A Guide to Being Just Friends
Emotional constipation is the name of the game for the latest part of Sophie Sullivan’s Jansen Brothers series. It arrives in the form of A Guide to Being Just Friends, in which two people try to go the When-Harry-Met-Sally route with their romance, only to trip over their own feelings. While Sullivan is undeniably talented, there’s a big problem with the characters’ ability (or inability) to communicate, which ends up making them come off as juvenile. The Big Mis is avoided simply because they will not say how they really feel at any moment.
Hailey Sharp has one fantasy, and that’s to make her entrepreneurial dreams come true. She hasn’t been doing so well in the romance stakes and has just suffered a bad break-up; she’s spending all of her energy trying to get By the Cup salad shop off the ground (it sells, naturally, salad in a cup). Wes Jansen – still smartng from his parents’ bitter divorce – doesn’t believe in love and is avoiding romantic entanglements following a series of bad relationships. Hailey and Wes meet when mutual friends inadvertantly set them up (it’s complicated!), and they get on really well, but since neither of them is looking for romance, they decide that friendship is the way to go.
Well, we all know where ‘let’s be friends’ is going to end up when you’re a character in a romance novel. But the childish tone here never caught on with me. Much of the book centers around Hailey and Wes’ refusal to admit they ‘like’ like each other because of their friendship deal. This results in a lot of nudging from friends and family members about their real, suppressed feelings (a cue for lots of cameo appearances from Wes’ brothers), which makes Wes and Hailey feel indecisive and bullheadedly stubborn. The characters in general are incredibly immature, and often act like teenagers instead of adults.
Hailey’s salad idea is fairly nifty, and I liked her even in her obstinance. Wes is supposed to be the family adjuster/fixer, which makes his late-act stubbornness ridiculous. The slow burn feels credible if glacial until the midpoint of the book, when Hailey confesses and Wes… well, you’ll see. The big problem is how Sullivan chooses to wrap up this conflict – as in, years of Wes’ trauma over his parent’s divorce is resolved abruptly within a chapter at the end of the book and a time jump facilitates the HEA. It desperately needed more time to bake, and considering how long the book chooses to meander with its slow burn the resolution deserved more time and thought.
A Guide to Being Just Friends is decent, but it could’ve used a little more time in the friendzone before being released onto the world.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier