Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg ( tweet | web )
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: friendships, middle school/high school, family, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)
Summary: When Levi and Macallan first meet in seventh grade, they never imagined they would end up best friends, sharing family dinners, and, most of all, having people assume right and left they are in a relationship. But as they move through middle school and high school, the friendship gets hot and cold because of significant others, inability to manage time, and the chemistry between them. Can guys and girls really be friends? Or is it totally impossible?
I am immediately into books that tackle the big question: can guys and girls really be friends? Because, seriously, at 29, I still have no idea if it’s true. Do I have a clearer answer now that I read Eulberg’s adorable book? Okay, maybe not. But I do agree that having a friend of the opposite sex can be wonderful and complicated at the same time.
Better Off Friends is a light, sweet read and I fell completely in love with both Macallan and Levi. I mean, how cute could they get? Paired in seventh grade when Levi first moves to Wisconsin, they form an unexpected friendship when they start having family dinners together, hanging out at the park, and sharing friends. But things get difficult especially in middle school when boys worry about fitting in with boys and don’t want to necessarily be known for being friends with girls. (Ugh.) But Levi still stands his own, and really cares about nurturing his friendship with Macallan. He’s genuinely a good guy.
And for Macallan, it seems like Levi enters her life at the perfect time. Her family has just taken a huge hit, she’s sad, and gradually, she finds someone to trust, welcome into her circle, and in ways, I think it helps her to move past the pain of unexpected tragedy and learn how to be close to another person. I loved Macallan’s feisty-ness, her bravery, and how she was so dedicated to things (cooking, especially) and people. See? Great characters.
But all genuinely good people make mistakes (especially when a friendships spans so many years like this one, as we get to high school) — they fail to recognize how their significant others are taking up their time, they don’t always tell the full truth, they give into social pressure, and they don’t stand up for the other at the most opportune times. As the years went on, the growing pains of Macallan and Levi’s friendship sadly push them apart, but it feels impossible to stop.
Could they make it through? Would their history help them to reconnect? Was all the tension caused by more than just time getting in the way? New girlfriends and new boyfriends? Were they not seeing what was really there? Eulberg might not have tackled these questions as deeply as I would have liked, but Better Off Friends was hard to put down and I found myself wistfully staring at my eReader, wondering what would become of Macallan and Levi once I was to get back to reading.
That, my friends, is what I call a worthwhile read.
While Better Off Friends was definitely a highlight amongst my reads this year so far, I did find the interludes (Macallan and Levi’s discussions between chapters) confusing. I loved hearing their reactions but I wondered where exactly they were coming from (the heavens?) and if it gave too much away. I also would have loved for a stronger secondary plotline involving Macallan and Levi worrying less about each other and more about something in life. A wish that would have been a challenge because of the span of time covered in the book, but better developed relationships with supporting characters would have worked too.
All in all, Eulberg has created two true-to-life characters that I care about and I know I will be thinking about as the reading year continues. Plus I will always be wondering: where are they now? (Also I must say: the chapter art — silhouettes of either Macallan or Levi swinging depending on chapter POV? So gorgeous, and a great detail.)