“The Friends We Keep” (2019) | Book Review (Feb-March 2020)

Book Review THUMB


Chosen Book:

“The Friends We Keep” (2019) by Jane Green


Trigger Warnings:

Substance use (particularly alcohol, diet pills, cocaine), addictions, domestic violence, eating disorders (details, behaviors, thoughts, feelings, almost like a “how-to”, competitiveness), abuse, toxic relationships, verbal abuse, abortion (p. 105), sex (p. 95), depression, mental health, glorification, childhood sexual abuse, character death, trauma, PTSD, sexual assault mentioned in passing, pedophilia comment (said without any basis in fact, i.e. used as an insult against a main character), bar tending, gas-lighting, stigma, anorexia with bulimic tendencies (p. 80), dementia.


Themes:

Betrayal, families, friendships, grief, closure, moving, gay relationships, university, adults, growth, lies, deceit, deception, shame, hiding, secrets, recovery, modeling, entertainment industry, acting, happy masks, culture, 1980s-2019 timeline, author, book sub-plot, marriage, relationships, sexuality, body language, putting people on pedestals, perfection vs struggling behind closed doors.


Summary:

This story follows three main friends, Evvie, Topher and Maggie, from university in the 1980’s to their time drifting apart over the years and then slamming them together again in their fifties in 2019. They become strong and unique friends in college in England until they go separate ways after graduating. Evvie is struggling with an eating disorder that no one knows about; Topher is dealing with trauma from his childhood and being switched off from exploring his homosexuality and intimate relationships (although he is able to sustain a few romantic-like relationships over the years); and Maggie has married Ben, her love at first sight from college, not knowing that his alcoholism would take their future together into a nosedive to only be left as a fantasy.

This book is heavy in terms of all of its mental health focus, so if you’re looking for a book that’s light and airy, this may not be it. I honestly had to take a few mental health breaks while reading because it was so heavy with its depictions–which is legitimate and real and also something I wasn’t entirely suspecting. I almost quit very early on because of the eating disorder related information in this book but luckily I stayed through it and really fell in love with the characters and wanting to know what happens next!

Evvie has a secret relationship with someone and winds up having one abortion and raising a son that never knows his true father. Evvie pulls away from Maggie because of this and the secret she is harboring until one day when they’re all together again in their fifties, the truth is uncovered, and yet at the same time of it being horrible and emotional, it proves to help Maggie immensely deal with her grief and find closure and peace on once hard, raw and tumultuous memories and a past relationship. It’s the secrets coming out that leads to her greatest sense of peace.

This book dabbles with the idea about “perfection” and “perfect lives” to reveal that there really is no such thing. Everyone is battling something behind closed doors and a lot of willfulness, shame, guilt, what-if’s and more come into play when it comes to these mental health challenges.

I do wish that there was more coverage on the dangers of eating disorders and the physical/medical/psychological ramifications of intense eating disorders–hell, even more mild ones–which unfortunately was not covered, described or depicted in this book, which is too bad.  Evvie just doesn’t seem to have any lasting/damaging effects/physical ailments from her ED which may be a problem for the representation in this book.

Overall though, Maggie, Evvie and Topher, have all gone through a lot of hell in their life and still they remain, friends and together again in the end. They have all sorts of dreams that they uncover again and it’s so, so wonderful. They grow together and grew apart but came back to be cheering one another one again.

I think this book has a big strength when it comes to ending chapters and pulling the reader along. I definitely got invested and emotionally manipulated, so to speak, while reading this book.


Recommendation Score:

4/5

Long lasting friendships


Remarkable Quotes or Comments I’d Like to Add:

  • p. 57: Evvie would have had more luck explaining why she thought Ben wasn’t the right fit for Maggie or why she didn’t think highly of him than purely just trying to pull Maggie away from having feelings for Ben because of Evvie’s own bias and mistrust. Like, Evvie was looking out for Maggie but the way she acted about it was unhelpful and dis-empowering. It also pushed Maggie away rather than if she had used I statements, it could have helped to bring them closer together. 😛 Just my thoughts!
  • p. 63: I feel bad for Evvie because she was brought up in a household where love and affection had to be earned and she felt that her Mom judged her more than Topher’s Mom seems to judge him (or give him unconditional love, as it were).
  • The most Evvie vocalized her ED at the start of this book was on p. 64 which is truly saddening because she was struggling and didn’t have people around her that saw that she was or could help her to help herself. That sucks. 😦
  • p. 65 is especially fucked up when Topher’s Mom tells Evvie what she uses to keep herself slim and I felt that it was a dangerous detail for vulnerable readers, again, like that ‘how-to’ kind of thing. Also it’s just fucked up in general. I feel like discussing the darker sides of mental health are intrinsically very, very difficult.
  • p. 65 continued: I think it was incredibly irresponsible, dangerous and damaging for Topher’s mother to suggest these pills to Evvie, that while yes, she didn’t realize E has an ED, still in general is messed up. Joan (Topher’s Mom) just didn’t get it or realize how problematic it could later be for E. 😦
  • Evvie was presenting with a lot of warning signs that something was “wrong” with her, that she was suffering and struggling but sadly no one really noticed or at least didn’t know how to verbalize it. 😦
  • p. 66: We catch glimpses of how deeply into her ED Evvie is because of how she prides herself on not needing to eat as much as her peers. This detail reminds me of what I try and achieve in my ED related fanfic: “Distorted & Disordered” </3
  • p. 70: Here, we get more of a description of what Evvie’s side effects are from the slimming pills she’s taking as physical ramifications and it’s overall so fucked up and reminds me how helpless, sad and concerning it all is just as someone who is reading the struggles. Freaking EDs, man. I thought it was a pretty accurate depiction although, something I’ll be noting elsewhere, I don’t think there are ever any long-term side effects/physical illnesses that Evvie has to live with as a consequence of her disordered eating in her young adult and youth life. This, I feel, continues to glorify the conditions and play with how dangerous of a topic it really is, sorta downplaying the whole thing. It kinda reads like there are no physical or psychological consequences to engaging in ED related behavior which definitely isn’t a good message to put on blast. Again, just my thoughts. 😛
  • I also wondered here if D&D my fic conveys these intense emotions when readers read through it. And of course, Evvie is lying to feed her ED. Damn.
  • p. 75: This is later addressed by Maggie herself but yes, Ben’s drinking problem was clearly well established early on in the book and it was staring them all in the face, they just didn’t want to believe it, sadly.
  • p. 80: Trigger Warning for anorexia with bulimic tendencies. Includes a purging scene, just FYI. Also, the lie that it’s just a “one time thing”. That’s what they always say. :/
  • p. 95: Sex scene
  • p. 96: I hoped that Evvie learning that Ben was attracted to her at her “larger” size would be a good wake-up call that her brain was lying to her and that she was already worthy of love and respect regardless of where her size landed her. ❤
  • “(Evvie) would miss Maggie, but the truth was it wasn’t the Maggie of today that she would miss, it was the Maggie of their university days, a Maggie she really didn’t know anymore” — Green, (2019), p. 140

  • I thought the above quote was so excellent and relatable, it perfectly summarizes how relationships change and shift in life and how when we’re grieving the end of those relationships, sometimes we forget that who we thought we once knew maybe we didn’t know as well or we’re missing X version of them which may not be who they are anymore. I don’t know, I thought it was pretty profound and worthy of mentioning! Sometimes we miss one version of a person but people grow and change and transform and we have to grieve that loss of who they once were but may no longer be. ❤
  • “…this was the way {Maggie} saw it: it was her responsibility to stop {Ben} from drinking, her responsibility to make him sober” – Green, (2019), p. 143

  • My thoughts on this quote: It’s definitely not Maggie’s responsibility, it’s really only Ben’s. That’s a choice that he has to make and it cannot be forced on him (and expected to stay/be maintained by Ben) and it can only be him who really wants treatment and to begin recovery and to get better. Maggie is placing over-responsibility onto herself and it would never truly work out the way she wants it to. Maggie cannot change him and sometimes we are not enough to blockade someone from acting on their self-destructive urges. Unfortunately, that’s life and that’s the reality of the situation. By all means, try and help and support where you can and also recognize that you cannot control another person’s actions, only your own. Tread carefully out there, peeps. ❤
  • p. 144: Maggie uses a lot of “you” and “you’re not…” as argument points which, those of us who have learned DBT, know that that’s not effective communication skills. Instead of using “you did, you won’t, you should”–use “I statements”. Use “I statements” to express how it makes you feel when someone behaves a certain way, how you feel about a situation, how it affects you, etc. That way you’re showing more responsible behaviors, you’re voicing your strengths and empowering yourself and showing yourself and the other person ownership of thoughts and feelings.

 

  • p. 144: Ben resorts to gas-lighting, geez, great, and totally reveals how much of an alcoholic he is by trying to say how he doesn’t get hungover and can stop at any time, riiiiight.
  • p. 149: The idea of a fresh start somewhere else is great and all, like the whole theme with New Year’s but the thing with that is that all the problems you had before are still there if you’re refusing to address them and work through them. So yes, Maggie and Ben getting a new house some place else is great and environment can definitely play a big role, however Ben can still find ways to use while in a new place and his using may not change even when his geographical location does. Like, he’s still himself and he’s battling something within himself that won’t just disappear if he moves locations. His brain is always with him, unfortunately. He has to start working on the internal stuff to better accommodate his outer world experiences.
  • p. 187: The chapter ending for Evvie and in regards to her ED TOTALLY reminded me of the way I end chapters in D&D, it was pretty uncanny!
  • p. 192: Maggie grapples with the idea that she missed Ben’s warning signs with his alcoholism from the beginning and didn’t see them even if they were screaming at her because she was wearing “rose colored spectacles” and was so in love with him that she would have ignored it otherwise. Sad. So, like, the signs were there but she wasn’t ready to admit it and not enough to stay away, either.
  • p. 198: I honestly hadn’t interpreted Topher’s admission in his book subplot as him having gone through childhood sexual abuse so I was a little confused in this chapter when the interviewer was asking about it and using the collective term “we” are not alone as a whole.
  • p. 198: Dickie (Topher’s partner except not so much sexually) validates and explains himself well here to encourage Topher to look into his trauma and abuse and come to terms with it all through therapy and such, which I think is so huge and important, he tells Topher he loves him and wants the best for him and that Topher has been shutting down his sexuality for years because of the trauma. I don’t know, I thought it was so important to bring awareness onto these struggles and to deepen Topher’s character and in a way that felt real and earned and empowering; it’s something I haven’t seen before in books. Also, it felt like 0 – 100 real fast for me but that’s probably because it wasn’t even on my radar when I was reading this page
  • p. 201: Evvie has gained weight by this point and misses the attention she would get from her appearance when she was younger, the pride she would feel over her body and being praised for it, as well. The only issue is that she was unhealthy and deep in the throes of an ED so it wasn’t something she could realistically maintain because it wasn’t like she was always slim as her body naturally would be, she was instead forcing her body to be a way and that wasn’t sustainable.
  • p. 216: Maggie reveals the character death causation and how much shame she feels over it because of the stigma around mental health and substance use disorders. I honestly can’t relate too much to that although I can kinda understand it, to a degree. I think it sucks that Maggie feels so much shame that she felt she couldn’t voice what actually killed her partner because of the judgment she fears may come along with the truth. She wants to believe the lie of their marriage being perfect but if there’s one thing that’s a theme in this book is that a lot of people hide behind a ‘perfect’ li(f)e when really they are deeply struggling and we can’t guess what struggles a person faces just by looking at them. It’s a hard hitting and sobering realization. Sometimes one we’re very afraid to face or leave behind as truth. I do like the way this book dealt with grief and depression and how they showed Maggie’s descent and her guilt and what if questioning that came after her husband’s death. It’s very raw and relatable, I think. It’s talking about something openly with characters closed off about the reality and truth which is a very interesting tale to tell. It allows the reader to recognize their own avoidance and their own grappling with stigma in their life and realize that it’s okay not to be okay and that everyone has something and no one is perfect. It makes it okay to talk about, okay to write about, okay to say I’m not okay. It’s okay to get support and help, too. ❤

 

  • p. 217: I found it very frustrating that Maggie hated lying about how Ben died (alcoholic liver disease (truth) vs a heart attack (lie)) and that it would bring her more guilt and shame when she lied but then she keeps lying about it. Like, you’re the one in control of the narrative here and you could just tell the truth instead of lying about it, etc. Like it was very frustrating for me to read about how she continued a harmful behavior that she was in full control of spinning or taking a different narrative. She had the power to be a survivor when instead she was choosing to be the victim. I know it’s a bit harsh, I suppose, and it was incredibly frustrating. Like, if it’s causing you that much pain, then tell the truth. Standing in your truth is more powerful than lying about your weaknesses, especially when it’s causing damage.
  • “{these people} had the confidence you had when you were in your thirties, before life became a grind, throwing obstacle after obstacle in your path, taking away the things you loved and making you realize that the only way to ease the hardship was to move through it” — Green, (2019), p. 223

  • I thought the above quote was a pretty accurate depiction of the difficulties faced in depression (as well as this chapter as a whole for showing Maggie’s downward decline) and also the effort that’s involved to have to move THROUGH hard times. I thought it was pretty hard-hitting and truthful.
  • p. 232: Back to Topher, mention of EMDR treatment, PTSD, therapy
  • p. 239: “(Maggie to Evvie) ‘You’re not enormous. You’re beautiful. Are you really still hung up on your weight? We’re fifty. You need to get over it'” — MT: Lol, I thought Maggie would be more validating and supportive and compassionate than resorting to ‘get over it’. Like it’s THAT simple. I guess the notion that not everyone will be perfect in how they try to reframe things is important to highlight rather than everyone always saying all the right things which isn’t reality. I suppose I can understand that. ❤
  • “‘Of course I knew. We were worried as hell but figured you were old enough to look after yourself'” – Green, (2019), p. 242

  • This is Maggie talking to Evvie, telling her she knew about the diet pills she was tossing back. Probably not to a super detailed extent but she and Topher knew. Again, I feel like there was a missed opportunity to confront Evvie with her ill choices and it balloons out this major issue that Evvie wasn’t in the right frame of mind to be able to properly take care of herself because she was struggling with a mental health condition that just so happens to have physical ramifications. It bothers me that her friends and her loved ones and people around her didn’t speak up on EVVIE’s true behalf, instead thinking she’d get over it on her own or that it wasn’t that big of an issue. Evvie is lucky it didn’t go further and that she didn’t have any long-lasting physical ailments because of her diet pill abuse, anorexia, bulimia, etc. Not that we’re ever told this flat-out. I feel that while tackling these issues is so important in contemporary literature, I wish more would have been explored for treatment or saying the right things or confronting these very real issues. I felt this was a little lackluster in comparison to how other things were handled. I think it’s also dangerous and important too because if we wait for the person to realize their issue themselves, we may we waiting forever and they may never fall into their “rock bottom” before they wind up dead or with life-altering conditions they then have to live with for the rest of their life. Plus it may also dampen the severity of these disorders for some people. Again it’s that glorification type thing and I don’t think getting through and over an ED was really well explained or depicted in this book unlike some of the other traumas and treatments.
  • “It was too late. [Evvie] wanted this, these people she loved, all back together, more than she wanted to keep hiding, more than she wanted to keep secrets” – Green, (2019), p. 255

  • Two things: 1. This is a HUGE turning point for Evvie and for everyone and it reminded me how invested I had become in this story. 2. She is risking a lot to jump back into Maggie’s life and live together with her and Topher again, especially with the secrets she’s harboring but even another line says she wants to choose happiness rather than secret keeping, which again, means she’s risking a LOT but that it’s worth the risk, which is totes relationship goals. ❤
  • p. 258: Topher talks about his abuse as a child from the hands of someone else and in trying to find closure, he discovers that his mother genuinely never knew about it or knew how it was affecting him (or that it was even occurring in the first place) and he talks about having a voice now and it’s just so powerful and sad because his Mom is dealing with some early stages of dementia now too and it’s .. FEELS man FEELS.
  • p. 266: A cardiophile moment, hehehe
  • p. 267: If Topher had just referenced quotes or otherwise made it obvious that he was gathering inspiration from another person’s work of art, I feel like it wouldn’t have been such a big deal but I guess that’s what this mini sub-plot wanted to achieve, I think you could take it out of the story and it wouldn’t make a difference, though.
  • p. 267: I really feel if you took out the whole portion of Topher getting under fire about plagiarism, the book wouldn’t be all that different. I suppose it serves SOME purpose for Evvie to swoop in to help Topher out, for Topher to leave the States, for a touch on bullying and online hate can occur too, but it just seemed like a dumb plot move, to me, at least. It wasn’t all that necessary, I think. This book also weaves a lot of fiction between nonfiction with specific famous celebrities and such which is particularly confusing to me because then I can’t tell what part is made up versus what part is actually occurring in this reality. Bit of a mind fuck.
  • (Evvie to Topher during the book subplot): “‘We all make mistakes, this one just happens to be in the public eye, but it doesn’t make me love you any less. A mistake doesn’t change who you are. I know you and I love you'” – Green, (2019), p. 271

  • I thought this was a really sweet and validating remark on Evvie’s behalf and that it could be true and applicable to other situations, too. ❤
  • P. 285: Evvie was bothering the shit out of me and causing me immense frustration because I knew if her friends found out, and they inevitably would, about her son and how he had come about, then it was all over. Gwah. Just tell the truth!! 😛
  • “‘(Topher about his Mom) And if she needed to be taken care of, he would do that, too, even though, all those years ago, she wasn’t able to take care of him” — Green (2019), p. 291

  • I felt like this quote above was just SO HARD HITTING, like right in the GUT, and had to include it in this review. I think anyone with a childhood trauma history and having to come to terms with that (especially if your parents didn’t know about it) can relate to this. I think it’s really inspiring of Topher to want to help his Mom out, even when she wasn’t able to be there for him when he really, really needed it. It’s such a sign of closure and kindness that I couldn’t pass up to not include here!! Growth, for sure! ❤
  • p. 294, when Maggie tells Evvie that she doesn’t want to keep secrets anymore–it’s so breath taking that she’s able to come to that point and that there’s been some resolution to her story arc. It’s honestly inspiring and I really wanted Evvie to reciprocate her own truth-telling.
  • p. 314: Maggie wonders where all the years went by that she tried to chase and find happiness. I think this concept is uniquely human, we so often–like the book on hygge I published earlier this week–spend time trying to meet the end goal and find happiness or BE happy that we forget about the reality and the impact of the journey itself rather than focusing on the destination. It’s okay to be present in the moment, in the trajectory more than in having some end goal accomplished–there’s always going to be more goals and more products, it’s the journey there that matters most. What matters most is how we get there and how we feel whatever we feel along the way, and make space for that, and feel it.

 

  • The way it’s described Evvie bawling (p. 331) is such a painfully relatable type of cry. Just saying. </3
  • p. 334: Only Ben could have saved himself. Only him. 😦
  • p. 351: (paraphrased) “however he’s acting now is his pain talking” — I think this is a particularly good thing to remember when working with kids as I do now at Amaryllis. Their reactions to things are because they are in pain and feel emotionally intense feelings and struggle with the ability to properly verbalize their emotions before they act on them. A sobering detail. ❤
  • p. 356: ‘He was deeply, deeply flawed. Like all of us, he had so much good, but he wasn’t all good’ — Thought this was remarkable and incredibly profound and important to this story and other stories that need to be told. ❤

Reminders or Wandering Thoughts I Had While Reading:

  1. p. 3 reminded me of a book I read about toxic love and death that I could barely recall until I found the notes for it later (A book called “Drowned” that I haven’t posted here yet)
  2. p. 237: Really confused me with Evvie feeling she couldn’t go back to her ‘home’ or find a true ‘home’ ever again because of how much she moved and such. I don’t know, I was just very confused here, was she saying that living in X place and the moving to Y that you could never move back to X and feel at home? Yeah, I don’t know. It was pretty wordy and just really unclear for me. I guess I was confused thinking she was only visiting Maggie for the university reunion but it was sounding like she was moving there which I think at this point in time she wasn’t. Unless I’m misremembering. :/
  3. P. 245: ‘demurred’ is a nice word 🙂
  4. p. 249: I wonder how many people in the world live that deceitful “perfect” life when really everything is broken, cracking at the seams and nothing is how it appears.
  5. The next type of books I want to take out (as a reminder to myself once again in a book review) include: hobby/crafts, interior design/homes/architecture, gardening and cook books. 🙂

Dates I read this book:

2/17/20, 2/26, 2/28, 3/1, 3/3, 3/13, 3/14, 3/16, 3/18, 3/19, 3/20/2020.

Dates I wrote this review:

3/23/20, 3/26/2020.

Music:

I Love Me by Demi Lovato, Razor’s Edge by Digital Daggers, this is what self destruction feels like by Marina Lin


And finally:

To end this post, thank you SO MUCH for reading this! I hope that you all are staying safe and indoors as this covid-19 stuff is blowing around in the wind. Check out my fanfic stories if you need a break from all the coverage and something to dabble into and be emotional with. Additionally, I’m available to chat if anyone needs to! I have plenty of future posts coming out soon, as well as other old reviews, a coming out post and more song a day’s! Stay safe, peeps. Wishing you all the best. ❤ ❤ ❤

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