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Estelle: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergBetter Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg ( tweet | web )
Publication Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Scholastic/Point
Pages: 288
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.) 

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March 21, 2014 - 10:23 pm

Brittany @ The Book Addict's Guide - How funny! I actually liked the interludes. I was impressed because I hadn’t seen that before.
I’m glad you liked it! I thought it was just so light and cute and I feel the same way — I still have no idea if this is really possible, because as far as I’ve seen, it’s kind of not haha.
I agree that I enjoyed it BUT didn’t quite fall in love with it. I do think there could have been a bit more development as far as a secondary plot goes.
Great thoughts on this one! Interesting to see! 🙂

March 16, 2014 - 7:25 pm

Alexa S. - I’m really looking forward to reading BETTER OFF FRIENDS. I think there’s something about Elizabeth Eulberg’s books that I always find fun, interesting and relatable, so to see her tackle this (very important) (very discussable) question in her way will be a fun experience!

March 11, 2014 - 11:39 pm

Ellice - You already know how much I LOVE this book, so this review made me so happy. I was thrilled when I saw that it got a “worth it” rating. 😉

I do have to agree that their conversations at the end of the chapters were confusing. My e-arc had formatting issues, so there wasn’t any separation between the chapter and that conversation, so I had NO IDEA what was going on for the first few chapters. When I realized that it was a present-day conversation, I just assumed they were texting or talking through something like Gchat or Facebook messages? I understand what you mean about those conversations giving too much away, because I figured out how it was probably going to end based on those. BUT, at that particular moment in time, it was refreshing for me to have a book that didn’t stress me out, one that I could just sit back, relax, and read. If I had read it at another time, that little detail might have annoyed me.

I just loved Levi and Macallan. There aren’t many guys that age that would be quite as sweet and sensitive as Levi was in junior high/high school, so I enjoyed that quality in him (although it may be a bit of a stretch). And I loved that Macallan was so unique in a lot of ways too– her family is Irish, she learns to cook really difficult recipes at a young age, she’s named after Scotch, etc. etc. I just like the book’s originality and the fact that it is such a feel-good read. <3 I think it will be a go-to when I need a pick-me-up 🙂

Anyway, now that I have left you a novel of a comment, I guess you've figured out that I enjoyed your review? Haha

March 11, 2014 - 12:45 pm

Candice @ The Grown-Up YA - I actually really liked this one. It wasn’t deep or anything, just a cutesy feel good book.

As for the little interludes between Macallan and Levi, I felt they were kind of like the little interludes in When Harry Met Sally when they would cut away to a couple talking about relationship stuff. That’s how I had to rationalize it in my mind!

March 10, 2014 - 4:08 pm

Maggie @ Just a Couple More Pages - Your “heavens” question made me laugh out loud. I pictured those interludes being like Gchat conversations they were having as they looked back at their friendship. They were ambiguous, but I thought they had their good moments. (Like when Levi realized she got her period.) I know you didn’t love, love this like I did, but I’m glad you still found it “worth it.”

March 10, 2014 - 11:07 am

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I just don’t know if I want to read this one, Estelle. I’ve read three of Eulberg’s books – The Lonely Hearts Club (super cute), Prom & Prejudice (sweet) and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality (not a fan). Because I really didn’t care for Revenge, I’ve been super hesitant to read this one.

I feel like what you said – how Eulberg didn’t tackle the issues as deeply as you would like – is always the case with her books. I always feel like a little bit is always missing.

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