One of my regrets is that I don't have a single best friend (other than my sister) whose history with me goes back decades - long-distance moves and early marriage and motherhood were both complications to sustaining such ties. That's probably one reason I'm drawn to stories of long-term friendships, so along with the fact that Jennifer Weiner is one of my very favorite authors, I was bound to read her last novel, Best Friends Forever.
Addie and Valerie grew up across the street from one another, and were united by the way that neither of them fit in. Adventurous, confident Val has a mother who is divorced, quirky, and inattentive, while quiet, artistic Addie fades into the shadow of her popular, athletic older brother Jon. But as the girls enter high school, things change. Jon is involved in a car accident which alters the lives of Addie's entire family, and Val returns from a summer visit to her father in California with a new style and more self-assurance than ever, which brings her into the high-school mainstream. However, Val does her best to bring Addie along with her, until an incident at a party tears them apart and renders Addie an outcast. Their lives diverge until Val appears at Addie's door on the night of their 15th class reunion, and she brings a crisis no one but Addie, her "best friend forever," can help her with.[
Weiner moves between past and present in the novel, and for me, the "past" portions worked much better. Told through Addie's first-person viewpoint, the pathway of her friendship with Val, the relationships among her family as they face various challenges, and her own struggles with adulthood are rendered with sympathy, humanity, and humor, and Addie is a particularly well-developed, layered character. By contrast, the "present" crisis that reunites Addie and Val, and leads to a "ladies on the lam" thread, came across to me as somewhat contrived and, at times, borderline cartoonish. I applaud Weiner for taking a chance with that plot element - and I actually understand why something like it is necessay - but I didn't feel that it meshed well in tone with the rest of the novel.
Weiner mixes things up in a few other ways in this novel as well. As I said, I can appreciate why she'd want to do that as a writer, but I didn't appreciate it quite as much as a reader; some elements of the story felt a little gimmicky to me, and didn't seem to play to Weiner's strengths in creating contemporary, realistic women's fiction and strong characters. Having said that, Best Friends Forever doesn't change Jennifer Weiner's place among my favorite authors, but it isn't one of my favorites among her works.