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One True Loves Summary, Characters and Themes

One True Loves is a 2016 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It tells the story of Emma Blair, who marries her high school sweetheart Jesse. 

They build a seemingly perfect life together until Jesse tragically disappears in a helicopter crash. Years later, Emma finds love again and is preparing to remarry when Jesse suddenly reappears, forcing her to choose between two great loves. The novel explores themes of love, loss, grief, second chances, and the complexities of relationships.


In Acton, Massachusetts, Emma Blair dreams of escaping her family’s bookstore and traveling the world. She falls for Jesse Lerner, a popular swimmer with hidden depths. They bond over shared dreams, defying expectations, and attend college in California together.

Emma blossoms as a travel writer, while Jesse works in documentary production. Their love story culminates in a wedding at his family’s Maine cabin. 

However, tragedy strikes on their first anniversary when Jesse disappears in a helicopter crash, leaving Emma devastated.

Returning to Acton, Emma finds solace in her family and discovers a love for reading and managing the bookstore. She reconnects with Sam, an old friend and music teacher, and their friendship blossoms into love. 

As they plan their wedding, Emma’s life takes a shocking turn when Jesse calls—he’s alive and coming home.

Their emotional reunion stirs up complex feelings. Jesse, determined to resume their life together, is met with Emma’s internal conflict. Sam grapples with uncertainty, postponing their wedding. 

Emma retreats to her parents’ home and joins Jesse at his family’s cabin to sort through their tangled emotions.

The idyllic setting highlights how much they’ve changed. Their love remains, but their paths have diverged. With bittersweet realization, they decide to part ways, acknowledging that they are no longer the right fit.

Emma reconciles with Sam, leading to their marriage. Jesse returns to California, eventually finding love anew. 

They share a final conversation, recognizing the profound impact they’ve had on each other’s lives.

Emma and Jesse’s journey explores the complexities of love, loss, and personal growth. It challenges the notion of “one true love,” emphasizing the evolution of individuals and relationships over time. 

Through their choices and sacrifices, they find happiness and fulfillment, ultimately accepting that their paths were meant to intersect, but not necessarily merge forever.

One True Loves Summary


Emma Blair

Emma Blair is a young woman yearning for adventure and self-discovery. 

Initially averse to reading, she embraces travel writing, discovering a passion for storytelling. Grief over Jesse’s presumed death compels her to return to Acton and the family bookstore. 

There, she finds solace in routine and reconnects with her roots. 

Emma’s resilience is evident as she navigates loss, rediscovers her love for reading, and embarks on a new chapter with Sam. 

Despite her initial reservations about Jesse’s return, she confronts her feelings with honesty and maturity, ultimately prioritizing her own growth and happiness.

Jesse Lerner

Jesse Lerner, a talented swimmer burdened by expectations, yearns for creative freedom. 

He connects with Emma over shared dreams and defies his family’s pressure to pursue competitive swimming. 

Jesse’s disappearance leaves a void in Emma’s life, and his unexpected return disrupts her newfound stability. 

Despite his unwavering love for Emma, he struggles to accept the changes in her and their relationship. Ultimately, Jesse demonstrates emotional maturity by respecting Emma’s choices and finding happiness elsewhere.

Sam Kemper

Sam Kemper, a supportive and understanding friend, embodies unwavering loyalty. 

Despite his initial romantic interest in Emma, he respects her feelings for Jesse and remains a constant source of support. 

When Emma reconnects with him after Jesse’s disappearance, their bond deepens, leading to a loving relationship. 

Sam’s patience and willingness to prioritize Emma’s well-being solidify their connection, making him a strong partner for her.


Love and Loss

One True Loves explores the complexities of love and loss. 

Emma’s experience with Jesse’s disappearance and presumed death is a profound loss that shatters her world. She grapples with grief, loneliness, and the uncertainty of moving forward. 

The novel portrays love as a powerful force that shapes lives, but also acknowledges its impermanence. Even when love endures, people and circumstances can change, leading to difficult choices and the bittersweet reality of letting go.

Identity and Growth

The novel emphasizes the concept of identity and growth. 

Emma’s journey is one of self-discovery. Initially defined by her desire to escape her small town and her family’s bookstore, she evolves into a woman who finds passion in unexpected places – travel writing, reading, and managing the bookstore. 

Her experiences with love and loss shape her character, forcing her to confront her dreams and desires. 

Similarly, Jesse’s ordeal changes him in profound ways. The trauma of his experience and the challenges of survival force him to adapt and redefine himself.

Second Chances and Moving On

One True Loves explores the concept of second chances and moving on. 

Emma’s encounter with Jesse after he is presumed dead forces her to confront the past and re-evaluate her present relationship with Sam. 

The novel portrays the challenges of navigating unresolved feelings and the complexities of choosing between two loves. 

Ultimately, Emma and Jesse’s decision to part ways allows them to move forward and find happiness with their respective partners.

Family and Community

The novel highlights the importance of family and community. Emma finds solace and support in her family, particularly her parents and sister, during her time of grief. 

The bookstore, a family business, serves as a symbol of stability and connection. Similarly, Jesse reconnects with his family after his ordeal, finding comfort and a sense of belonging.

The novel suggests that strong family bonds and a supportive community can play a crucial role in healing and growth.

Final Thoughts

One True Loves is an epic exploration of love, loss, and the resilience of the human spirit. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s storytelling and relatable characters draw readers into an emotional journey. 

The novel challenges conventional notions of “happily ever after,” prompting reflection on the complexities of relationships and the transformative power of life’s experiences. It’s a heartfelt story that will resonate with anyone who has loved, lost, and found themselves again.