Jennifer Weiner, Best Friends Forever
Okay, guys, you know I love me some Jennifer Weiner. I have gone to bat for her before, and I probably will again. HOWEVER. This one’s a stinker.
The plot, such as it is, is that Addie Downs opens her door one night and finds her best friend from high school standing there, covered in blood. Turns out that at their fifteenth reunion, Valerie ran over the guy who raped her during their school days, and then left him outside, naked and bleeding in the middle of a Chicago November.
Strong start and then…suckfest.
The book hinges on everyone having problems. Here, I’ll give you some convenient lists.
Addie’s family had the following problems:
Mother was fat, died of cancer.
Father had PTSD, died of aneurism.
Brother got into a car accident at fifteen, sustained a traumatic brain injury, and was permanently disabled.
Addie had binge eating disorder and topped out at 350 pounds.
Val’s family had the following problems:
Father didn’t want her, abdicated all responsibility for her.
Mother didn’t want her, kept her, exposed her to all sorts of horrible things, including a would-be stepfather who was also a would-be child molester.
High school acquaintance raped her.
All very sad, but of course there’s the requisite moment where Addie (our narrator) realizes that maybe, Valerie’s life was not as glamorous as she thought!
Okay, so here were my major issues with this book. First off, Addie’s brother’s injury is played for pathos, and it’s not even his pathos—it’s Addie’s and the rest of the family’s. Addie keeps talking about how he had all these dreams and was so athletic and now he’s having seizures and drooling, and it’s SO PAINFUL to watch knowing what he used to be. And it’s just like, how do you think he feels? WE DON’T KNOW. Because he’s just a device to make us feel sorrier for Addie.
Also, okay. Yes, there are people with compulsive over-eating disorder out there—I am one of them—and yes, some of these people are extremely overweight. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, and I’m not saying that those stories don’t need to be told. But the problem is, most depictions of fat people in English-language literature are of people with compulsive overeating issues, and that is not terribly representative. Also? It feeds into (ha!) a lot of negative stereotypes about fat people: that we’re out of control, mindless consumers, that we’d be thin if we’d only try harder, etc. One of the things that I always respected about Jennifer Weiner is that she didn’t play into any of that: up until this point, her overweight characters have always been relatively healthy, just…overweight. Best Friends Forever is still not a conventional, “She lost weight and everything was GREAT!” story, but there are enough similarities to make me feel really, really unhappy and disappointed.
Finally, Weiner had to know that she would be inviting comparisons to Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters (The books have the following in common: a devil-may-care mother, a neglected child of privilege, an outcast best friend, and a WELL-KNOWN SEASIDE VACATION SPOT ON THE EASTERN SEABOARD). And oh, the comparisons are NOT favorable. Blume doesn’t give her two “sisters”—Vix and Caitlin—equal narrative weight: Caitlin is a bit of a mystery, and that’s the point. But Caitlin is still a fully realized character in a way that Val, her Best Friends Forever doppelganger, is not. Weiner has a bit of a problem about randomly inserting “best friend” characters into her books and then not developing them at all—usually this isn’t too much of an issue, but she did the same thing with Valerie, and it just doesn’t fly. When the book is called Best Friends Forever, you cannot have one of the best friends be a fucking cardboard cutout! I understand that Best Friends Forever is not Summer Sisters and that Weiner had a different narrative goal than Blume did, but FOR SERIOUS, that shit was just ridiculous.
Recommended for: If you’re a die-hard fan, go for it. Otherwise, skip it.