I gotta be honest— as someone who’s about to turn 22, graduate college, and start life in the big and scary “real world”, I’m scared as hell. For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to countless songs (“Nothing New” by T. Swift, “Ribs” by Lorde…if you know, you know), watched what feels like hundreds of movies and TV shows, and had a lot of conversations that all revolve around the same gist: your 20’s really are…well, somethin’ else. However, I’ve decided I don’t want to jump into this decade blindly accepting that it’ll be a sh*tshow—and I think a lot of gals in my boat are feeling the same way.
Lucky for us, there is no shortage of books to read that are here to help take this “figuring it out” era by the horns. Covering everything from friendships, self-confidence, finance, sex, love, and literally everything in between, here are some must-reads to make these daunting years be more a bit more fun and at least a little less dysfunctional.
If your 20’s are known for anything, it’s that weird gap between being a teenager and being a, like, real adult. While it’s wildly confusing, kind of lonely, and sometimes embarrassing, there’s also a whole lot of magic to be found in the chaos. Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald, creators of the award-winning pop culture podcast Shameless, are two of the many twenty-something women just trying to make sense of it all. They don’t have all the answers. but they do know that mapping out our place in the world is a little bit easier when we do it together. Filled with comforting wit and brutal honesty, these are their personal stories from heartbreak and mental health challenges to overcoming career setbacks and letting go of fear—but there’s a good chance you’ll find pieces of yourself in there, too.
Contrary to popular belief, not every must-read needs to be a non-fiction, self-help moment. In ‘The Idiot’, Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard and signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the confusion of a first love, and with the growing consciousness that she may be bound to become a writer, even though that’s not what she’s envisioned for herself at all.
I think the cover of this book truly says it all. When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming an adult, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In this memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, finding a job, getting drunk, getting dumped, realizing that Ivan from the corner shop might just be the only reliable man in her life, and that no one can ever compare to her best girlfriends. This incredibly funny and occasionally heartbreaking book is everything we’ve ever needed regarding bad dates, good friends and—above all else— realizing that you are enough through all of the terrifying yet hopeful uncertainty.
Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you’re a washed-up has-been at twenty-two. Jena Chung, who was once a violin prodigy, is now a selfish, badly-behaved, full blown sex addict. Her professional life comprises of rehearsals, concerts, and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing family demands, those of her creative friends, and obviously, lots of sex. But then, she meets Mark– and he sweeps her off her feet. Not only that, she gets the perfect internship with the New York Philharmonic at the same time. Thinking that she finally has the life she’s been dreaming of, everything is brought to a halt when Trump is elected and everything about New York, and herself, changes at the drop of a hat. Jena comes to learn that there are many different ways to live and love and that no one has the how-to guide for any of it–we’re all just trying to become the people we hope to be.
Love, while beautiful in all its forms, is really f’ing hard to comprehend and navigate. After years of feeling that love was always out of reach, journalist Natasha Lunn set out to understand how relationships work and evolve over a lifetime. She turned to having intimate conversations with authors and experts to learn about their experiences, as well as drawing on her own, asking how we find love, how we sustain it, and how we survive when we lose it. And we’re not just talking romantic— this richly layered novel covers the loneliness of loss, the psychology of being alone, parenthood, and more.
Alix is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So, she’s taken aback when her babysitter, Emira, is confronted while watching Alix’s toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. Emira is furious and humiliated as it’s caught on video by bystanders, and Alix wants to do everything to make things right. As Emira has no clue what to do with her life, and the video brings forth some baggage from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves and one another. It flawlessly explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone family, and the complicated reality of being a grown up through a story surrounding race and privilege.
Having financial know-how in your 20s is essential, but (huge shock here) women are rarely taught to confidently navigate the ropes of financial empowerment. In Financial Feminist, Her First 100k founder (and Everygirl Podcast guest) Tori Dunlap compiles all of her top tips for getting to the root of your relationship with your finances and achieving financial independence. Complete with everything from journaling activities to expert interviews, this book will change your relationship with money for the better—and will rid you of any guilt you may feel for buying that $7 latte.
There’s no rock bottom quite like drunk calling your therapist, and Tara Schuster can attest to that herself. By the time she was in her late twenties, Tara was a rising TV executive who had made a name for herself in the industry. By all appearances, she had mastered being an adult. But beneath that shiny image of success, she was a chronically anxious, self-medicating mess whose road to adulthood had been paved with depression, anxiety, and shame. In this story of Tara essentially re-parenting herself through simple daily rituals, she shares insight and advice she wishes she’d received in her early twenties: words that are candid, practical, and hilarious, while still teaching the importance of self-love and acceptance.
Eli Rallo is known on TikTok and Instagram as the “Gen Z Carrie Bradshaw,” and her debut book lives up to that promise of quality modern dating advice. This book is chock-full of hilarious and often heartwarming stories about Eli’s dating life, plus the lessons she took from each of those early dating and sexual experiences and how she applied them to her real life. I Didn’t Know I Needed This comes with helpful rules for navigating dating apps, talking stages, single eras, and much more. This is a must-read for anyone in their 20s who has big questions about love.
As we grow, it can sometimes be easy to lose touch with where we came from. Michelle Zauner shares her story of growing up as one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon, and how that planted the seed for a need to forge her own identity. She touches on her struggles with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her and on a painful adolescence, yet also on the pureness of bonding with her mother and grandmother during those same years. As she grew up, moving away for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band led her Korean heritage to feel ever more distant, even though she felt like she was finally discovering the life she wanted to live. However, after receiving news of her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis while in her mid 20’s, Michelle had a reckoning with her identity and reclaimed the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
As many women enter the “real world” workforce in their early 20’s, being underestimated, under-appreciated, and underpaid is sadly a universal experience most of us will face, especially in male-dominated fields. Despite all of the progress we’ve made toward equality, we still fail, more often than we might realize, to take women as seriously as men. In this fascinating book, journalist Mary Ann Sieghart provides a startling perspective on the gender bias at work in our everyday lives and reflected in the world around us, whether in pop culture, media, school classrooms, or politics. With precision and insight, Sieghart gathers from a variety of disciplines—including psychology, political science, and sociology—and talks to pioneering women from a wide range of backgrounds to explore how gender bias intersects with race and class biases. Through her conversations and other findings, she offers insights on how to counteract systemic sexism and ways to narrow this toxic authority gap.
Jia Tolentino is the voice of a generation, and Trick Mirror is a compilation of some of her greatest essays of all time. From the famous “Always Be Optimizing,” which dives into the pressure that women face in a capitalist system to be constantly improving our appearances and our professional skills, to musings on reality television and social media, Tolentino expertly weaves together personal experience, cultural criticism, and biting wit in this book. It’s the kind of read that puts your thoughts into words and makes you question your whole life…in a good way.
This was actually the first self-help type of book I ever personally read, and I’m not being dramatic when I tell you that it quite literally changed my outlook on life. It’s been almost two years since then, and to this day, I still go back and read over some select essays when I feel like I need to. This compilation of Brianna Wiest’s published work features pieces on why you should pursue purpose over passion, embrace negative thinking, see the wisdom in daily routine, and become aware of the cognitive biases that are creating the way you see your life. You’ll find pieces of wisdom you’ve been waiting to hear for years, and even better—ones you had no clue you needed but are so grateful you found.
While figuring out self-love and romance are definitely the big themes of your 20’s, the importance of genuine friendship cannot be forgotten. A close friendship is one of the most influential relationships a human life can contain, but for all the cutesy sentiments surrounding friendship, most people don’t talk much about what it really takes to stay close for the long haul. Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman tell the story of their equally messy and life-affirming “big friendship” in this honest and hilarious book that documents their first decade in one another’s lives through all of the joys and pitfalls.
An inspiring testament to the power of society’s most underappreciated relationship, this book invites you to think about how your own bonds are formed, challenged, and preserved, and when it’s time to fight for them or let them go.
Growing up in the 2020s means living in an age where your peers (and even younger generations) are suing their governments over irreversible damage to the climate and the earth. Navigating this world can feel impossible and constantly heartbreaking, which is why All We Can Save is a must-read for everyone…but especially for those of us who will be living in this world for the longest. This collection of essays, art, and poems provides a new way of thinking about the climate crisis: one that incorporates a sliver of hope.