the front book cover of The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

See how the New York Times bestseller The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley hits the Save the Cat! story beats!

Author: Clare Pooley
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, copyright 2020
Pages: 352
Genre: Rites of Passage

This year, my personal life has been overflowing with heavy reading material, and I found myself in search of a feel-good story. Something light but with shimmers of insight and a little depth. Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project fit the bill perfectly. With 20,000 reviews on Amazon and nearly 78,000 ratings on Goodreads, this New York Times bestseller succeeded in making me laugh and raising my spirits, as well as touching my heart.

From the publisher:

The story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love.

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren’t really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes—in a plain, green journal—the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It’s run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves—and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica’s Café.

The Authenticity Project‘s cast of characters—including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends—is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It’s a story about being brave and putting your real self forward—and finding out that it’s not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness.

The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for—and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella called the novel “a clever, uplifting book that entertains and makes you think.” And People magazine said it was “a warm, charming tale about the rewards of revealing oneself, warts and all.”

Here’s my take on Blake Snyder’s beats for this heartwarming story:

Opening Image (pp. 1-5): Former London solicitor turned café owner, Monica, finds an abandoned green notebook with the words “The Authenticity Project” at one of her café tables. She opens it and reads a few paragraphs about the man who’d left it there. Local artist, the once-famous Julian Jessop, who’s now 79 years old and a lonely widower, is reaching out to the world via written plea for the finder(s) of his notebook to tell the truth about their lives.

Set-Up (pp. 6-36): Monica looks up Julian online and reads about his career. In his notebook, he shared that he regularly visited a certain gravesite with his late wife and their friends. Monica goes to the cemetery and sees the aged Julian there now—all alone.

Readers learn more about Julian from his point of view, a gentleman so sad and devoid of human contact that he once made a dental appointment just to talk to someone that day. But he’s fond of Monica’s Café with its comfy chairs, books to read, and proper china cups. It’s a nostalgic and comforting oasis in an otherwise impersonal town.

There are many Things That Need Fixing in Julian’s life and Monica’s, too. She dreams of being a wife and mother, despite her prior professional ambitions and her career success, but worries she’s getting too old now that she’s in her late 30s. She writes her truth in the notebook. It finds its way into the hands of Hazard, a former London stock trader and charismatic addict, who spends his evenings at his favorite wine bar (which is, coincidentally, across the street from the café), picking up women with whom he doesn’t want to have a real relationship.

After one such encounter and after—quite literally—bumping into Monica and leaving a very bad first impression, Hazard realizes he hates himself and needs to change. Although he keeps the notebook, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with writing honestly about his life, at least not yet.

Theme Stated (p. 18): Monica recalls advice from her late mother: “Be your own boss. Create something. Employ people. Be fearless. Do something you really love. Make it all worthwhile.” These are needed words for multiple people in the story.

Catalyst (p. 36): Monica, filled with compassion for Julian, has a plan to help him. She posts a sign on her café window saying she’s looking for a local artist to give lessons to her customers, hoping he’ll see it and take her up on her offer.

Debate (pp. 37-48): More than one character has to decide whether or not to engage with others. When Monica doesn’t get an immediate response from the artist, she starts to worry that making this offer was a bad idea. She doesn’t realize that Hazard, having read both Julian’s and Monica’s entries in the notebook, takes it upon himself to aid the cause. He makes photocopies of Monica’s poster and plasters them in multiple locations around town, including the cemetery. And Julian does eventually see the sign. After some hesitation, he agrees to be Monica’s guest artist.

Meanwhile, Hazard heads overseas to a tropical island to attempt to break free of his addictions. At last, he begins to write his own story in the notebook.

Break into Two (pp. 49-50): Julian has a new sense of purpose. He finally has somewhere to go, something to do, and people who need him! It’s a new and wonderful world.

B Story (p. 64): Hazard, who decided Monica needed help, too, has been secretly “interviewing” potential mates for her while on the island. There are a lot of attractive tourists who pass through, and Hazard figures he could do a little reconnaissance on these guys and play matchmaker from afar. One such possible love interest is an Aussie gardener named Riley, who’s on his way to England. Engineered by Hazard—and the green notebook that was slipped into his backpack—Riley ends up at Monica’s Café, looking for an art lesson and maybe some romance.

Fun and Games (pp. 50-148): The art classes at the café are not only giving the characters a renewed sense of purpose, but they’re also bringing them together as a community. They start interacting in each other’s lives outside of the lessons and, in helping one another, they find they’re also helping themselves. Karma is good! There’s a love story playing out between Benji (a barista at the café) and Baz, Benji’s boyfriend. Monica and Riley begin dating, too. All of them join forces to help Julian clean his house—a much-needed endeavor.

Riley, who feels guilty about not telling Monica about finding the notebook and reading her story, nevertheless keeps dating her. He writes a few paragraphs about his own life and leaves the green notebook in a local park. It’s found by Alice, a social media influencer and struggling new mother. She pretends to have a “perfect life” online, but she’s never felt less happy in her marriage or more overwhelmed by motherhood. In the real world, her life is decidedly imperfect.

For a story that’s all about “authenticity,” every character seems to be faking something.

Midpoint (pp. 148-153): Julian inadvertently outs Baz to his grandmother Betty, who hadn’t realized her grandson was gay and dating Benji. This occurs prior to the group’s special Christmas lunch. The normally mild-mannered Baz is infuriated with Julian. Baz explodes and storms out of the friends’ gathering, shattering the cohesion of the group. Secrets can make you sick, but is honesty always the best policy? It’s a False Defeat for authenticity in relationships.

In the aftermath of this argument, just as Monica and Riley are attempting to recover a bit of their Christmas spirit with Benji and Julian at the café, the door opens and… SURPRISE! It’s Hazard, who’s just returned from his self-imposed tropical isolation. He’s pleased to see Riley and Monica together as a couple, proving his matchmaking worked. Hazard, feeling like a genius and a hero, announces, “I just love it when a plan comes together!”

Bad Guys Close In (pp. 154-268): Hazard quickly realizes his sudden appearance might not have been the best plan after all. Monica clearly didn’t know Riley read the journal (until now—oops), and she kicks them all out of her café. Julian goes into hibernation, canceling art classes and staying in bed, and everyone else disperses. Finally, over growing concerns for Julian, the group grudgingly comes together.

Also, Alice starts getting increasingly involved with the café crew, enlisting Riley, who’s a gardening expert, and Hazard, who needs to do something with his hands to keep from drinking or doing drugs, in a garden project at a nearby childcare center. This leads to more interaction between all the characters again, as well as a truce of sorts between Monica and Hazard.

Hazard, having now been sober for about five months, is invited to a wedding. He doesn’t believe he and Monica can be anything but friends—and even that is questionable—but, nevertheless, he’s attracted to her and asks her to accompany him to the event. In spite of herself, Monica is feeling a strange pull toward Hazard, too. She still likes Riley, despite the notebook betrayal, but she doesn’t feel he’s the right long-term partner for her.

Though Hazard has read Monica’s entry in the green book, she doesn’t know his story or anything about the seriousness of his addictions. At the wedding, Hazard makes a mistake in thinking he can have “just one drink,” which turns into multiple drinks, some drugs, flirtations with other women, and generally bad behavior, especially toward Monica. He’s no longer acting like the guy she thought she knew.

All Is Lost (pp. 268-270): Monica is hurt and devastated by Hazard’s actions, feeling incredibly alone and lonely. She calls Riley to rescue her from the reception, and that’s when she finally learns that Hazard is an addict.

Dark Night of the Soul (pp. 271-275): Hazard thought he could handle having a single glass of champagne, that he could be “normal” like everyone else, just for one party. But not only couldn’t he manage the alcohol, he couldn’t resist the allure of the cocaine that followed. He ends up in the back of the van he’d driven up to the wedding, now being driven by Riley instead, and passes out on Monica’s sofa when they get back. Hazard’s self-loathing returns. He feels himself to be not just an evil person but, also, a bad friend.

Break into Three (pp. 276-278): The next day, Hazard apologizes sincerely to Monica, and she realizes that—finally—she’s seeing the real man, not one of his many guises. She requests that the two of them start their friendship anew.

Finale (pp. 278-350): The gang’s back together… and expanding. The notebook, formerly in Alice’s possession, drops out of her bag at the childcare center and is found by Lizzie, a well-intentioned busybody. After reading Alice’s entry in the book, Lizzie reaches out to help the new mom get her baby’s schedule on track, but even this can’t seem to course-correct Alice’s failing marriage.

Hazard now knows that there will never be a time when he can have just one drink. He recommits to his sobriety. And Riley keeps trying to win back Monica’s affection, but their personalities are ultimately too dissimilar. He decides to leave England soon and do some more traveling.

Meanwhile, Monica is still drawn toward Hazard and confesses to him her real truth: She’d never fully recovered from her mother’s death at age 16, and that this grief has led her to believe she needs to control everything she can. The two of them eventually let down their guard and sleep together, surprising and delighting them both. From this point onward, they’re a couple.

Lizzie, who’s exceptionally curious and willing to act on it, reads all of the notebook entries before writing in it herself and passing it along to someone unexpected. It turns out, after a bit of research, Lizzie discovers that Julian’s wife is NOT dead. The lady is very much alive and in a long-term relationship with another man. She’d left Julian years ago because of his infidelity. Not only did the elderly artist lie about his wife’s death, he also lied about his age. Julian is actually 84, not 79.

At long last, Julian and his estranged wife can clear the air between them. He invites her and her significant other to his outdoor birthday party at Kensington Gardens. It’s a successful event with all the gang together and enjoying each other’s company. The notebook that started it all is returned to Julian. When the party ends, he and his dog stay behind to rest… and it’s then that the famous Julian Jessop, feeling satisfied and no longer lonely, dies in his sleep.

Final Image (pp. 351-352): Epilogue – A security guard at Kensington Gardens spots a man sleeping on a deck chair at closing time. He walks over to the old guy, his mind on a hopeful new relationship with his pretty coworker, only to realize that the man in front of him has passed away. The guard finds a notebook in the dead man’s hands and slips it in his own pocket, planning to give it to the elderly gentleman’s next of kin. It’s called “The Authenticity Project.” Where will the story go next?