Book Review: Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg

Better Off FriendsBetter Off Friends
Elizabeth Eulberg
Point, March 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55145-8

Can members of the opposite sex be best friends without it any romantic intentions? That is the question that Elizabeth Eulberg asks in her novel Better Off Friends. The story goes back and forth between the views of Macallan (pronounced Mah-Kay-Lan) and Levi, who meet after Levi transfers to Wisconsin from California. After finding out they both share a fondness of a BBC program, the two hit it off pretty quick, and become fast friends. The more they hang out, they soon become best friends, and wouldn’t have it any other way. But as they grow up and enter their high school years, their friendship is tested and questioned. Guys are afraid to ask Macallan out because of Levi and Levi has difficulty focusing on his dates, usually giving Macallan more attention than those he attempts to pursue.

The themes presented in this novel are few, but meaningful. One main theme present is accepting loss and moving on. This is seen mainly with Macallan, whom you discover lost her mother in a car accident and is trying to keep herself together. Macallan loses a best friend after she cheats on Levi, and is forced to choose between the two. Levi also sees this, as he tries to transition from California to Wisconsin. Macallan even scolds him at one point, saying, “I understand that you spent your first twelve years in California, but this is your home now.” While it may not be considered a “loss” to some people, Levi finds himself talking about his friends and life before, while not realizing that he also had made a home of Wisconsin as well.

Another thing I was happy to see represented in this book was the no-tolerance Macallan has for people who make fun of mentally challenged people. It is discovered that her uncle was born with a birth defect. Macallan is very protective and defensive toward anybody who speaks ill of mentally handicap people in general in the novel. It’s the first time I have seen a character in a novel be an advocate for these people.

Friendship of course is the biggest theme in Eulberg‘s novel. What happens when you’re torn between two people you care about? How are you supposed to react when your best friend suddenly isn’t spending as much time with you? How do you react to a major fight when you’ve never had a reason to fight ever?

How are you supposed to feel when your best friend suddenly declares his love for you? (P.S. Running away to Ireland is probably not the answer.)

I loved this book except for one thing. Between each point-of-view change is a one or two page conversation between Macallan and Levi, reflecting on the previous chapter. The novel begins when they’re in seventh grade and ends half-way through their junior year of high school. While that time line is obvious, when does the in-between conversation happen? Are they reflecting on this after they have graduated high school? Or does this take place right after they get together? It is never clarified when this banter goes on, and even though it is a minor thing, it did throw me off several occasions. Apart from that, I found myself teary-eyed several times and it is definitely a book I would recommend.

Reviewed by Kristina Akers, December 2014.