Jennifer Weiner is an author whose novels have unfortunately been categorized as chick lit. When I hear a book described as "chick lit," I tend to avoid reading it. Chick lit to me means a story about a pretty girl who is successful in every way except one - she can't find Mr. Right, and the entire book revolves around her pursuit of her dream man. Usually, she meets someone, hates him, then comes to love him. Or, she's rescued in some way by him. Chick lit is fluff, and while it can be a fun distraction, it doesn't usually stick with you when you've finished reading.
But Ms. Weiner's novels transcend that label. Her characters are fully-fleshed out, real women who have cushioning on their hips, brains between their ears, and do not require a man to rescue them. They deal with real problems, beyond finding a good sale or finding Mr. Right. The protagonist of her latest novel, "Best Friends Forever," Addie Downs, is trying to deal with the reappearance of a long lost friend after 15 years... under auspicious circumstances.
Addie is a greeting card artist who lives alone in her childhood home. She works from home by day, and spends her nights visiting her brother Jon, who lives in an assisted-living community. She rarely ventures out except to shop or go to the gym. On the night of her 15 year high school reunion, she is at home when there is a knock on her door. It is Valerie Adler, her old best friend, whom she hasn't seen in 15 years. Valerie is in trouble and asks for Addie's help. But Addie isn't thrilled to see Valerie, thanks to an incident that occured their senior year. However, Addie finds herself helping Valerie, and soon they are on the road, trying to avoid getting caught for an accident that Valerie committed that may have left another fellow classmate, Dan Swansea, injured or even dead.
The book flips back and forth between Addie's narration, a third-person narration of a detective's involvement in the case, and the description of what happens to Dan Swansea. It's interesting that Ms. Weiner chose three different ways to tell the tale from different perspectives, rather than sticking to Addie's voice. The story unfolds quickly, and Addie sheds light on how she and Valerie first met, to how they grew apart, to the fateful incident that completely tore their friendship apart, and sent Addie down the path to becoming a 350+ lb. shut-in by her early 20s. Ms. Weiner describes Addie so well that you can't help but understand and ultimately empathize with her.
My only quibble with the book is that the ending is rather anticlimatic. There's a buildup that sorta peters out in the end. Of course, the book isn't a thriller or crime novel, but I still expected more of a showdown between Dan and Valerie and Addie. But I recommend the novel, especially if you're looking for something a little more substantial than chick lit.
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