Never date your best friend.
Always be original.
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.
Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.
Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.
Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.
I would pay good, good money to read about The Always in college. Seriously, I bet this would be hilarious.
Personally, I found this book to be a good way to reminisce about the same old high school clichés that we all participate in. Promposals? Road trips? Pining after someone (silently)? Sign me up! Well actually… no, I’m glad to be past all that now; to be done with those all-important dramas in the microcosm of high school. The senioritis alone made me feel molasses in my bones. A rational moment (to take a quiz!) relaxed a pervasive issue I had—did these kids every do anything school-related?!
For the most part, I was satisfied with the way the romance was played out in this book. Dave needed a chance to explore something new, something old, and ultimately realize what he wants. I kind of wish that reconciliation didn’t happen at the end though. He’s moving on to UCLA, with totally new people and experiences. Mess up, move on. If anything, I wish he had come to a decision himself (maybe with a cheesy boom box outside the window, à la Say Anything?). Also: glad this story subtly raised awareness of systemic sexism. Hello, why is the girl here being painted as a man-stealing vixen? The masses need to redirect their dirty looks!
As for Julia, I wish we got more closure from her. Is she destined to wander the world alone? I wish we got to see a glimmer of her making new friends. I also totally called a certain movie theatre scene, except I wanted it to go further. Still, no complaints about the book format. It’s refreshing to read a dual-perspective book that doesn’t switch perspectives every chapter. This book could’ve easily been something else if it was written fully in Julia’s or Gretchen’s points of view.
As for the friendship, it was a dream come true. THIS is the type of best-friends-turned-more(-maybe) book I’ve always wanted to read. This is how I wanted Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg to go. Super funny quips, inside jokes (dance-offs!), strange codependency, mind-reading, habits, and any unrequited sexual tension dialed down a bit in favour of a stable and glorious platonic relationship. I adored Dave and Julia’s shenanigans. The road trip had that invincible quality to it, as though being a teenager could be the best thing ever. The beach scene was exuberant and fitting. The hair dye was unfortunate but hilarious. And the TREEHOUSE! Could I please become friends with these people?
The adult figures in this book were fantastic as well (minus a certain maternal influence). I laughed appreciatively at a well-timed wink and while watching dads fail to reprimand properly. I like how teacher-student relations were handled here (with maturity!). All too often, novels devolve into fanciful tales of illegal debauchery. I’m glad this one didn’t. Some of Julia’s ploys were creepy and stalkerish, but definitely funny in their creativity and ridiculousness. She definitely needs help reigning in her spontaneity though — Dave is totally an enabler.
Still, this story made me feel heady, giddy, and happy. Adi Alsaid can leave this world knowing he made it a little better than he found it, thanks to this story.
(I tried really hard with that wordplay.)
- 99 Days – Katie Cotugno
- Better Off Friends – Elizabeth Eulberg
- Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matson
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
- The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya – Nagaru Tanigawa