If I’m going to read 52 books this year I guess I’ll need to prove it, and I figure the best way to do that is to review them. Let the book reviews begin:
Box Ticked: A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet.
I first fell in love with Dorothy Koomson when I was working part-time in a book shop as an undergraduate student majoring in English Literature and Philosophy. I didn’t have much time to read for pleasure. Fiction was my favourite section to organise – straightforward A to Z, having as many covers facing out as possible, because people do judge a book by its cover. Not me though, I judge a book by its title. And so, when I found “Marshmallows for Breakfast” by Dorothy Koomson, I knew I was onto a winner. And the cover with soft, comforting pastel shades of pink, blue and yellow didn’t hurt. After months of staring at it, I finally used my 30% staff discount for the first time to treat myself to a copy.
I won’t lie. I was disappointed. The story didn’t live up to my expectations. But then again, how could it? I had built it up for months. But I decided Dorothy Koomson deserved another chance. So, I went back to the beginning, back to her beginning, and her first novel, “The Cupid Effect”, which I had to order. When it arrived, the cover also had those soothing tones and a catchy hook, “Dare you follow your heart?” I remember reading the Prologue on my break in the back office. My heart nearly beat out my chest. It was a list of the protagonist’s “Good Intentions”. And numbers 6 and 7 were like she had seen into my soul:
I had been obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the spinoff series Angel for all of my adolescent years. And let’s be honest, the rest of my life since. And that year in particular I was definitely guilty of staying up too late watching old re-runs of both shows (which had long since gone off air).
The similarities didn’t end there. The book’s protagonist was like my spirit animal. I related to her in every way possible – even in ways I wished I didn’t. And the writing was sensational. It really was like she could see into my soul. She wrote the way I wished I could. And so that was it. Dorothy Koomson became my new literary best friend. She went on to make me cry in “My Best Friend’s Girl” and ugly cry in “Good Night Beautiful”. I have turned so many people onto her books – both friends and customers – and have bought so many of her books as presents I really do deserve some sort of commission by now, hint hint.
Anyway, let’s get back on track, this is supposed to be a review of “The Friend”, not an ode to Dorothy Koomson…
“The Friend” follows Cece Solarin who has reluctantly moved her three children to Brighton to join her husband who has received a shiny new promotion. Determined to make the best of this fresh start, Cece is horrified to discover that she has unknowingly enrolled her children in a school where just three weeks earlier, one of the parents, a popular mother named Yvonne, was brutally assaulted and now lies in a coma. Weary of everyone, she is somewhat relieved when she quickly makes friends in a community that seems extremely cliquey.
Her new friends, Maxie, Anaya and Hazel, couldn’t be more different from each other, but as close knit as the group seems, each has their own set of closely guarded secrets, least of all, exactly where they were on the night Yvonne was assaulted. Each friend seems comfortable confiding in Cece, but is she just a replacement for Yvonne? Or is she in very real danger of being the next victim? When the police come to Cece to help them with their investigation, she is reluctant to spy on her new friends, but as with any mother, she will do anything to protect her family.
Although this book came out in July in South Africa, with the current exchange rate as it is, I had to wait until my turn to host book club in September to buy it, and December for my turn to get my hands on it. As with “Marshmallows for Breakfast”, I was worried the anticipation would taint the final result, but not so in this case. I feel like Dorothy Koomson’s writing has matured as she has (something it makes me heartsore to say, I feel is deeply lacking in the case of Marian Keyes, another author I do really love). Her female characters have real depth and go well beyond their looks, careers and love lives. As with most of her novels, I found myself relating to the main character, Cece, particularly in that I wished I could be more like her; specifically, more brave. She was just the right amount of flawed, without being whiny and annoying at any stage; she never played the victim and you never felt sorry for her, only empathy. And I think that is a tricky emotion to invoke in a reader.
As the secrets of the other characters unravelled, I stayed up well past my bedtime, turning the pages, trying to guess whodunnit; and she had me guessing until the very end. Some of my book club friends who only read the blurb had the audacity to compare it to “Big Little Lies”, what with all the attention and acclaim it received with the release of the mini-series last year, as though my precious Dorothy was some sort of plagiarist. But prep school and precocious parents aside, that is where the comparisons can end.
Ultimately, I give it a solid 4 out of 5. It is an easy read, although it does cover some very intense and relevant topics on sexual assault, exploitation and racism. In a world desperate for real, realistic female role models; Cece, Maxie, Anaya, Hazel and even Yvonne from time to time, give us everyday examples of what it is to be a woman in 2018. This is an important book. Read it.
Easter Egg: As someone who judges a book by its title, I was a little disappointed by “The Friend”, but there is a deeper meaning to it…