11 Important Life Lessons We've Learned From Jennifer Weiner

This month, Who Do You Love, Jennifer Weiner's 12th novel, hits the shelves. It will inevitably be dubbed a "beach read" in many a publication, because it's about a boy and a girl who meet as kids, reconnect as adults, and fall in love over the course of many years. Also because Weiner's name has basically been synonymous with the genre of "chick lit," for better or worse, since the publication of her first book, Good in Bed, in 2001.

If that label has you thinking her books are nothing but fluffy escapism, though, you are missing out. They are about very real, three-dimensional women who face very real, complex problems: body image issues, distant mothers, alcoholic fathers, infertility, addiction, cheating partners, loneliness, societal biases, suburban snobbery, and more. Reading one of her books is a completely engrossing experience, and you finish the final page feeling like you can face your own challenges with just a little more courage.

Weiner has dedicated many interviews, blog posts, and essays to defending her "likable" characters and happy endings to those who prefer more difficult protagonists and plots. As her never-flagging book sales show, many readers get the point. Even if her characters usually get a happily ever after, even if they wind up landing Prince Charming and the perfect job, their struggles along the way are what's important.

Whether you're reading them on the beach, or in your wood-paneled personal library surrounded by leather-bound classics, you will find yourself learning something from Weiner's novels. Here are 11 things we've learned from her so far.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
The most embarrassing situations can become opportunities.
Weiner's 2001 debut, Good in Bed, begins with newspaper reporter Cannie Shapiro realizing that her ex-boyfriend has written a column called "Loving a Larger Woman" in a women's magazine, and has only vaguely hidden her identity. Through this and other major and minor disasters (accidental pregnancy by said ex!), she becomes undone and then, gradually, rebuilds her life into one she loves. It's inspirational reading disguised as a hilarious and romantic story.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
No one can hurt you like your sister, and no one can love you like her, either.
In Her Shoes (2002) is the story of antagonistic sisters Rose and Maggie, who are complete opposites: Rose is a plus-size, successful lawyer; Maggie is a thin, homeless college dropout. They can't believe one another's life choices, and Maggie has a penchant for stealing Rose's shoes and boyfriends. Is simply sharing DNA enough to make you love each other? (The answer, no spoilers: yes and no.)
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Photo: Courtesy of Thorndike Press.
Motherhood is the loneliest, and also the perfect time to make new friends.
The four extremely different mothers and mothers-to-be in Little Earthquakes (2004) — a plus-size chef, a perfectionist event planner, a reporter turned basketball wife, and an actress — would likely never have met under any other circumstances. But the rough, often isolating, and humiliating days of pregnancy and early motherhood also leave you open to new people.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
Suburbanites are so much more entertaining when they have deep, dark secrets.
As Weiner herself matured, she turned her clever words away from twentysomethings navigating the big city toward the lives of wealthy, stay-at-home mothers exiled from city limits in Goodnight Nobody (2005). But the author makes it easy for anyone (not just suburban moms) to get tangled up in the story of mother-of-three Kate Klein, who plays amateur detective when her neighbor Kitty is murdered, and Kate finds her own ex-boyfriend's number on a sticky note in the victim's kitchen. Kitty, it turns out, was not the cookie-cutter housewife she appeared to be.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
If you have a deep, dark secret, don't write a book about it.
In Certain Girls (2008), the sequel to Good in Bed, Cannie's daughter Joy is 12 and getting ready for her bat mitzvah. She's also finally curious about her mother's best-selling novel, which, if it's as autobiographical as Joy suspects, reveals the secret of how she was conceived. Oops, Mom! Let's just hope Weiner also follows her own advice in this respect.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
Your high school dramas weren't necessarily as cut-and-dried as they seemed.
Addie and Val, the titular pair in Best Friends Forever (2009), thought they left the "forever" part of their friendship behind in high school. But years later, Val's attempt to exact revenge on the boy who raped her back then ends in disaster, and she winds up on Addie's doorstep, begging for her help. As their adventure unfolds, we see how healing old wounds can help a woman move forward with her life.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
You're never too old to have a troubled relationship with your mother.
The plot of Fly Away Home (2010) is driven by a man: Senator Richard Woodruff's affair with a young woman is exposed. Of course, this is a Jennifer Weiner book, though, so it's all about his wife and two daughters dealing with the very public fallout, told from all three women's perspectives. Most interesting is the relationship wife Sylvie has with her elderly, but still powerful mother, Selma.
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Photo: Courtesy of Center Point.
Reinvention is possible, but you can't leave behind your childhood baggage.
In Then Came You (2011), Weiner weaves together the stories of four women: a college student who sells her eggs for money to send her father to rehab; a young, stay-at-home mom who decides to be a surrogate mother to help her financially strapped family; the wife of a super-rich New York businessman who wants a baby with their help; and the businessman's grown daughter who thinks her new stepmother is not what she seems. Everyone thinks they're just doing what's best for their families, but you know that never turns out as planned.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
Beware of writing family members into your TV shows and books.
Ruth Saunders was raised by her grandmother after Ruth's parents died in a car crash when she was 3. The Next Best Thing (2012) follows the two in Los Angeles as Ruth's dream of writing her own sitcom (about a girl who was raised by her grandmother) comes true. But as the network takes control of her show (and its characters, including the grandmother), Ruth faces some big challenges in her personal and professional life. The novel is loosely based on Weiner's experience creating and writing the short-lived ABC Family show State of Georgia, starring Raven-Symoné.
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Photo: Courtesy of Atria Books.
Upper-middle-class suburban moms can be addicts, too.
In All Fall Down (2014), mommy blogger Allison Weiss is doing her best to get by in boring suburbia, with a difficult 5-year-old daughter, an increasingly distant husband, and a father suffering from Alzheimer's. The little pills she keeps in an Altoids case help her manage...until they don't. And when you're an addict, bourgeois suburban shame can be your biggest enemy.
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Photo: Gregory Pace/BEImages.
Don't back down in an important argument, even if men call you "strident."
This is something we've learned, not from a Jen Weiner book, but from her real-life public mission to point out the sexism that exists in discussions about "literature" vs. "chick lit." For years, Weiner's books were never reviewed in the Times, even while new releases from male commercial novelists, like Stephen King, were. Revered authors like Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides have said her complaints merely amount to thinly veiled self-promotion. She didn't let that stop her. Now The New York Times Book Review has a female editor, and things are looking up.
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