I have two best girl friends. One has been my partner-in-crime since first grade when we bucked the system and did our color by number worksheets in jewel tones instead of primary colors per the instructions, and the other joined us in high school and proved it was totally possible for the captain of the debate team and the captain of the dance team to be friends. I have lots of positive relationships with women, from my sister to fellow volunteers at the DV center to my college professors to my online fanfiction friends.
Still, the overwhelming majority of my friends are guys. I quickly learned in college that it was far easier to have guys as roommates. I was drawn to this title because I figured it would be something I could relate to, and I was right. I’ve been through many of the same issues that Charlotte deals with in this book that tend to crop up when girls are friends with guys: the gay guy crush, the just-a-friend guy whose girlfriend can’t deal, the guy friend you may like as more than a friend.
But that wasn’t what I enjoyed most about the novel. I was pleasantly surprised that Being Friends with Boys by Terra Elan McVoy is as much about a girl coming into her own and finding out what is important to her as it is about friendship — whether those friends are members of the opposite sex or not.
Charlotte and Oliver have been friends forever. She knows that he, Abe, and Trip consider her to be one of the guys, and she likes it that way. She likes being the friend who keeps them all together. Likes offering a girl’s perspective on their love lives. Likes being the behind-the-scenes wordsmith who writes all the lyrics for the boys’ band. Char has a house full of stepsisters and a past full of backstabbing (female) ex-best friends, so for her, being friends with boys is refreshingly drama-free…until it isn’t any more.
When a new boy enters the scene and makes Char feel like, well, a total girl…and two of her other friends have a falling out that may or may not be related to one of them deciding he possibly wants to be more than friends with Char…being friends with all these boys suddenly becomes a lot more complicated.
Though I don’t usually break down books into pros and cons, this format is the easiest for me to express my feelings about this book. While I did enjoy it and recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary YA, I still had some issues with it.
- The music. I loved the scenes with the band, and I loved watching Charlotte come into her own on stage. Despite having no musical talent whatsoever, I spent hours with my best friend in high school coming up with the perfect name for our fictional all-girls pop-punk band. I wanted to be in a band so bad. I absolutely loved how central the band was to the story.
- Queer characters. You all know I’m a fan of queer lit. And as important as coming out books are, or queer “issue” books are, I’m glad to see that secondary characters who are queer without that being a main plot point.
- Realistic family dynamics. Charlotte has a blended family. Her mom left them to pursue her art. Charlotte is both proud of her mom for pursuing her dream and resentful at being essentially abandoned. Her dad is happily remarried. She has an older sister away at college that she misses, but stepsisters who are able to fill that sister-ly role. When so many YA novels operate in a world where teens don’t have parents or only have parents who are absolutely terrible, it was refreshing to see family play a role in the story even though it wasn’t the main focus.
- Glimpses of life beyond high school. This book gave a taste of what life in college is like. Through her interactions with her sister and her college-aged friends, Charlotte is inspired to think about her future, and I think readers will appreciate this.
- Charlotte. I really liked this character. She’s not sure of herself at first, but she has a genuine heart. I think she’s a character that a lot of teen girls will relate to. She’s a girl I would have wanted to be friends with in high school.
- Portrayal of secondary female characters. I get that girls can be mean and flighty and selfish, but all the girls in Charlotte’s life were this way. Her former best friend only wants to hang with her again when she suddenly becomes very popular due to her participation in the band. Her friend (and bandmate) Oliver’s girlfriend is a jealous drama queen. As cool as the girls in the lesbian band were, they were also portrayed as flaky. I’m a girl who is mostly friends with boys, but I still have positive relationships with women, and I wish Charlotte had that, too.
- The quick ending. So I pretty much knew what was going to happen from the beginning. I loved the middle and the way we got there, but I felt like the climax was rushed. There should have been an additional scene or something to give the ending more emotional resonance.
- The cover. It’s deceiving. I love coffee, but I can’t recall any scene that takes place in a coffee shop. It would have been a lot more relevant if the cover would have been something music related, as the bulk of the story revolves around the main character’s participation in a band.
Overall, this is a book I enjoyed and think will appeal to a lot of teen readers.