Best Friends Forever: A Novel

By Jennifer Weiner
Publisher:Atria, (7/14/2009)

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Some bonds can never be broken...

Addie Downs and Valerie Adler will be best friends forever. That's what Addie believes after Valerie moves across the street when they're both nine years old. But in the wake of betrayal during their teenage years, Val is swept into the popular crowd, while mousy, sullen Addie becomes her school's scapegoat.

Flash-forward fifteen years. Valerie Adler has found a measure of fame and fortune working as the weathergirl at the local TV station. Addie Downs lives alone in her parents' house in their small hometown of Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, caring for a troubled brother and trying to meet Prince Charming on the Internet. She's just returned from Bad Date #6 when she opens her door to find her long-gone best friend standing there, a terrified look on her face and blood on the sleeve of her coat. "Something horrible has happened," Val tells Addie, "and you're the only one who can help."

Best Friends Forever is a grand, hilarious, edge-of-your-seat adventure; a story about betrayal and loyalty, family history and small-town secrets. It's about living through tragedy, finding love where you least expect it, and the ties that keep best friends together.

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"Best Friends Forever: A Novel"
By Jennifer Weiner

Average Rating:

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 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

1. "In all my years of fuming and resentful imagining, all the years I'd carried my grudge like a pocketbook I was afraid to set down even for an instant, I'd never considered that there might be a different way of looking at the situation, another truth," says Addie of seeing Valerie after many years have passed (on page 96). What does this say about friendships? About personal relationships? About forgiveness?

2. Addie, who suffered from years of insecurity prompted by emotional eating and teasing, often perceives Val as her antithesis. Does this make her a reliable narrator for the story of their friendship? How were Addie's feelings about herself as a teenager based on what she thought of Val?

3. One of the major themes in this novel is the idea of transformation. Cite examples of how people transform both internally and externally. Who changes by way of fate? Who chooses to change?

4. Compare and contrast how the girls are shaped by their relationships with their respective mothers. How are Val and Addie similar to or different from their mothers?

5. Val's father is absent, while Addie's father is physically present, but can be emotionally distant, retreating from his family to his work space. How are Val and Addie shaped by the relationships they have with their fathers? Are there examples of either of them emulating those relationships with men?

6. From Jordan's baby-proof home to Kevin Oliphant's "shitbox," describe how a character's space, seen through the eyes of Jordan, may have impacted how you felt about him or her.

7. The novel is filled with different versions of the same stories. While investigating Dan Swansea's disappearance, Jordan comes upon different perceptions of the same people. How does this illustrate the difference between the stories we tell ourselves and what is actually happening? Does this make it easier for Addie's classmates to point the finger at Jon?

8. From Addie's stay-at-home father to Patti's Guatemalan baby, what do you think the author is saying about alternative families?

9. Why do you think Addie chooses to keep her baby?

10. In Best Friends Forever, characters' lives are often marked by moves. Valerie moves into Addie's neighborhood, Jordan and Patti move to Pleasant Ridge to start a family. How does the author use this notion to further the plot?

11. The balance of power often shifts between Addie and Valerie. Cite examples when the balance is in Valerie's favor. When is the balance in Addie's favor?

12. On page 216, Mrs. Bass tells Jordan that he has "a great deal to learn about human nature." How is this illustrated with other characters in the novel? Is it at all? What does this tell us about the overall theme of the novel? About the people in the small town of Pleasant Ridge?

13. "I wondered sometimes whether it had to do with Jon. Maybe they hated me because they couldn't hate him," Addie says on page 227, attempting to make sense of why she's a target of bullying. Do you agree with Addie? Do you think she's making excuses for her classmate's cruelty?

14. On page 121, Addie describes Jon as someone who would "never grow up, never have to worry about the things grown-ups worried about." Why do you think the idea of never growing up is such a comfort to Addie?

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"Former mousy types, rejoice! In Weiner's delicious latest, a popular girl hits trouble long after high school and only the geeky pal she once shunned can help." -- People

"This beach read will win readers over with its wit and wisdom. A clever, sad and sweet turn on Thelma and Louise [with] what may be the funniest not-quite-heist ever pulled off ..."-- Publishers Weekly

"Warmly and realistically drawn... Weiner, creator of widely popular female characters, injects an element of suspense into her latest, Best Friends Forever. This book begins on an unexpected note of violence, but the friendship of the title is at its heart. Two estranged onetime high-school chums -- one now a television weathergirl and the other one of Ms. Weiner's lovable, snack-obsessed frumps -- are thrown together to find out what happened in that opening scene and to hash out old grievances. Weiner writes comfortably about the real world." -- Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Jennifer Weiner is a master of the modern-day fairytale. In best-selling chick-lit romps like In Her Shoes, her heroines look just like us: self-deprecating, plagued by those few extra pounds - and ready for Prince Charming only once they've embraced their quirks. Weiner's latest effort is no exception, this time following a pair of friends - one fat, one thin - over two decades."-- Marie Claire

"The must-have beach read... In popular chick-lit-with-a-pulse author Jennifer Weiner's newest novel, Best Friends Forever, two childhood gal pals suffer a teenage-falling-out but reunite for an unexpected female-bonding adventure."-- Elle magazine

"A hilarious caper... resplendent in charm and poignancy...Weiner handles sorrow with a deft touch, blossoms in beautifully descriptive passages, and keeps readers glued to the page with curiosity and delight." -- Booklist, starred review

"Addie Downs - the Everygirl at the center of Jennifer Weiner's latest novel - just could turn out to be one of our favorite heroines of the summer...Weiner, beloved for spinning stories about imperfect women (like us), is dishing up another delightful story...Best Friends Forever is a frothy treat. It's another superlative novel by Weiner, about a big girl with a bigger heart, that will have women and men of all sizes cheering." -- USA Today

"The many fans of Jennifer Weiner...will be delighted by her latest book. In Best Friends Forever, Weiner again employs her trademark characters...but gives them new pizazz, more complexity and fresh insight. It's a winning combination...Best Friends Forever combines comedy and poignancy...It makes a very satisfying read." -- The Hartford Courant 

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Looking back, the knock on the door should have scared me. It should at least have come as a surprise. My house -- the same one I grew up in -- is set at the farthest curve of a culde- sac in Pleasant Ridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb of fourteen thousand souls with quiet streets, neatly kept lawns, and well-regarded public schools. There are rarely pedestrians or passersby on Crescent Drive. Most weeks, the only signs of life after ten p.m. are the flash of headlights on my bedroom wall on the nights that my next-door neighbor Mrs. Bass has her Shakespeare Society meeting. I live alone, and I'm generally asleep by ten-thirty. But even so. When I heard the knock, my heartbeat didn't quicken; my palms did not sweat. At some level underneath conscious thought, a place down in my cells where, the scientists tell us, memories reside, I'd been waiting years for that knock, waiting for the feel of my feet moving across the floor and my hand on the cool brass knob.

I pulled open the door and felt my eyes get big and my breath catch in my chest. There was my old best friend, Valerie Adler, whom I hadn't spoken to since I was seventeen and hadn't seen in person since high school ended, standing underneath the porch light; Valerie with her heart-shaped face and Cupid's-bow lips and lashes heavy and dark as moth's wings. She stood with her hands clasped at her waist, as if in prayer. There was something dark staining the sleeve of her belted trench coat.

For a minute, we stood in the cold, in the cone of light, staring at each other, and the thought that rose to my mind had the warmth of sunshine and the sweet density of honey. My friend, I thought as I looked at Val. My friend has come back to me.

I opened my mouth -- to say what, I wasn't sure -- but it was Val who spoke first. "Addie," she said. Her teeth were gleaming, perfect and even; her voice was the same as I remembered from all those years ago, husky, confiding, an I've-got-a-secret kind of voice that she currently deployed to great effect, delivering the weather on the nightly newscasts on Chicago's third-rated TV station. She'd been hired six months ago, to great fanfare and a number of billboards along the interstate announcing her new gig. ("Look who just blew into town!" the billboards read, underneath a picture of Val, all windswept hair and crimson, smiling lips.) "Listen. Something...something really bad happened," she said. "Can you help me? Please?"

I kept my mouth shut. Val rocked back on high heels that seemed no thicker than pins, gulping as she raked both hands through her hair, then brought them to waist level and began twisting her belt. Had I known she had that haircut, that buttercup-yellow color, that shoulder-length style, with layers that curled into ringlets in the rain, when I'd given my hairdresser the goahead? I made a point of not watching her station, but maybe I'd caught a glimpse of her as I changed channels or the billboards had made an impression, because somehow here I was, in flannel pajamas and thick wool socks, with my ex-best-friend's hair on my head.

"Look at you," she said, her voice low and full of wonder. "Look at you," said Valerie. "You got thin."

"Come in, Val," I said. If time was a dimension, and not a straight line, if you could look down through it like you were looking through water and it could ripple and shift, I was already opening the door. This had all already happened, the way it always did; the way it always would.

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Weiner, Inc.


I led Valerie into the kitchen, listening to the drumbeat of her heels on the hardwood floor behind me. She wriggled out of her coat and used her fingertips to hang it over the back of a chair, then looked me up and down. "You weren't at the reunion," she said.

"I had a date," I answered.

She raised her eyebrows. I turned away, filling the kettle at the sink, then setting it on the burner and flicking on the gas, unwilling to say more.

My night had not started out well. On the dating website's advice, I'd met the guy, my sixth blind date in as many weeks, at the restaurant ("Do NOT invite a stranger to your house!" the website had scolded. "Always meet in public, always carry a cell phone, car keys, and/or enough money for transportation, and always let a friend know where you are!") I'd gotten the first parts of it right, driving my own car, with my cell phone charged and enough money to cover the bill in my wallet, but I hadn't been able to fulfill the last part, on account of being, at the moment, friendless (friend-free?), so instead, I'd printed out a note in eighteen-point bold type and taped it to my fridge: I WENT TO MEET MATTHEW SHARP ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 23. IF ANYTHING HAPPENED TO ME, IT'S PROBABLY HIS FAULT. I'd added my date's telephone number, the name and address of the restaurant, and a photocopy of my insurance card. I'd thought for a minute, then added, P.S.: I WOULD LIKE A MILITARY FUNERAL...because, really, who wouldn't? Buglers playing taps equals guaranteed tears.

"Addie?" the man by the hostess stand said. "I'm Matthew Sharp." He was on time, and tall, as promised. This was a refreshing change: the five guys I'd previously met were not, in general, as promised. Matthew Sharp was neatly dressed in a tweed sports coat, a dark-blue button-down shirt, pressed pants, and loafers. His breath, as he leaned close to shake my hand, smelled like cinnamon, and a mustache bristled over his lip. Okay, I thought. I can work with this. True, the mustache was an unpleasant surprise, and his hairline had receded since he'd posed for his online picture, but who was I to complain?

"Nice to meet you," I said, and slipped my black wool coat off my shoulders.

"Thanks for coming." He looked me up and down, his eyes lingering briefly on my body before flicking back to my face. He didn't look appalled, nor did he appear to be edging toward the door. That was good. I'd dressed in what had become my date uniform: a black skirt that came to precisely the center of my knees (not short enough to be slutty, not long enough to be dowdy), a blouse of dark-red silk, black hose, black boots with low heels, in case he'd been lying about his height or, less likely but still possible, in case I needed to run. "Our table's ready. Would you like a drink at the bar first?"

"No thanks." The website recommended only a single glass of wine. I'd keep my wits about me and not give him any reason to think I had a drinking problem.

The hostess took our coats and handed Matthew a ticket. "After you," he said as I tucked my scarf and hat into my purse and shook out my hair. My calves had finally gotten skinny enough for me to zip my knee-high boots to the very top. I'd gone to my hairdresser that morning, planning on nothing more than a trim, but, buoyed by Paul's repeated use of the word "amazing!" and the way he'd actually gotten teary when he'd seen me, I'd allowed myself to be talked into six hours' and five hundred dollars' worth of cut, color, and chemicals, and left with a layered bob that Paul swore made me look sixteen from certain angles, honey-blond highlights, and conditioner with a French-sounding name, guaranteed to leave my hair frizz-free and shiny for the next four months.

I asked for a glass of Chardonnay, Caesar salad, and broiled sole, sauce on the side. Matthew ordered Cabernet, calamari to start with, then a steak.

"How was your holiday?" he asked.

"It was nice," I told him. "Very quiet. I spent the day with family." This was true. I'd taken the full Thanksgiving dinner -- butternut squash soup, roast turkey, chestnut stuffing, sweet potatoes under a blanket of caramelized marshmallow, the obligatory pumpkin pie -- to my brother, Jon, at his assisted-living facility on the South Side. We'd eaten sitting on the floor of his small, overheated room, our backs against his single bed, watching Starship Troopers, which was his favorite. I'd left by three and been back home by four. There, I'd made myself a cup of tea, added a slug of whiskey, and left a dish of chopped turkey and gravy out for the little black cat that frequents my back door. I'd spent the evening sitting in the living room, one hand on my belly, looking at the shifting grays and lavenders of the sky, until the moon came up.

"How about you?"

Matthew told me he'd had dinner with his parents, his sister, and her husband and kids. He'd cooked the turkey, rubbing butter and sage under the skin and slow-roasting it over a bed of onions. He said he loved to cook, and I said I did, too. I told him about my adventures in guacamole. He told me about the shows he watched on the Food Network and the hot new restaurant in Chicago he was dying to try.

The waiter slid our plates in front of us. Matthew tucked a tentacle into his mouth. "How's your salad?" he asked. A bit of fried breading was stuck in his mustache, and I had to fight an impulse to reach over and brush it away.

"It's great." It was overdressed, each leaf oily and dripping, but that was okay -- a bad salad was a perfectly reasonable tradeoff for, finally, thank you God, a decent date. I chewed a mouthful into lettuce-flavored paste, and we smiled at each other.

"Tell me about your job," Matthew said.

"I paint illustrations for greeting cards."

He actually seemed interested, which was a pleasant change from my previous dates. How had I gotten into that line of work? (Through my mother, who'd written copy for the same line of cards and had submitted one of my watercolors without telling me years ago.) Did I work from home? (Yes, I'd set up a studio in the dining room, with my easel by the window, where the light was best.) He asked about the hours, about my training, about whether I got lonely working all by myself, instead of in an office. I could have given him a soliloquy, an essay, could have sung an entire libretto on the topic of loneliness, but instead I'd just said, "I don't mind being by myself."

He told me about his job running a chain of self-storage warehouses in Illinois and Wisconsin. I ask...

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Jennifer Weiner is the author of six novels: Good in BedIn Her Shoes, which was made into a major motion picture, Little EarthquakesGoodnight NobodyCertain Girls, and Best Friends Forever, as well as the short story collection, The Guy Not Taken. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Philadelphia with her family.

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