Think about the quintessential contemporary young adult book. Consider what characteristics you’d expect it to have. Got it? Okay, now: Assume Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg ticks every one of those boxes.
The story is simple: Macallan is still dealing with the emotional fallout of losing her mother in a car accident. Levi is new in town, a laid back surfer who feels out of place in a Wisconsin middle school. Macallan takes pity on Levi and has him join her and her friends for lunch. Levi and Macallan bond over a shared love of a quirky British sitcom. Soon, they are inseparable. Best friends.
But you know how these things go. As they get older, things get complicated. People assume they are a couple. They have trouble with their individual relationships, as well as how those relationships impact their friendship. They help each other, they hurt each other, and they do that really annoying thing that high school kids do where they would rather assume than communicate. Realistic, sure, but sometimes I just wanted to grab them and shake them and force them to talk to each other! But then, that would be too easy, and the book would be half as long.
With narration shifting between Macallan and Levi, readers are clued in on exactly what each character is thinking. Eulberg does a great job of giving the two main characters distinct voices, and to her credit she doesn’t take the easy way out and have her characters switch gears during chapters they are not narrating. One of my biggest pet peeves about dual narrative books is when a character is thinking one thing in their own chapter, then magically thinking something entirely different once we switch to the other character’s perspective. I was happy not to find that in Better Off Friends.
There’s obviously a very young vibe to this book. It’s written for tweens and teens, and it definitely reads that way. That’s not always the case with young adult books – in fact, often it’s not – so it took me a little while to get used to the style. It makes for a quick, easy read, but it also took me out of the story a bit. This was probably a highly personal thing. As an adult reading YA, I felt a little weird. An actual teenager reading it would probably find it incredibly relatable.
Better Off Friends is a simple, sweet story that has been told many times in many different ways. But there’s a reason for that – it’s a good story. Eulberg does a nice job of adapting it for teen readers in a cute and accessible way. It’s probably not a book that will stick with me for a long time or will find itself on my list of 2014 favorites, but it was fun while it lasted.
When I said Better Off Friends is a quintessential young adult book, I meant it. I think tweens and teens especially will love what this book has to offer. Older readers might not click with it as easily, but can certainly appreciate its innocence and timelessness.