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Cover of The Celebrants by Steven Rowley

The Celebrants

by Steven Rowley

GENRE: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Humor

It’s been a minute—or five years—since Jordan Vargas last saw his college friends, and twenty-eight years since their graduation when their adult lives officially began. Now Jordan, Jordy, Naomi, Craig, and Marielle find themselves at the brink of a new decade, with all the responsibilities of adulthood, yet no closer to having their lives figured out. Though not for a lack of trying. Over the years they’ve reunited in Big Sur to honor a decades-old pact to throw each other living “funerals,” celebrations to remind themselves that life is worth living—that their lives mean something, to one another if not to themselves.

But this reunion is different. They’re not gathered as they were to bolster Marielle as her marriage crumbled, to lift Naomi after her parents died, or to intervene when Craig pleaded guilty to art fraud. This time, Jordan is sitting on a secret that will upend their pact.

Discussion Guide

Headshot of Steven Rowley

Author Biography

Steven Rowley is the New York Times bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus, a Washington Post Notable Book of 2016, The Editor, named by NPR as one of the Best Books of 2019, The Guncle, a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist for 2021 Novel of the Year and winner of The 22nd Thurber Prize for American Humor, and The Celebrants, a TODAY Show Read With Jenna Book Club pick. His fiction has been published in twenty languages. All of his books are in development for feature film or television adaptation.

Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College and currently resides in Palm Springs with his husband, the writer Byron Lane and two rescue dogs. - Author's website

More Titles By This Author



Rowley's (The Guncle, 2021) latest is a superbly crafted narrative about five college friends who make a unique pact. After losing their close friend, Alec, at a young age while at Berkeley, Marielle, Craig, Jordan, Jordy (collectively "The Jordans"), and Naomi agree that they will all have the right to invoke a living funeral. At any point, each can call on the rest to come to a place of their choosing and celebrate their life while they are still alive. Each section is dedicated to one "funeral" and often provides stories of the group's younger selves to explain why they invoke the pact when they do. As the pact morphs and shifts into a lifeline in moments of crisis--whether it's divorce, death, sickness, or criminality--past secrets are revealed, and their bonds are both tested and strengthened. Beautifully written and culminating in a phenomenally wellrealized resonant set-piece, Rowley's tale wonderfully captures how deeply important friendships are. Like Ron Currie Jr.'s Everything Matters! (2009) this is a lifeaffirming work, one that is both hilarious and richly affecting, with an unforgettable cast of engaging characters that readers will wish they could spend more time with.

Publisher's Weekly

Rowley (The Guncle) offers another winning story of a friend group held together by an unusual bond. Five friends at U.C. Berkeley are reeling from another friend's overdose death. Just before graduating in 1995, they make a pact. Each of them may ask for a "living funeral" in a moment of crisis, and their friends will show up to celebrate their life. After college, they drift apart. Then, in 2013, Marielle Holland, now living in Washington, D.C., sounds the alarm, flailing through an impending divorce. In 2016, Naomi Ito's parents die in a plane crash, pushing the strident Naomi, now a music executive, to drag them all to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In 2018, Craig Scheffler, who relies on humor to shield his emotions, is facing prison for art fraud when the friends ambush him for his own "funeral" in New York City. Finally in 2023, Jordy Tosic and Jordan Vargas, now husbands in New York City, activate the pact because Jordan's cancer is back. Faced with an impending real funeral, the quintet, now 50, gathers a final time for a genuinely heartfelt conclusion. Rowley admirably avoids sentimentality along the way, and there's plenty of fresh and witty dialogue. For anyone needing a reminder about the importance of friendships, this will more than do the trick. Agent: Rob Wiesbach, Rob Wiesbach Creative. (May)Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the city two characters live in.


A privileged but somewhat diverse group of friends support each other in a profound way through their early to middle adulthood. Meeting first as misfit transfer students in their sophomore year at Berkeley, Marielle, Naomi, Craig, the Jordans (a gay couple), and Alec quickly become family to each other. But Alec, the wildest, dies of an overdose two weeks before graduation, leaving the others bereft and confused. After Alec's funeral, Marielle convinces them to join in an unusual pact to celebrate each other: At any time of their choosing, each can call on the others to gather for their own "funeral" during which they get to be celebrated, loved, and supported while still alive. The book covers the "funerals" of Marielle, Naomi, and Craig at different crisis points in their lives over the next 30 years. Hanging over the proceedings are two things, one of which is always present for the characters: the trauma of Alec's death. The other is the novel's present-day framing, in which one of the Jordans has terminal prostate cancer, and his husband (now Jordy for distinction) is nudging him to trigger the pact and tell the group. There is an updated Big Chill quality to it all, hitting many of the same sweet and melancholy notes around aging, death, love, and the shorthand old friends have with each other. This particular group's lingua franca is quite tart--they trade in jabs, cynicism, and intellectualism--but over time it becomes clear how much they value each other, even when old secrets get revealed and dynamics shift. Rowley peppers biographical details evenly through the book, making it initially hard to get a good grasp on the friends' individual personalities, though they come into better focus over time. Occasionally their dialogue and misadventures are downright hilarious. A touch wiseacre but more wise. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Cover of Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro Dele Weds Destiny
by Tomi Obaro

Enitan, Funmi and Zainab first meet during their politically turbulent university years in Lagos - a time which cements their friendship, as together they all slowly learn how to become themselves. But when Enitan heads to New York to elope with a white man, Zainab and Funmi are left behind, though with drastically different fortunes. Zainab finds herself the sole breadwinner for her disabled husband and their four sons, while Funmi, larger-than-life in her youth, lives in a palace of confined luxury as the wife of a shady, successful businessman.Their friendship goes on to endure decades of distance and, thirty years later, they're finally reunited in Lagos for the wedding of Destiny, Funmi's daughter, in 2015. Here, after all this time, they will reflect on their pasts, the things they loved and lost - but the present brings unexpected surprises and they soon discover that their daughters might be just as rebellious and open-hearted as they once were.

Cover of It's Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan It's Not All Downhill From Here
by Terry McMillan

Loretha Curry’s life is full. A little crowded sometimes, but full indeed. On the eve of her sixty-eighth birthday, she has a booming beauty-supply empire, a gaggle of lifelong friends, and a husband whose moves still surprise. True, she’s carrying a few more pounds than she should be, but Loretha is not one of those women who think her best days are behind her—and she’s determined to prove wrong her mother, her twin sister, and everyone else with that outdated view of aging wrong. It’s not all downhill from here.

But when an unexpected loss turns her world upside down, Loretha will have to summon all her strength, resourcefulness, and determination to keep on thriving, pursue joy, heal old wounds, and chart new paths. With a little help from her friends, of course.

Cover of The Most Likely Club by Elyssa Friedland The Most Likely Club
by Elyssa Friedland

In 1997, grunge is king, Titanic is a blockbuster (and Blockbuster still exists), and Thursday nights are for Friends. In Bellport, Connecticut, four best friends and high school seniors are ready to light the world on fire. Melissa Levin, Priya Chowdhury, Tara Taylor, and Suki Hammer are going places. Their yearbook superlatives confirm it: Most Likely to Win the White House, Cure Cancer, Open a Michelin-Starred Restaurant, and Join the Forbes 400. Fast-forward twenty-five years and nothing has gone according to plan as the women regroup at their dreaded high school reunion. When a forgotten classmate emerges at the reunion with a surprising announcement, the friends dig out the yearbook and rethink their younger selves. Is it too late to make their dreams come true? Fueled by nostalgia and one too many drinks, they form a pact to push through their middle-aged angst to bring their teenage aspirations to fruition, dubbing themselves the "Most Likely Girls." Through the ensuing highs and lows, they are reminded of the enduring bonds of friendship and the ways our childhood dreams both sustain and surprise us-and why it's deeply uncool to peak in high school