The Celebrants
Grade : B+

Steven Rowley instantly captured my attention with his witty and sweet-natured The Guncle. The Celebrants, his follow-up book, is a more grown up outing that follows a group of friends who have been close for twenty years – The Big Chill, but with a more present tragedy. And I definitely detected a whiff of St. Elmo’s Fire. The book is very engaging and provides another lovely series of character portraits but didn’t grab me as hard as The Guncle.

A group of five friends gathers in Big Sur, California, at a beach house called Sur La Vie. It might be five years between gatherings, but they will all arrive. It’s a matter of support – each of them is going through it in their own way – and serves as a strengthening measure to their twenty-eight-year-old friendship. Whenever any of them needs it, they call the others together for a mock-funeral and review the good and important things in their lives. They do this in memory of their missing sixth member, spacy stoner Alec, who passed away of an apparent overdose when they were in college together. The idea is to encourage each other to keep living.

The fivesome are Jordan Vargas, an emigrée and public relations executive who faces down cancer head-on; Jordan – Jordy – Tosic is Jordan’s husband, a swimmer and world traveler – known as “the Jordans” by their friends; Naomi Ito, a lighthearted and heavy-drinking music label executive; Craig Scheffler, a distant and stuffy gallerist whose career hits the skids when he’s charged with art fraud and whose old-man ways earns him the nickname “nana” from the group; and animal-loving sanctuary owner Marielle Holland, Alec’s girlfriend, whose political career stalls when she takes time off to be a mom.

Every once in a while, someone in the group invokes the pact; Marielle when her infidelity-laden seventeen-year-old marriage implodes, leaving her a single mother to Mia; Naomi, when both of her parents die in a plane crash, leading the entire group to try to help her get over the incident by learning to fly a plane; Craig, when the aforementioned art fraud case happens and the gang becomes determined to help him beat the charges. When Jordan finally invokes it, it’s for a very serious reason. But friendship, the humor and the love endures.

Sometimes the sap overcomes The Celebrants’ best instincts. Its one-liners can be a little too cutesy, its repartée a little too snippy. Sometimes you can feel Rowley dollying in for the big tear or the big laugh. Some running jokes grate (Jordan’s tendency to declare something “all too (a famous nineties woman with the first name Courtney – Cox, Thorne-Smith etc.)” becomes ANNOYING after the first few times it happens) and the conceit of naming two of his characters Jordan is irritating. But the book is too beautiful to be ignored. It feels cinematic in the best and worst of ways.

There are multiple romances in The Celebrants – one a frustrated love story between Marielle and Craig, the other the tender connection between the Jordans – and both function beautifully but come in as secondary factors to the group bond, as they should.

There are big sentimental nudges, warm romantic feelings, and the sense that life ebbs and flows with the tiniest of nudges. So it is in fiction and so it is in life. I can’t rave about this book as I did over The Guncle, but The Celebrants is still a good – if more intense – time.

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes

Grade: B+

Book Type: Fiction

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 5, 2023

Publication Date: 05/2023

Review Tags: California LGBTQ+

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at, follow her on Twitter at or contribute to her Patreon at or her Ko-Fi at
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