March 29, 2014

Review: Better Off Friends

I have such an author crush on Eulberg. Since her first novel, ‘Lonely Hearts Club,’ I have loved her writing. With Eulberg, I know what I am going to get: friendship, relationship, camaraderie.

Her latest novel is absolutely no different—it’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’ on the page for a modern generation.

Title: ‘Better Off Friends’
Author: Elizabeth Eulberg
Pages: 288 pages
Publisher: Point
Available: NOW at your local library/book store
Source: Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

For Macallan and Levi, it was friends at first sight. Everyone says guys and girls can’t be just friends, but these two are. They hang out after school, share tons of inside jokes, their families are super close, and Levi even starts dating one of Macallan’s friends. They are platonic and happy that way.

Eventually they realize they’re best friends — which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t keep getting in each other’s way. Guys won’t ask Macallan out because they think she’s with Levi, and Levi spends too much time joking around with Macallan, and maybe not enough time with his date. They can’t help but wonder . . . are they more than friends or are they better off without making it even more complicated?

From romantic comedy superstar Elizabeth Eulberg comes a fresh, fun examination of a question for the ages: Can guys and girls ever really be just friends? Or are they always one fight away from not speaking again — and one kiss away from true love?

My Thoughts:

I loved, loved, loved this book.

Macallan and Levi sizzle on the page—finishing each other’s sentences, going on double-dates (that don’t seem to work out), being stubborn about their feelings for one another.

First, I want to address the way Eulberg has set up the storytelling, because I absolutely loved it. The novel is a flashback, and at the end of each chapter is conversation between Macallan and Levi in the present. They step into the story of that chapter, giving his/her perspective, depending on who was responsible for that particular anecdote.

That is another element I enjoyed—each chapter as an anecdote. I could just see the two of them sitting on a couch, talking about their road to meeting one another, their ups, their downs, the building of their friendship.

It was very ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ and I loved it. Very clever.

The development of Macallan and Levi’s friendship is slow, and it is apparent to readers—but not to these two—that they are meant to be together. As more than friends.

It is their friendship that makes me root for these two. It is friendship that many couples initially leave off of the table. It is friendship that sells this story to me.

Macallan and Levi meet in the halls of school—it’s Levi’s first day, and he does not know a soul. Enter Macallan. The model student who is asked to show Levi around. And she does, and then she is done. Until lunch. This one invitation to the lunch table (which we all know is one of the most important moments in high school) that changes both of their lives. Forever.

Macallan and Levi aren’t geared to be friends just yet. It begins with a simple, “Thanks for showing me around,” and evolves into Levi’s mom willing to have Macallan stay with them on Wednesday afternoons until her dad can pick her up.

These Wednesdays are important to the development of their friendship—and while the development is slow, it is what makes them the perfect friendship. After all, they really know each other in ways that no one else will understand.

With that said, every good relationship needs a bit of mystery. For Levi, it is Macallan’s mom. The one person Macallan does not mention, often. But there is moment when the two bond over her mother’s memory, a moment that brought sorrow to my heart and really proved what a twosome they would make.

I want them together, and I want it fast, but that’s not usually how these books go. Authors make us wait, and they make characters work for it.

This slow build allows readers to buy into not only their friendship but also them as individual characters. While they do not seem whole without the other, they really are. This is something that is important in life, and it is something Eulberg brings to the page that reminds readers that while being a couple is important, and while friendship is one of the most important elements to life, so is being true to yourself and learning how to function when you are alone.

While I loved these two, I loved all of the secondary characters as well—especially the parents. They aren’t cool, hip parents wanting to be friends with their kids. They are playing the role they need to play: the role of guidance.

And then there is Uncle Adam. Oh Uncle Adam, how do I love thee? I did not realize there was anything amiss with his character until Macallan kicks some major butt when a fellow classmate mocks the fact that Uncle Adam is special. Not only did I want to hug Macallan for taking up for family, but I felt that this particular scene was personal for Eulberg herself. This scene felt so real, as if Eulberg either experienced this first hand or knows someone who has.

For me, this book is the whole package. Enough drama to keep readers engaged; enough romance to not disappoint; and enough adult interaction to bring the realness of teen life to life.

Do I recommend this book?

Enthusiastically! All of Eulberg’s books are worth your reading time. Her style is fresh and fun, and her stories will make you feel good about life. And, her writing is appropriate for all readers, but the themes of her writing are aimed at late-tweens and above.

If you’re a fan of Stephanie Perkins but have never read a Eulberg book, you need to rectify this. And, if you’ve never read either, you must do so. Immediately.

Let’s talk about books—what’s the best realistic fiction novel you’ve read lately?
Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

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