An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: My Favorite Novel of 2018 So Far

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesFiction
Released February 6, 2018
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Algonquin Books)


An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues in an organic way…and is my favorite novel of 2018 so far!

Plot Summary

When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.

Why I Read It

This year, I’m trying to select books that come highly recommended by people whose recommendations I trust and that have already read the book (rather than are just excited to read it). An American Marriage came with a 5 star review from Nicole Bonia of The Readerly Report Podcast. Since then, it’s been chosen as an Oprah Book Club pick and a Book of the Month February selection.

Major Themes

Marriage (obviously), race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery

What I Liked

  • You see how many major themes An American Marriage tackles? You’d think the story would feel cluttered with all that, but it doesn’t. It’s about so many things, but not overwhelmingly about any one of them (kind of like The Mothers). And, Jones handles them in a completely organic way that doesn’t make the book feel overwhelmingly like “an issue book.”
  • I loved the writing. It’s not “gorgeous” in the traditional sense, rather it’s casual, intimate, and has personality. I felt like I was hanging out in the backyard with each character (the story is told through multiple perspectives) as he/she told me his/her side of a crazy story.

    I hate using that word, career. It always feels like the word bitch is hiding out between the letters.

  • Roy and Celestial’s story digs deeper into race to the class divisions within the African American community. Roy comes from poverty and is driven to improve his station in the world, while Celestial comes from an upper class family. The ripple effects of these different mentalities has a large impact on their marriage.
  • The last quarter of the book is absolutely riveting. You want action? You’ll get it here.
  • With all the issues addressed in An American Marriage, it’s not surprising that it would make a great book club selection. There’s a ton to discuss here including a big “what would you do in their shoes?” question.

What I Didn’t Like

  • When I heard Nicole talk about this book on The Readerly Report Podcast, she advised to go in blind and I’m so glad I did. The publisher’s blurb gives away far too many plot details and I’d advise you to avoid it if you’re interested in reading this one! Sadly, I feel like I’ve had to list this item under “What I Didn’t Like” for far too many books over the past couple years…
  • I’m not a fan of Epilogues in general and this one didn’t drive me crazy, but it didn’t add much to the story.

A Defining Quote

We were properly married for a year and a half, and we were happy for that time, at least I was. Maybe we didn’t do happy like other people, but we’re not your garden-variety bourgeois Atlanta Negroes where the husband goes to bed with his laptop under his pillow and the wife dreams about her blue-box jewelry. I was young, hungry, and on the come-up. Celestial was an artist, intense and gorgeous. We were like Love Jones, but grown. What can I say? I always had a weakness for shooting-star women.

Good for People Who Like…

Southern fiction, marriage, hard-hitting writing, books about “issues” that don’t feel like “issue books”

Other Books You May Like

Another book that tackles weighty issues, but isn’t overwhelmingly about any one of them:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett (my review)

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  1. Wendy wrote:

    I can’t quite believe it, but last night when I was on my library’s ebook site, this book was listed and it was available! They must have just added it. Right place, right time, right? Excited to read it.

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      OMG – GRAB IT!!! The list will be long long now that Oprah has picked it.

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  2. Renee wrote:

    You chose some great quotes from the book! I agree that her writing was casual and intimate and although I didn’t love it like you did I do appreciate the way she was able to weave all the different themes together in such a way that it didn’t come across as in your face. This story made me think and I always like that!!

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Me too! It’s so hard to do well and is the key to success for me with “issue” books.

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
    • Cleveland girl wrote:

      Not one of my favorites. No spoiler alert, but I kept wanting to say “grow up! Communicate! It’s not all about you!” Maybe too many issues to fully develop in one book… just my opinion.

      Posted 3.10.19 Reply
  3. Great review, Sarah. It really is such a wonderful, thought provoking book. I hadn’t really even considered the many themes worked into Jones’s story, but of course! I also liked that you could sympathize with all the characters. There were no bad guys here. It was the system that was broken.

    So happy you’ve found a favorite book (so far). I couldn’t give that title to any book, yet.

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Absolutely – you’re right about now bad guys. Just a really tough situation.

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  4. Your review makes me want to read this! I love a gritty southern fiction book!

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
  5. I have heard so much good about this book. I’m going to go add it to my reserve list on my library’s site right now!
    One thing I’m sure I’ll appreciate more than you did….the epilogue. My pet peeve is author’s who don’t do epilogue’s but instead leave a character’s fate up in the air. I like to be hit over the head with the future….lol!

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Haha – yes, I know lots of people like the neat and tidy endings. This epilogue wasn’t too bad as far as Epilogues go…

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  6. I’m seeing Tayari next weekend at the Savannah Book Festival. Can’t wait!

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:


      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  7. thanks for this. Hope you’ll share it over at Books You Loved: February Cheers

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
  8. I think I’m going to have to buy this book.

    Posted 2.8.18 Reply
  9. Tara wrote:

    I’m so thankful you mentioned this one to me last year; I’m sure I would have found it, eventually, now that it’s such a big hit, but what a treat!

    Posted 2.9.18 Reply
  10. I was so glad to see this book on Hoopla as an audio book. Looking forward to it!

    Posted 2.9.18 Reply
  11. carrie wrote:

    this has definitely been my favorite book of the year thus far!

    Posted 2.10.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:


      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  12. DIane wrote:

    I thought this was pretty good as well and, like you, I’m not a fan of epilogues – Flight Attendant has a doozy of one.

    Posted 2.11.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Oh wow – I have that coming up…though I’m now scared!

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  13. Wow, it seems like everyone is reading and loving this right now! It sounds like a book I’d like too, so it’s definitely moving up my to-read list 🙂

    Posted 2.11.18 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Move it up!

      Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  14. Sounds great! I will definitely be looking out for this one.

    Posted 2.13.18 Reply
  15. Madeline wrote:

    There was nothing about this book I believed. It got better as it went along but the three main characters: Roy, Celestial (really?) and Andre didn’t ring true. Their parents, that was another story, but that wasn’t what the book was about.

    This was an Oprah book which puts it in the “major hype” category.

    The beginning was terribly slow and didn’t pick up until about half way through. And **spoiler** Roy meets his biological father in prison? Wow! What a coincidence.

    Roy and Celestial never seemed to be a couple to me. I mean, who has “safe words?” Wasn’t any DNA evidence presented at Roy’s trial? Completely bogus setup. Major plot problems. Characters are neither believable nor sympathetic.

    Unfortunately 5 or 6 hours I can’t have back.

    Posted 3.10.18 Reply

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