Christina Bradley’s first book Thirty is almost exactly what you’d expect from the book’s synopsis – and that’s certainly no bad thing. On the surface, it’s a fun, frothy, romp of a novel that’s generally just a whole lot of fun to get lost in, juggling awkward dates, embarrassing misunderstandings and romantic endeavours with ease. But while it more than lives up to its standing in the rom-com genre, beyond the love, romance and comedy of it all is a more important story about self-discovery and, on the whole, Bradley delivers a novel that’s warm, funny and lighthearted – but it may also just give readers something to think about too.
Bella Edwards is a hot mess, and with a month to go until she turns 30, she’s struggling to reconcile her life now with her expectations of where she thought she would be as she leaves her 20s. With no boyfriend, no job and with an unfortunate prediction of her future still ringing in her ears, Bella decides to hop on a plane to New York to visit an old friend who soon issues her a challenge: go on 30 dates in the 30 days before her 30th birthday in a bid to find The One that Bella believes will be the key to her life falling into place.
As Bella makes her way across America and towards her mother’s wedding in San Francisco, she embraces the challenge with gusto, all the while putting herself out there, meeting new people and remaining open to new experiences. And as the number of dates rack up and the countdown to the big 3-0 continues, Bella learns more about herself too, making hers a journey of discovery in more ways than one.
“There has never been a time in my life when I’ve been this spontaneous. Jumping on a plane, flying over a thousand miles to Nashville, Tennessee, all in the name of a blind date. It’s extravagant, it’s indulgent, it’s possibly irresponsible, it’s definitely bordering on crazy, but it’s liberating beyond words.”
Despite a slow and slightly long-winded start to the novel, the moment Bella sets off for New York – and particularly after Bradley introduces Bella’s best friend Esther into the equation – is the moment Thirty really comes into its own, and from there on out this book becomes a quick-paced and enjoyable whirlwind as Bella’s challenge gets underway. Each date Bella goes on is summarised in the form of a letter to Esther, told with the kind of intimate tone and no-holds-barred content that you can only get away with in a catch-up with a friend. It creates a perfect snapshot of the date and a nice contrast against the first person narrative of the rest of the novel so that the story never becomes too repetitive.
Bella herself helps with this too, largely because she’s often awkward, clumsy and embarrassing, and you’re never quite sure which direction she’ll end up going in. She makes for an engaging protagonist, with Bradley balancing the realities of Bella’s insecurities and anxieties in her inner monologue and the more self-assured performative elements of her letters to Esther nicely, allowing for a well-rounded and grounded character that you want to hear more from, and whose journey you genuinely believe in.
Of course, that’s not to say that everything here is grounded in reality, and there are some aspects of Bella dating her way across America that feel at best improbable, or require a healthy suspension of disbelief at worst. But it’s mostly all part of the fun, and each of the people Bella talks to along the way – whether they’re old school friends, ex-boyfriends or a cowboy happy to pick up a hitchhiker – allows her to explore her preconceptions about love, dating and marriage, challenging Bella’s own ideas of happily ever after and of that perfect relationship she’s searching for.
Thirty is more than a love story; while there is a recurring love interest and plenty of other chances for romantic connections too, Thirty is largely about Bella pushing herself outside of her comfort zone and re-evaluating what it is she wants from her life – and it serves as a gentle reminder to readers not to put too much stock on other people’s milestones too. Funny, entertaining and infinitely relatable for any woman who’s ever been on the dating scene, Thirty is a joy to read and it quickly proves itself as the perfect antidote to the winter blues too.
Thirty was published by Headline on 22 August 2019