Divorce is almost always messy. In marriage, two become one, but in its ugly stepsister, one becomes two. It’s an emotional chasm, the Mariana’s Trench of relationship deconstruction. Beyond the gut-wrenching, heartrending, cry-while-listening-to-Taylor Swift elements of the whole horrid affair (extra horrid if an affair is what broke up the marriage), there’s the literal separation of physical items, from that knick-knack that no one cares about to the whole darn house. 

Sometimes the result of divorce is a spiral towards a chaotic cacophony of madness, resentment, betrayal and lingering mutual hatred. That’s probably the worst-case scenario, as explored in one of the books on this list. Sometimes, the divorce is sudden and one of the two is left blindsided and broken. Another option: it was a long time coming and finally there’s a straw that breaks the camel’s back. There’s a slight chance that the breakup is amicable if the couple decides that they just weren’t meant to be. 

Whatever emotional and physical baggage the divorce leaves each individual with, life goes on. In a Disney movie or a rom-com, a marriage usually concludes the film in a bubbly haze of a happy ending. In a drama, perhaps a divorce concludes the film on a melancholic note. But what about afterward? What happens to those people trying to figure out who they are now and what their new life can possibly look like? That’s the topic at the heart of these 7 books, which show that there is a myriad of possible horizons ahead.

The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr

Lauren Drake was married and happily made her way into a life of apparent ease. She moved to a lovely California home, her husband became a highly-regarded surgeon and she’s devoted to her culinary job. But this is a list of books about divorce, so it can’t be all it seems: Lauren is the victim of abuse within her marriage, and she hides it to save face. But eventually, she’s had enough and, on the day of her 24th wedding anniversary, files for that divorce.

The protagonist begins crafting her smaller-scaled new life, and as she does, she meets and befriends Beau Magellan, a landscaper who brings some hope back to her shattered faith in love. Meanwhile, her angered husband fights tooth and nail to keep his past intact, complicating Lauren’s gingerly baby steps towards a more authentic and outspoken future for herself. Breaking from a love gone toxic, building towards a love that might heal and, most importantly, learning to love and respect yourself; this subject matter is poignant and trenchant. Read our review here.

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What’s Not True by Valerie Taylor

In this much-anticipated sequel to What’s Not Said, award-winning author Valerie Taylor continues the tale of Kassie O’Callaghan, whose chaotic quest to “have it all” sets up a battle royale with a woman who has other ideas. With the court date set for her divorce and the future she’d planned with a younger man presumably kaput, Kassie shifts attention to reviving her stalled marketing career. But that goal gets complicated when she unexpectedly rendezvous with her former lover in Paris. 

After a chance meeting with a colleague and a stroll along Pont Neuf, Kassie receives two compelling proposals. Can she possibly accept them both? Kassie’s decision process screeches to a halt when her soon-to-be ex-husband has a heart attack, forcing her to fly home to Boston. There, she confronts his conniving and deceitful fiancée, a woman who wants not just a ring on her finger but everything that belongs to Kassie. In the ensuing battle to protect what’s legally and rightfully hers, Kassie discovers that sometimes it’s what’s not true that can set you free. Read our review here.

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The War of the Roses by Warren Adler

This darkly comedic novel, published in 1941 and republished for its 40th anniversary this year, is a classic of the genre. The War of the Roses details the destruction of a marriage and the emotionally charged aftermath in a volatile narrative that has since inspired movie and stage treatments. Jonathan and Barbara Rose seem to have a perfect, and perfectly functional for lasting bliss, suburban lifestyle. Jonathan is a successful lawyer and Barbara is an accomplished gourmet chef. Together they live in a fine upstanding house containing gorgeous antiques that represent their shared interests and love for each other.

Soon, it represents the exact opposite. The two grow to despise each other after a catalyzing event: Jonathan suffers a heart attack. The real problem is that Barbara suffers the realization that she couldn’t care less if he dies. Actually, she thinks she’d be much happier. Chaos ensues and the implosion destroys every last memento of what used to be domestic bliss or material markers of success. If you’re looking for a divorce novel that doesn’t patch things up with a happy ending, this might be the one for you.

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The Last Man She Expected by Michelle Major

Moving to Starlight to work at her aunt’s coffee shop was supposed to be Mara Reed’s fresh start after her devastating divorce, but had she known she’d find one Parker Johnson, her ex-husband’s ruthless divorce attorney, there, she might have chosen differently. After all, her divorce left her with both personal and professional reputations shattered. She walked away with only her beloved daughter. Parker was the man who enabled her ex to do such hefty damage.

Even though the unwelcome neighbor says he was just doing his job (it was nothing personal!) Mara initially bristles at fraternizing with the enemy. But beneath their antagonism toward each other is an attraction that’s impossible for them to resist. As they tentatively connect, Mara begins to realize that Parker has many qualities that make him more than just a no-strings-attached fling (which she’s conceded to giving a shot.) On the other side, Parker might just learn to let go of his own emotional baggage and take the same leap of faith himself.

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The Year I Left by Christine Brae

This book is about far more than just life after divorce, but all that on top of depression. Carin got married at age 25 after knowing Jack for a mere two months. The summer after her mother’s death, Carin slips away into her grief and depression. One of the casualties is her marriage: she finds that she cannot feel a thing for the man next to her anymore. Two months later, on a business trip to Southeast Asia, she meets a very compelling man named Matias, and the following events change her entire life trajectory.

Together, Carin and Matias navigate a real estate deal to purchase an island in the South Pacific and build a company-endorsed resort. Upon experiencing the island in person, the pair abruptly abandons everything that could be construed as responsibility: their families, friends and careers. Carin works up the boldness to tell Jack that she wants a divorce then packs up and moves out into her future. Wrapped in present contentment, Carin has to evaluate whether or not her new lifestyle can continue forever or whether there’s another bump along her road to self-actualization. Read our review here.

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The Unbreakables by Lisa Barr

On her 42nd birthday, surrounded by her husband and closest friends, Sophie Bloom discovers that her husband has been cheating on her with users of a scandalous dating-while-married website. To make matters worse, that soon-to-be-ex-husband of hers has cheated more times than any other registered member in their suburban Chicago town. How does someone bounce back after a betrayal like that?

Sophie decides to flee to Paris, where her daughter is studying abroad, to lick her wounds. Her travels ultimately take her to the South of France, where she’s able to find a spark of her old self and rediscover her passion for life and passions in life. The novel is a lush and sensual read that transports you to every stunning French locale with vivid storytelling strokes. Plus, it’s a clever investigation of post-divorce soul-searching that’s more than just a pretty Parisian fantasy.

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Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagán

As in The Year I Left, this book sends its protagonist to a sunny island in the wake of marital collapse. Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist, but when her husband reveals news that ends their marriage on the very same day that a doctor tells her some truly devastating news, Libby feels a slap in the face as she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her to reality and impending doom. 

With nothing left to lose, she eschews her fast-paced and high-stress Chicago life for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean in a valiant effort to try to find some joy. Despite her shimmering locale, all plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past, nor can she bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby fights fate. Will she risk it all to live and love just a little longer? In this pick, divorce is thereby further complicated by illness and the results make for a multilayered and emotionally complex read. 

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