Sometimes you just need a palate cleanser. After reading a lengthy fact-packed history book and a dark experimental book about drug addicts, I was ready for something light. And after being snowed in for almost a week, I couldn’t resist the summery cover of Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever.
I don’t read much chick lit, but I’ve read two of Weiner’s previous novels (In Her Shoes and Good in Bed), and I enjoyed them both (with In Her Shoes coming out ahead). In those two books, Weiner proved to be great with the wish fulfillment fantasy that I expect when I read chick lit. She also fills her books with likable heroines, appealing love interests, and plots with just enough twists and turns to keep me reading. So on the rare occasion that I’m craving chick lit, I’ve made her a go-to author.
Addie Downs, the heroine of Best Friends Forever, lives alone, works alone, and spends most of her free time alone. She hasn’t had a truly close friend since her childhood friend Valerie Adler ditched her back in high school. Addie has made some tentative steps toward getting out into the world, mostly by losing a lot of weight and trying out online dating. After a date goes horribly, hilariously awry, Addie is just settling in for another night alone when Valerie shows up at her house with blood on her coat sleeve, pleading for help. Before long, the two are a team again.
Once again, Weiner has given readers a great central character. Although it’s true that Addie comes across as more than a little pathetic in the opening chapters, as Addie shares her history in the first-person sections of the book, it’s obvious that there are good reasons why Addie’s natural shyness has become an intense fear of rejection. And the story of her family crises, her long-time struggles with food, and her own quest for self-improvement was compelling. I wanted to spend time with her.
Valerie, on the other hand, was less easy to like. Weiner does touch on some aspects of her history that might explain her inability to consider the consequences of her actions, but she’s never treated with the same depth as Addie, and so it’s harder to feel compassion for her, especially when she makes some particularly outrageous choices. The only reason I could imagine someone like Addie would enjoy spending time with Valerie was out of desperation, and that’s not enough to build a friendship on.
The leading man is another strong presence in the book, and I particularly enjoyed that we’re given time to get to know him, which is not always the case in the other Weiner books I’ve read. I’m not sure that I found the love story itself entirely believable, and there are a few things about it that are a little iffy, but I liked the two main characters so much that I was rooting for them anyway. I think the iffy elements are meant to be comic, and thus perhaps are best not thought about too hard.
The story is a nice mix of the predictable and unpredictable. Many of the big plot points I could see coming from a mile away, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was going to happen in between. The plot unfolds at a good clip, partially through flashbacks in which we learn what happened to cause Valerie and Addie’s friendship to end. Those sections tended to be more dramatic—sometimes even heart-breaking—while the present-day story is a little more silly. In general, I was more interested in the past story, and the present-day story felt at times like an interruption.
For a fun palate-cleanser of a book, Best Friends Forever was just fine. As far as Jennifer Weiner goes, In Her Shoes was, in my opinion, a much better book than this one, and if you’ve never read Weiner, I’d say that’s a better place to start.