’s also a key to a boat named January that’s docked in the marina nearby. January asks her best friend to come, so Shadi arrives the next morning and they talk all night.

When she still hasn’t heard from Gus the next day, January is worried about what it means, but eventually Gus reaches out. He confirms that Naomi had split up with Parker and wanted to get back together. But he wants to be with January.

Chapter 28: Nine Months Later

Nine months later, January receives the advance copies of her novel, The Great Family Marconi. This is soon followed by Gus’s completed manuscript for his book, The Cup Is Already Broken. Together, they read each other’s books. In Gus’s novel, his characters escape a cult, but die after leading. In January’s, the female protagonist ends up with someone other than the man she loves — but he loves her and there’s the sense they’ll end up together one day. They note that they both both sort of failed at the bet, but they had to write what they knew to be true.

When Gus’s advance copies arrive, January sees that he has dedicated the book to her, and she tells him she loves him.

If this summary was useful to you, please consider supporting this site by leaving a tip ($2, $3, or $5) or joining the Patreon!

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