Better Off Friends

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Better Off Friends Book Poster Image
Sweet, funny When Harry Met Sally romance for teens.

Parents say

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Readers will learn trivia and facts about life in Wisconsin: that the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama was Wisconsin's own Zona Gale; that the football team is the Green Bay Packers; that Culver's is a chain restaurant where you can buy ButterBurgers and frozen custard; that cheese curds are a local "delicacy"; and that the "Friday fish fry" is a common weekly event. Some of the mechanics of running track and playing football also are discussed, as are details about Ireland, where the main character travels.

Positive messages

The book poses the age-old question about whether boys and girls really can be "just friends." It explores the emotional intricacies involved with having a best friend from the opposite sex and how adolescence/growing up/attraction can change how you feel and act together. Regardless of gender, the book suggests, best friends should be unconditional and honest and not take each other for granted. A real friend is someone you can lean on, literally and emotionally, for steadfast help, support, and encouragement.

Positive role models & representations

Macallan and Levi's friendship endures despite miscommunications and other romantic relationships. They prove that it's possible to be best friends first and a couple much, much later. Macallan is a defender of people with disabilities, because her loving uncle is one. Levi's mother and Macallan's father are loving, caring parents who listen to their kids and are kind to their kids' friends.

Violence

Macallan loses her temper a couple of times when people use the insult "retarded." She punches a schoolmate who claims she's stupid because she's related to a "retard." The principal disciplines her with in-school detention. Levi thinks about punching a few different guys who come on to Macallan. Levi suffers a serious sports injury.

Sex

Several kisses. One mention of making out as "sucking face." In one passage, Macallan Google-chats with Levi, who's wearing only a towel (she blushes, and he quickly puts a shirt on). A few brief innuendos about blushing, "cold water/shower," and reacting "like any 15-year-old guy" would. A character goes on and on about how he must be a "bad kisser" if two different girls have cheated on him.

Language

One use of "bitch." "Retard" and "retarded" are used to ridicule and insult people with and without developmental delays. Other insults include "stupid,"  "dumb," "Neanderthal," "idiot," "jerk," "pathetic," and "useless."

Consumerism

Sixteen Candles is mentioned and watched, and Culver's, the Midwestern burger-and-shakes chain, is referenced several times (the characters often go there to have frozen custard and ButterBurgers).

Drinking, drugs & smoking

No underage drinking, but there's discussion of Macallan being named after a brand of Scotch whisky.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Better Off Friends is best described as a teen adaptation of When Harry Met Sally: the story of guy-girl best friends who realize after several years that they might be destined for something more. Set in Wisconsin, it has a lot of Badger State trivia and references to real state treasures, such as the Packers and the burger-and-frozen-custard joint Culver's. Author Elizabeth Eulberg is known for relatively clean dialogue in novels such as Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, but there's one use of "bitch" and a few uses of the words "retard" and "retarded," which make the protagonist (whose uncle is developmentally delayed) very angry. There's kissing, handholding, and a few brief references to cold showers and nice bodies, but nothing a sixth grader can't handle. Best of all, the book will make readers contemplate another, slower path toward romance in contrast to the usual "love at first sight" story lines perpetuated by many young adult novels.

User Reviews

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 15 years old Written bysmudge1017 July 23, 2015

Loved It!

This book was so cute. I loved the message that boys and girls can be friends and I loved how the author captured all of the drama that comes with bus and girls... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 22, 2016

Best book ever

I read 'better off friends' this year, I am 12, and I absolutely loved this book! After finishing it I told my 11 year old friend to read it and she... Continue reading

What's the story?

In Elizabeth Eulberg's latest romantic comedy, a teen version of When Harry Met Sally, the smart and charming Macallan and Levi take turns sharing their story of how a boy and a girl can actually be best friends. But can they be just friends for long? In flashbacks that span the seventh through the 12th grades, the two take turns recalling the various milestones of their best friendship. At the start of seventh grade, 11-year-old Macallan, grieving her mother's unexpected death, is assigned to show the new kid, Levi, a pony-tailed California transplant to Wisconsin, around their middle school. She's skeptical about him until she realizes he's a fellow super-fan of a long-running British comedy. Soon they're spending all their time together, but as the years pass and girlfriends and boyfriends come and go, Macallan and Levi begin to wonder if what they feel for each other is unconditional friendship, true love, or both.

Is it any good?

Countless movies and stories have explored the issue of whether men and women can be friends without attraction getting in the way, but there's certainly room for this witty, well-crafted take. Eulberg is well known for her sweet, "clean" high-school romances (Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, The Lonely Hearts Club), and this is her best so far. Inspired by Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally screenplay, Eulberg crafts a tale of bantering best pals, who, like Billy Crystal's Harry and Meg Ryan's Sally, prefer each other's company to any one else's -- including people they're supposed to be dating.

Because the point of view changes between the two main characters, it's easy to get caught up in Macallan and Levi's comedy of errors, miscommunication, and missed opportunities. It's obvious to readers, their parents, and even their dates, that they should be together, but taking that step when you have such intertwined lives is understandably frightening and risky. As each year progresses and their unresolved romantic tension continues, Macallan and Levi start acting skittish and uncomfortable around each other -- especially when it comes to their significant others (whom, no surprise, they're never that into). Eulberg does a good job of weaving their shared love of a fictional British comedy duo into the story line without making it obnoxious. Like the odd couple on the show they love, these two may not be much alike, but they share a remarkable, undeniable chemistry that will bring a smile to readers' faces.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about boy-girl friendships. What's your take on them? Do all friendships between boys and girls end up in romance? Is it possible to be friends with a guy without getting teased that you "like" him?

  • Many young-adult romances feature couples who fall instantly in love. Do you think romances have to be fast and furious, or can they also be slow-burning, friends-becoming-more relationships as well? Do you think love-at-first-sight romance is more compelling?

  • Author Elizabeth Eulberg's light romances are popular with mature tweens and younger teens. What do you think is the appeal?

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