A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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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