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Books with Characters In Their 30s

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Whether you found this list searching for 30-something main characters or as a participant in the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, we hope you’ll find a perfect read on our list of main characters in their 20s.

Three diagonal book covers - What Alice Forget, Behold the Dreamers, and Midnight Library

You can read all about the Lifetime of Reading Challenge, find new book lists each month, and download your free printable book tracker here.

In today’s society, many view your 20s as a dress rehearsal for adulthood, which makes your 30s the real performance. While your twenties may come with a sense of comfort knowing it’s ok to make mistakes and restarts as you determine who you want to be and where you want to go in life, once you enter your thirties, there’s an expectation to achieve many of the traditional milestones of “adulthood” – including building a more impressive resume, settling down with a life partner, starting a family, and buying a home. 

While the baby boomer generation typically started their families younger, the average age for first-time parenthood is now between 31 and 32 in most major cities. And the average age of first-time homebuyers is 32 – pushed later by factors like increasing college debt and incomes that are lower relative to those that boomers and Gen Xers received at the same point in their lives. 

Of course, no two experiences are the same, and this traditionally laid out path of homeownership, marriage, and family isn’t for everyone. But those who decide to go a different route, or who simply haven’t settled on their direction yet, often feel immense pressure from older generations to explain themselves when don’t conform to societal expectations by the time they are in their 30s.

Despite its challenges and pressures, the thirties are also a very good time of life for many people! By our thirties, we know ourselves better and often feel more comfortable in our own skin. Your 20s may have been spent slaving away with long hours and low pay, but by your 30s that hard work is often starting to pay off – allowing for more optimism and less stress. One study found that people begin to find true happiness in life around age 33 due to a combination of still living in the moment, but also worrying less.

One of our main goals for the Lifetime of Reading Challenge is to create understanding and reinforce an appreciation for our fellow humans that are in different phases of life. As a result, in researching books to recommend for this month, we’ve focused primarily (but not exclusively) on contemporary stories with protagonists in their 30s. These current stories can help us all understand what it is to be thirty-something in today’s society, with its unique challenges, pressures, and opportunities.

We’ve curated a diverse list of recommended books with main characters in their 30s. These books show a wide range of life experiences during this decade of life. While many of these titles are books with women characters in their 30s, the list also includes a number of wonderful male characters, and the protagonists vary in race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, class, background, lifestyle, and more.

If you are specifically interested in reading books with 30+ characters that are set in a different part of the world, we recommend taking a look at our Book Voyage reading lists, which are organized by region. Additionally, if you’re looking for a book that provides a historical perspective, our Decades Challenge reading lists, which cover the 1910s through the present, are a great place to start!

You are welcome to choose any book that you’d like to read for the challenge this month, but we hope that our list of books about life in your 30s provides a good starting point. As always, we’ve selected a combination of new books and older books that are usually available without a wait from your local library.

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Books with Characters in Their 30s

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Monday 21st of March 2022

I heartily endorse "When Breath Becomes Air." I would appreciate having a feature when your readers had comments/endorsements on books they have already read from the list

Angela Rathbun

Monday 20th of June 2022

@Charlene, we agree that it's so helpful to have feedback from other readers! We invite readers (via our email list and our Facebook group) to fill out a book log (survey) about the books they read from our lists and provide us with their rating as well as their comments. We then update the book descriptions on our lists to include reader comments (typically within the "Book Girls Say..." you'll see notes like, "readers say this book starts a bit slow, but it's totally worth sticking with.")

Once we've compiled the ratings from the book logs, we also come back to update the lists to include the overall reader rating and percent who recommend the book to a friend. The Lifetime of Reading challenge is new this year, so we don't yet have the reader ratings yet when the lists are first published, but we will come back and add that info over time. If you look at the book recommendation lists for our other challenges (The Decades Reading Challenge and the Book Voyage Challenge), you'll see that many off the books have a rating in this format below the book description:

Book Girls' Readers Rate This Book ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 100% Would Recommend to a Friend


Friday 18th of March 2022

Thanks again for a great list. Not overly weighted toward Rom-Com, which this age range could lead to, the list includes some really significant books that deal with important issues like immigration, trans-gender life, Autism, and end-of-life care.