Bottom line: Do you like reading 40ish protagonists?
Erin: I’ll admit that I used to feel like there was an emotional weight with 40ish protagonists because I felt like there was a lot of lost time that bummed me out, even if the story was happy. But now that I 1. Am approaching 40 myself and 2. Am more inclined to meet characters where they are without adding my own opinions, I find that I really enjoy older protagonists.
Holly: When I read them, I find myself really enjoying them, but I don’t actively look for them. Maybe I should, though, because I find myself increasingly irritated by 22 year olds (in romance novels).
Ingrid: I absolutely love it. I had no idea I was getting a little tired of reading about romance like it only happened to firm-bodied twenty somethings until I read one and I have adored them ever since.
What criteria are required for a book to qualify as having 40ish protagonists?
Erin: I usually count books that include late 30s and 40s. Maybe early 50s, though I haven’t read many of those. For me that means 38 and 39 would be included, and 37 would be pushing it, but I might include it if one of the two were slightly older or if the story itself seems geared to an older experience.
Holly: I think of this category as “middle aged.” Like, the characters have done some living, but are still looking forward to years of their lives. 40 is mainly a convenient cut-off.
Ingrid: I agree with Erin and Holly here.
What do you think is fun about these characters?
Erin: I like that they have a wide array of backgrounds because they’ve got a lot of life under their belts, and then they still get to have this totally awesome romance.
Holly: I’m going to go with: there’s a smaller likelihood that they’re going to be all up in their feelings. See above regarding my irritation with 22 year olds (in romance novels).
Ingrid: What I kind of adore is that these characters already resolved a lot of the questions we seek answers to in our twenties? So there’s a sense of either rebuilding or starting over or braving something previously untested. I’ve read some really fantastically bold 40+ stories.
What do you find problematic about these characters?
Erin: Nothing really, though I still get sad for protagonists who wanted kids but never had them and find they can’t have them (though that taps into my irritation at characterizations that don’t take a wide view of how people become parents, but that’s a different conversation). Or even just wanted a different life but had to adjust to the life they ended up having. So I guess there might be more complicated feelings associated with these than with a first love for a 20-something?
Holly: So, I’ve never read a romance where the characters were in their 40s and their age was treated in a problematic way—probably because people who write older characters in romance see them as people? The problematic side for me is more in the books where, given the heroine’s background and life experiences and baggage, she SHOULD be 40, but she’s 29 because god forbid our heroine is a decrepit old hag.
Ingrid: I don’t love it when 40+ characters are portrayed as clutching their baggage and dodging happiness for the sake of their comfort. Or when 40+ women are lightly described as appearing so much younger and firmer than their peers.
Have your feelings about reading about 40ish protagonists changed as you’ve gotten older?
Holly: I remember, very distinctly, reading a romance novel in high school where the heroine was “older.” Not actually 40, because it was a historical. She was a curvy redhead who hired a guy to take her virginity. Maybe for her 30th birthday present to herself? Typing up the synopsis now, I’m like “THAT HEROINE IS #GOALS!” but at the time I found her very off-putting. Old people having sexy rumpus? Gross!
Erin: I briefly mentioned that I connect to these better now (and I agree with Holly that I’m at a point when really young protagonists are increasingly obnoxious). I definitely used to go into books with older protagonists with the mindset of “They missed all those years that they could have been having their grand romance! That Sucks!” And while I didn’t have quite the same memory as Holly did above, I’ll readily admit that the notion of older people having sexy sex did not compute for me. It does now! LOL. But now I’m loving the idea of finding a beautiful love as our lives change and we age. I want more!
Ingrid: I agree that I would not have found older sex appealing at a younger age. And I absolutely agree with Erin that I would have felt that finding love at an older age seemed a bit sad. I think that’s all probably pretty normal…40 seems ancient when you’re a relatively recent member of adulthood.
What’s one book you loved that features 40ish protagonists? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the characters?
Erin: Well I’ve read a ton of age gap romance in which one protagonist is 40ish, but that’s not really what we’re going with here, so that limits me a little bit. I guess I’ll choose Kristen Ashley’s Soaring. The heroine is rebuilding her life and trying to make amends after a really bitter divorce, the hero is trying to figure out life after a divorce that he sought because his wife refused to acknowledge or get help for her substance abuse. Both protagonists have kids who know each other from school, and let’s just say teen years are rough. So we’re getting a do-over for the protagonists, some conflicts they personally have to overcome, and then the challenges associated with these other interpersonal relationships in their lives that matter to them.
Holly: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite. Slow-burn epistolary romance that also features politics, a printing press, and bees. It’s wonderful.
Ingrid: Leveling Up series by KF Breene. Her character is divorced and it was sad but she’s dealt with it and it’s really a non issue because she’s completely focused on being a badass and experiencing her life. And she does it in a 40 year old body. Bonus—it’s also hilarious.