Secrets, mystery in ‘Best Friends’
Greeting card artist Addie Downs needs some color in her life. The 30-something recluse works from home. She only ventures out to swim at the gym or visit her brain-injured brother at an assisted-living center. Her love life: a series of bad Internet dates.
So when Addie’s childhood best friend, Valerie Adler, a self-absorbed Chicago weather reporter, suddenly shows up on her doorstep one night, Addie’s life gets a much needed jolt.
The reunion of these women after a misunderstanding in high school is the story behind Jennifer Weiner’s seventh novel, “Best Friends Forever.’’
The author of “Good in Bed’’ and “In Her Shoes’’ delivers another heart-warming and humorous tale that mines familiar themes from previous works. Among them: two women who are opposites yet share a complicated bond, the search for love, loss of family, and the enduring power of friendship.
But in Addie’s case, there’s an added twist - the reappearance of her former friend who has a dried blood stain on her sleeve.
The book begins on the night of the women’s 15-year high school reunion, which Addie avoids in favor of an uneventful blind date.
Valerie attends the reunion but with a hidden agenda - to exact revenge on a former high school football player whom she claims ruined her life. At the party, Valerie lures him outside and gets him to undress, then she pulls out her cellphone and snaps a photo of him naked. A struggle ensues, and Valerie drives off believing she ran him over. She turns to Addie for help.
The mystery of what happened to Mr. Naked serves as the plot device to bring together these two estranged friends.
But the novel is layered with other mysteries. What happened to Valerie in high school and why did these best friends stop talking in high school?
All these combine to gradually hook the reader as the women rediscover each other.
Addie narrates her own flashbacks, chronicling how the two friends met when they were 9 and how their friendship bloomed. In these sections, Weiner’s writing shines, as she provides the emotional foundation of the book. She paints the innocence and wonders of childhood: how a simple car trip, a lobster lunch on Cape Cod, or weekend sleepover can cement a lifelong friendship.
Weiner has a deft touch in creating an endearing main character that readers want to follow. As the women hit the highway to elude questions from police about their missing high school classmate, Weiner injects the reader into Addie’s past. The author details how Addie admired her mother and sacrificed college to care for her as she unsuccessfully battled breast cancer. The reader sympathizes with Addie as she survives taunts from fellow high school classmates, devours bags of sweets at night and balloons in weight. In one scene when Addie’s weight tips over 300 pounds, she finds herself stuck in a diner’s booth. You feel for this girl.
But these sections also show how Addie emotionally matures into a wiser soul as she takes responsibility for her older brother, loses weight, and accepts herself despite being alone most of the time.
While Addie is well drawn, Valerie is thinly sketched and comes off as shallow and one-dimensional. Her story and the sections that focus on the police officer and Valerie’s high school crush are written in a distant third-person. Weiner doesn’t pack the same emotional and comic punch in these chapters as she does in Addie’s sections.
But if readers can overlook these issues, they’ll have fun riding along with Addie and Valerie to Key West on a personal journey of forgiveness.
Johnny Diaz is a member of the Globe staff and author of “Beantown Cubans’’ and “Boston Boys Club.’’