Release Date: August 18, 2020
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SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Best of Friends by Lucinda Berry is a mystery/thriller novel that reads more like a women’s fiction book; there is an element of whodunit, as I’ll discuss below, but it’s not an action-packed suspense novel.
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Lindsey, Kendra, and Dani are three best friends living in an upper middle-class neighborhood. They’ve known each other since they were in elementary school, and their three teenage sons – Jacob (Lindsey’s son), Sawyer (Kendra’s son), and Caleb (Dani’s son) are also friends. The three boys play soccer together on their high school football team, and they are having a sleepover at Dani’s house when the novel begins.
Kendra and her husband Paul are trying to have a date night with Sawyer out of the house (although their 14-year-old son, Reese, is upstairs), when they hear gunshots in their neighborhood. Kendra runs outside to check and make sure that Sawyer and his friends are okay, and she realizes that the police and ambulance are at Dani’s house. She screams to be let inside, but the police officers deny her entry, letting her know that no one can go in until the coroner arrives.
We soon learn that one of the boys died before medical help arrived, another is brain-dead and on life-support, and the third is now mute and has debilitating breakdowns that landed him on the psychiatric ward for several days. As the three women deal with the devastating fallout of this shooting incident, they are left with only questions and no answers about what happened that night. Who pulled the trigger and why? Was there one shooter, or was this a murder-suicide or a gruesome accident? The only witness can’t (or won’t) speak, and the detectives are only at the beginning of their intense investigation.
The survivor isn’t the only person with secrets in this group; one of the women is being physically and mentally abused, and wishes she had the strength to leave her controlling partner. One of the women is about to find out that her own husband has been building a relationship with someone else online for two years, and has fallen in love with a faceless woman who is hiding behind a pseudonym. The last woman has been secretly medicating her teenage son for over a year without her husband’s knowledge, and worries that this is what is causing her family’s downfall.
As these secrets unravel, and the investigation turns up even more surprises for the grieving families, we see what happens when childhood friendships face the ultimate test of betrayal, passion, and murder. The truths finally reveal themselves in the end, and the women and their families are left to pick up the pieces and determine how to move forward into new and completely different lives.
WHAT THE AUTHOR DOES RIGHT: Lucinda Berry is actually a doctor – a former clinical psychologist and leading researcher in childhood trauma, according to her Goodreads & Amazon biographies – and she uses her background to write novels that delve into the many facets of the human psyche. Her portrait of the struggles that led to what happened to these three boys is intriguing; we see the closeness of their relationships and the raw emotions they were experiencing right up until the explosive shooting incident, which helps the reader to understand their motivations regarding what happened.
MY THOUGHTS: Okay, I have a lot to unpack about this book, so bear with me.
This is a novel about three upper-middle and upper-class families, living in a very nice neighborhood, raising three white boys who are star athletes at their local high school. Two of them – Jacob and Sawyer – have been featured in local news articles, and they’ve won athletic scholarships to college. When asked by police what they think of their sons’ demeanors prior to the shooting, they are all quick to deny any arguments, any depression, and – in the case of Caleb’s parents, when directly confronted with school reports – any anger issues and outbursts.
However, we’re told that the boys have gotten in trouble before with police for public drinking, which the parents literally all brushed off as being par for the course in raising a teenage boy: “All of it sounded like completely normal teenage behavior to me – exactly the kinds of things that happened when we were in high school and were probably happening tonight.” (loc 2260, 52%) One of the parents says, in regards to the deadly shooting, “Our boys were screwing around. Being drunk and stupid with a gun. That’s all” (in Chapter One). Another of the women says that her son wasn’t known for getting good grades, and she was terrified he was going to screw up his future and lose his athletic scholarship by getting a girl pregnant before college: “Girls have been after [him] since ninth grade,” she says.
Please excuse me if I’m wrong for thinking so, but these sentiments all seem tone-deaf and reek of white, moneyed privilege. The parents seem COMPLETELY clueless as to what is going on with their own children, and they were all utterly shocked at what happened to their teenage boys…but they all admitted that they allowed their boys to drink, they never punished them, and they never held them responsible for their bad decisions. They really seemed as if they had no idea what their children did during the day (and at night), and they didn’t care to know more – they just wanted their all-star athletes to make it to college. Two of the parents learn that their younger son is supplying drugs to kids in his high school when they sit down for an interview with the head detective, but they never punish him or even bring the topic up again – the mother even says later that they unconsciously decided not to pursue the topic again and disturb their delicate balance of peace at home.
The women are constantly ready to rip each other apart, and even have a screaming match at the end when one of them can no longer hold back her vitriol in regards to her friends’ selfishness and denial. None of them can see their own weaknesses, but they are quick to point out the weakness in each other…and their “friendships” are never shown in a deep or meaningful way. They seem like shallow friends, with no real or deep bonding moments – perhaps this is just a lack of character development due to book spacing.
All in all, the book was a quick read, and an enjoyable one if you’re able to turn your mind off and not think too deeply about how clueless and pointedly blind these parents choose to be. The “boys will be boys” mindsets are what turned me off about this read…and that could have been changed if there was a more redemptive arc, or a realization that this chosen ignorance is what led to the downfall of the three boys and their whole families – but there wasn’t. The characters all finished in what is arguably a poorer position than the ones in which they started, and while the reader would like to believe that things will get better, it’s really near impossible to see how that could be true.