Life for Addie Downs — overweight, from a weird family — changed dramatically the day Valerie Adler showed up on her small street in Illinois. The two young girls, misfits in their own ways, became fast friends — and stayed together through the teasing and taunts they endured, relying on one another for support.
Until one night in high school.
Jennifer Weiner’s Best Friends Forever opens as the ladies, now in their thirties, reunite following a high school reunion. Needless to say, Addie wasn’t interested in attending. Though she’s since shed an enormous amount of weight, she’s still guarded and sequestered in her childhood home — empty save her since her parents’ deaths many years before. A successful artist, Addie has made a small fortune painting art for greeting cards and nursed a quiet, ill-fated love affair in the time Valerie has been gone.
Val, conversely, is just as loud, quirky and brash as ever — and is now a fixture on the news in Chicago, where she’s an on-air weather personality. Since the time she turned her back on Addie and escaped Pleasant Ridge, she’s worked to put the past behind her — including a sordid one involving Dan Swansea, their school’s golden boy. Following the reunion and too many drinks, Val decides to seek revenge on the man who helped wreck her friendship with Addie — and try to find a little solace for herself. But she just might need Addie’s help to do it.
As a tremendous Weiner fan who loved Good In Bed and Little Earthquakes, one of the first novels I ever reviewed on write meg!, I had very high hopes going into this story — despite the silly title. (C’mon, you know it’s a little kitschy.) And while I wasn’t bowled over or even won over by any of these characters, Best Friends Forever is a fast-paced novel with a mystery and family drama at its core . . . and that’s enough to keep me turning the pages.
The novel’s strength came from the detailed flashbacks making us privvy to the mostly-happy childhood Addie enjoyed — which came in sharp contrast to that of Val, whose free-spirited and irresponsible mother, Naomi, failed to provide the stability and comfort she desperately wanted. And saw across the street, at the Downs’ home.
Many reviews I’ve read lately question why, after all this time, Addie would open her arms to a crumpled Val and offer to help her. Val publicly betrayed, then abandoned her best friend in high school — some of the most formative, and painful, years for anyone to overcome. Since Val was such a raging jerk, why would adult Addie welcome such a menace back into her life?
To which I answer: because she was lonely. Since Val disappeared and Addie was left alone with her grief over the quick passing of both her parents and an accident which left her brother severely brain damaged, she’s had no one — hardly a friend, definitely not a lover. And Val reminds her of the feeling of belonging that was once so strong. When her old friend blows back into her life like a tornado, the promise of friendship and comfort is intoxicating. Addie can’t resist.
At its heart, for me, Best Friends Forever was definitely about loneliness — and was, in turn, a lonely story. Not the funny, quick-witted Weiner we’re used to — and definitely not a humorous, light-hearted tale. The novel was shockingly dark and twisty with plenty of uncomfortable developments and, as a reader, I found myself wrinkling my nose a time or two.
For all her preening and selfishness, Val wasn’t particularly likeable — and for her tendency to be a pushover with tons of pain, Addie wasn’t endearing, either. But there was something about the book — something — that kept me engaged. Maybe it was the unconventional structure, skipping through time and filling us in on the past in scraps. Maybe it was the rollicking ride of the mystery. Maybe it was the idea of Val “repenting” and making up to Addie the hurtful things she’d done.
Whatever it was, I barely paused as I tore through Weiner’s latest book, out in paperback on May 4. I just wish it had a little more heart.
3 out of 5!