7 ‘30s are the new 20s’ Books


One number that strikes fear into the hearts of men, women and everything in between is 30; the age at which we’re supposed to have our stuff all figured out, and everything is meant to come together like it did for our parent’s generation.

Once, we considered 30 to be the turning point where everything was mapped out, be it house, family, or career. It seemed the unwritten rule was that your twenties were for attracting all you wanted in life, and your thirties were for settling down into that life. Now, we live in a more competitive and cynical world, where young people berate themselves because they believe they haven’t achieved enough, and the old ways are no longer the case. Age isn’t just a number anymore; it’s a mile marker for success.

Also, it’s a great theme for a story! Below, I’ve compiled a list of 7 of my favourite books where the plight of entering your thirties is the foundation of the plot. Each protagonist finds that unfortunately, their lives don’t become any clearer now that they’ve reached a new decade; they just become messier.

Are We Nearly There Yet? lucy vine

In her third novel, Are We Nearly There Yet, author Lucy Vine crafts a funny, bombastic story about the plight of getting older in a very realistic way. Vine is fed up with happy ending stories, and her debut novel, Hot Mess, was her initial example of how a story embedded in realism could become an eBook No 1 Bestseller. (Follow her on Instagram @lecv).
The plot begins, appropriately, on the day of protagonist Alice’s big 3-0. Alice gets a huge dose of reality check for her birthday present and ends up following the same destructive patterns that dominated her twenties; getting too drunk, sexting her old boss, and slithering back to her awful boyfriend only to awake hungover and ashamed. Her life doesn’t change, but everybody else’s does. Her best friend is pregnant and everyone else is married, causing her to question her life; particularly after her birthday dinner in which her friends “bring their husbands whose names I don’t know” and seem to have moved comfortably on from the position she is in. This leads to her drunk self making a promise (as they do) that she’ll venture on a journey of self-discovery in the face of society’s never-ending pressures. This is a read for those of us who are similarly sick of being fed the convenient, happy ever after narrative and are looking for a larger message that isn’t prevalent in the most modern media; how to end up with a happier self.

How Do You Like Me Now? holly bourne

Tori is a star in the world of personal development, inspiring millions of people with her books … but she struggles with getting her own life together. Ironic much? On the surface, Tori might not be the most likeable protagonist ever—stuck in her selfish first-world problems—as she suffers the relatable issues of the digital age. With the themes of self-image struggles, imposter syndrome, fear of not fulfilling her potential, and the ever-present social pressure, this novel’s impossible to put down.
I devoured this novel in a weekend: not only because I wanted to see what happened with Tor’s mess of a boyfriend, but because I felt like a real #f*cker fan!

The Plus One sophia money-coutts

Meet Polly Spencer. Polly Spencer works for Posh! Magazine and writes about posh people, the upper classes and at the beginning of the novel, the royal baby. Polly has a stagnant sex life and a seemingly zero percent chance of finding a plus one to her best friend’s wedding next Summer. Polly is fine; but she’s just turned 30. So also, kind of not fine.
In The Plus One, you’ll find a Bridget-Jones-esque story that is “light, fizzy and as snort-inducing as a pint of Prosecco” according to the Evening Standard, to which I agree. Who hasn’t found themselves in a rut, be it in a job with little prospects or a floundering personal life lacking real human connection? In The Plus One, you’ll find a protagonist dealing with all of that, as well as the added spice of existential dread at 30.

Dumped, Actually nick spalding

Ollie Sweet is another victim of the 30s. He longs for a loving relationship like his parents have, but he can’t have it because he keeps getting dumped. Even Samantha, ‘The One’, has just dumped him, and Ollie can’t take much more. Luckily, he takes to the followers of his website and asks their advice in how to cope with losing the love of their lives. It’s a decent enough idea at first, but when he starts putting some of their more chaotic advice into practise, he finds himself in situations even more desperate than dealing with a breakup. A light, funny read, Dumped, Actually is the twisted subversion of the classic Love Actually, but Nick Spalding’s novel doesn’t give any allusions that we’re headed towards a romantic ending.

Bridget Jones’ Diary helen fielding

If we’re going to make a list about novels centred around characters in their 30s, there has to be a space reserved for a true classic. Bridget Jones’ Diary was published over 20 years ago and has since go on to become a major picture starring Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, making it surely the biggest novel on this list. It may be a cliché, but it just proves that people have always obsessed over the notion of entering their thirties, and although now we have more distractions to try to get away from it (i.e. phones, Instagram and an ironically unhealthy obsession with the gym), in the nineties, all you could really do was write about it, and so Bridget Jones did. (Or if you prefer to look at it another way, Helen Fielding did.)
We all know the story (especially if you’re over a certain age of course). Bridget is a ‘loser’ in her thirties, struggling between the terribleness of this world and the tough choice she has to make in her love life, which is basically whether to choose one attractive man or the other? During the course of the novel, Fielding marks Bridget’s journey with diary entries, functioning as chapters and sections of the novel. Bridget makes note of every calorie consumed, every cigarette smoked and every negative thought had. In a way, it’s a very productive therapy session for her. Between her diary and her four indispensable friends in the form of Shazzer, Jude, Tom and a bottle of chardonnay, Bridget tells all, be it the struggle of her own life, or the struggle of having to deal with other people’s “emotional fuckwittage”. Neither are a particularly pleasant experience.

Surprise Me sophie kinsella

There are a lot of great authors on this list but I simply can’t leave out my favourite! Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella contains, in my opinion, one of the most adventurous and creative plots on this list. Like the rest of the characters, protagonist Sylvie is in her thirties (32 to be exact, although she looks far younger than that; far, far younger), she’s been married to Dan for ten years and they have two wonderful twins together. Everything is hunky-dory until one day they realise that they may be married to each other for potentially another sixty-eight years. The never-ending bliss becomes … never ending, and panic begins to set in. What do you do when you finally reach your happily ever after in order to keep it fresh? The answer for Sylvie and Dan is, apparently, to plan little surprises for one another to inject their relationship with doses of fun. However, the aptly titled “Project Surprise Me”, with its gifts and restaurant dates, eventually leads to disastrous mishaps. Who would have thought it?
Soon, some shocking discovers are made, culminating in a scandal that makes the couple wonder if they ever really knew each other at all, and in this reader’s opinion, if they’re freaked out at the thought of spending the rest of their lives happy together, it seems like they don’t. Pick up a copy and judge for yourself!

UnFriendzoneMe tom caval

Poor Harry is on the receiving end of some miserable circumstances. One day he had big dreams, a planned career as a successful author and the love of his life by his side; the next, he’s employed, living in his best friend’s small apartment and is single after being cheated on by said love. Also, he’s just started his 30s. Not having a great decade so far.
Harry hatches a grand plan to get back with Richard the cheating ex, but luckily his friends have a plan of their own; get Harry on the newest dating app on the block, “UnFriendzoneMe”. Whilst Harry has very little interest in the type of lifestyle such an app provides, there is another block in the road that keeps him from getting to his ex; Architect Will, the nice, cute guy working at Richard’s company. Only then does Harry realise that the thing he’s been desperately clinging to may not be the thing he wants anymore.
UnFriendzoneMe is the gay-take of sorts on this list on many of the 30s disaster stories that are reserved for straight protagonists. Fresh and fast paced, this unlikely tale of four friends in London looking for love helps show that no matter what gender or orientation, there’s a certain decade that just can suck for everyone. Oh—did I already mention this is my first novella?

These are some of the books in my collection that I really feel capture the trials and tribulations of turning thirty. If you yourself are approaching that milestone or you’ve already passed it, do any of these plots stand out to you? Can you relate to the existential fear and societal pressures of reaching that stage in your life? Each of the protagonists in these novels all go through similar feelings of loss, despair and terrible behavioural patterns which are all exacerbated by the idea of becoming older and assuming they have to adhere to the status quo. However, with the number of authors writing stories like these and the large number of people who relate to them, it seems like more and more people are becoming disillusioned with what the world expects of them at certain ages. Let me know what you think, or better yet, write yourself a diary about it.


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