by Jennifer Weiner
368 pages, Atria (publisher)
Review by Melissa Conway
Publishing industry professionals in this country declared the Chick Lit genre dead some years ago, forcing hordes of writers to reinvent themselves—at least on the surface. A novel written in Chick Lit’s distinctively snarky voice must now call itself women’s humorous contemporary fiction, or light women’s fiction, or any combination thereof, as long as the words “Chick Lit,” so offensively yesterday, are absent, absent, absent. First person point of view, intrinsic to the Chick Lit craze, is no longer acceptable in adult fiction. Unless you’re Jennifer Weiner.
Which is a good thing. Just because the publishing industry begged for Chick Lit, got Chick Lit, got too much Chick Lit, and got sick of Chick Lit all within a decade or so, doesn’t mean there’s suddenly a shortage of women readers looking for the fluffy pink beach reads they’ve known and loved.
Best Friends Forever (BFF) still has Weiner’s funny, everywoman’s voice, a plot that entertains like a cat zipping around the room after a laser pointer, and characters spiced with a finely balanced combination of angst-that-doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously and plausible back-story.
Fat Adelaide Downs and ditzy Valerie Alder are the products of normal American families, and by “normal,” I mean to say “highly dysfunctional.” As children, Addie and Val bond over their mutual, but unspoken, wish to belong to the other’s family. Addie is ashamed of her obese mother, who Val sees as the nurturing, supportive woman she is, and Val, with her filthy boys’ clothes, greasy hair and mossy teeth, somehow hides the fact that her mother is flat-out neglectful, while Addie sees her as glamorous and free-spirited.
Was Ms. Weiner somehow privy to my own adolescence, or are there really that many former kids out there suppressing memories of a similar childhood? Stir the BFF characters’ early lives with an ugly stick, and you’ve got me and my best friend; we’ll call her Lesli, because that was her name. Les was a size-16 girl with a strikingly pretty face, whose mother was thin, polished, never-without-a-man, and drove a Trans Am. I was the neglected one with the obese mother, and alright, Les probably never wished she had my mom, but I sure wanted to exchange my hand-me-downs and thrift-store clothes, self-cut hair, and filthy apartment for her designer jeans, thick, waist-length brown hair and germ-free living conditions.
I haven’t seen her in years, but if Les showed up on my doorstep tomorrow needing help because she thought she’d killed her high school date-rapist in a semi-deliberate hit-and-run, it’s unlikely I’d rob a bank and go on the lam with her, like Addie does for Val. Well, they don’t really rob a bank. Val just thinks they did, but I don’t want to pepper this review with too many spoilers. Suffice it to say, BFF won’t disappoint the majority of Ms. Weiner’s fans. Chick Lit may be D.O.A., but the void has been effectively filled with the exact same product, different name.