Karen Does Dorothy Koomson's My Best Friend's Girl...
I picked up this book when I was doing the monthly shop, over 6 months ago. It caught my eye, because I noticed the Richard and Judy’s Summer Read logo on the front cover; plus it was only £3.63.
As I had a mountain of unread books waiting for me, it just got added to the top of the pile, and remained there till I finally got round to reading it the other day.
For those, like myself, who love character driven books, My Best Friend’s Girl was an absolute treat.
Best friends Kamryn Martika, and Adele Brannon thought nothing could come between them – until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn’s fiance, Nate. Worse still, she got pregnant and had his child.
When Kamryn discovered the truth about their betrayal, she moved away, and vowed to never see either of them again.
Years later, Kam receives a letter from Adele asking her to visit her in hospital. Adele is dying, and begs Kam to adopt her daughter Tegan. (Nate was still unaware that he had a child with Adele) With a great job, and a hectic social life, the last thing needs is a five year old, to disrupt her life. Especially not one who reminds her of Nate, who she’s still in love with, but will never forgive.
But with no one else to take care of Tegan, (except for Tegan’s cruel and controlling grandparents) and Adele fading fast, she doesn’t have any other choice.
So begins a difficult journey that leads Kamryn towards forgiveness, love, responsibility, and ultimately a better understanding of herself.
Gosh I loved, loved, loved this book.
Not since Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, has a book pulled me in so many different directions.
Every now and then, it’s good to get away from the fluff, and read something that actually makes you look at life, love, and relationships in a different way.
Koomson’s My Best Friend’s Girl, certainly achieved that, and so much more besides.
The book starts with a letter or a diary excerpt from Adele, Tegan’s mother. She explains how she discovered that she had leukemia, and the subsequent heartbreak over having to leave her child forever.
My eyes teared up at that point, and pretty much stayed teared up, through the rest of the book.
Let me start this review, by concentrating on each of the main characters.
Kamryn was the kind of angsty, insecure heroine that I usually abhor in a romance, but there was a difference between this character, and a lot of the standard angsty romance heroines out there.
I was able to empathise with her more often than not. In fact, surprisingly enough, there wasn’t actually a point in the book, where her actions made me want to shoot myself in the eye. Her insecurities, and bouts of low self-esteem was the result of being called ugly, and fat, during her formative years. She was psychologically scarred from a childhood that taught her that the only person you can truly rely on is yourself.
Although Kam had her faults, and could be a tad paranoid, she was a woman with whom, I could have been friends with. This is how I tend to judge heroines in books.
Because the book was written in the first person, I was a little apprehensive as to whether or not I would be allowed to enjoy the story. I usually try to stick to third person POVs, but every now and again, I’ll go over to the dark side. I wasn’t sorry that I did so on this occasion.
I felt Kam’s grief at the passing of her best friend all the way through the book. The sadness, and devastation that one experiences upon the death of a loved one, was brilliantly portrayed by Koomson.
I could totally empathise with her struggles, and the various adjustments to motherhood that she had to make. I felt the love that she had for her new daughter, the rage that she felt at her friend for dying, as well as her conflicting feelings about the two men who entered and re-entered her life, shortly after Tegan went to live with her.
Kam’s relationship with Tegan was a heartbreaking thing to read. I know it seems trite to say so, but reading this book was really like riding a rollercoaster. The highs were great, and gave me reason to laugh, and rejoice, but the lows really were the pits, and I had to constantly reach for tissues, and my stash of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, at the risk of puking my guts up.
Kam wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, she could be surly, unforgiving, sarcastic, and techy at the slightest provocation, but she felt real to me, and I was able to understand her motivations, and identify that she was going through the grieving process. Through all of this, the only thing that I was sure about, was that she would eventually make it past the grey storm clouds, and into the sun.
Usually in a romance, the reader is never allowed to have conflicting feelings about the hero, especially when it comes to a love triangle.
We don’t meet Luke Wiseman till later on in the book, but he was a great character. He's Kam’s new boss, and they hated each other on sight.
I on the other hand liked him. I really did.
When they first met, he made it more than obvious to Kam that he found her lacking, as a woman. This was something that Kam found very hard to deal with, because it was too reminiscent of her childhood feelings of inadequacy. It was refreshing to read a book, where the characters don’t instantly rush into unrivalled lust at first sight.
As they get to know one another, their relationship changes, and Kam is forced to look at Luke in a less judgmental way, and he, her.
I love the struggles that Luke had with himself over his feelings for Kam.
All his life, he’d always been attracted to a certain kind of woman, and even through Kam’s POV, it was interesting for me to see how he dealt with the fact that he was falling for a woman who was nothing like his perceived ideal woman.
Luke wasn’t the typical hero, he was condescending, and superior, and at times insulting,
Nate had cheated on Kamryn with her best friend, so I really shouldn’t have liked him as much as I did, and in a standard romance, he would have clearly been the bad guy. Luckily, Koomson didn’t go down the cookie-cutter, bastard-other-guy route.
I really wanted to hate Nate, but couldn’t, because despite the fact that he’d betrayed Kam so badly, I believed that essentially, he was a good guy, who genuinely loved her.
All the way through the book, I found myself swaying from Luke to Nate, then back again.
In romance books, there’s usually never any ambiguity as to whom the heroine should end up with, but I have to say, I found myself constantly changing my mind about that very question, in this book.
Yes, Nate had been a rat-dog bastard, but he really loved her, I could tell. On the other hand, Luke was an arrogant son of a bitch who needed taking down a peg or two, but he was just as insecure as Kam, in his own way. The arguments in my head went on, and on, right up until the final few pages, when Koomson put me out of my misery, and let us know who Kam would be sharing hers and Tegan's life with.
Koomson didn’t insist on giving the reader the whole backstory in one go. It was done via a series of flashbacks throughout the book, as well as in the form of a diary/letter from Adele hereself. I didn’t feel bombarded with lots of information that I’d have to process, before I could move on, and for that I was very grateful.
Another thing that I particularly loved about MBFG, was that you never quite knew where the author was going to take you. All the way through the book, I agonised over who Kam was going to ultimately choose to be with, and let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy thing to figure out at all.
There was one point in the book where I thought Koomson was about to betray me, by taking me down an avenue I didn’t expect her to take, but luckily (for her) she didn’t follow through. (If she had, the results would have been a very snotty, and pissed off Karen.)
The book did make me question how I would have reacted had I been in either Kam’s or Adele’s shoes. Would I have taken in the child of the best friend who’d betrayed me with my lover? Would I have asked the friend I’d betrayed to look after my most cherished possession? Sigh. I’m still trying to figure the answers out.
MBFG is not your typical romance, (I think it’s actually described, wrongly in my opinion, as chicklit) but it did indeed have some strong romantic elements. I loved how the author was able to capture my interest, and not only kept me hooked, but I found myself actually not wanting the book to end. Seriously.
The romance purists out there may not be interested in reading this book, because of the themes of betrayal, but I have to say, in my opinion, they’d be missing out on a fantastic read.
It was well written, well paced, and packed an emotional punch that had me literally crying, then laughing, then crying again.
This is a book that I’m going to do my best to recommend to anybody and everybody who are willing to give it a chance. Yes, I loved it that much.
You can buy MBFG here, and visit Dorothy Koomson’s website here.
Note: Loosely related to The Racism In Publishing Issue…
I thought it was fairly clever of the cover artist to have the little white girl with the blonde hair, holding the hand of the black woman. As a white reader, you probably wouldn’t notice that the hand that the little girl was holding was black, because so much of the cover was focused on the little girl herself. This way, white readers who profess to be uncomfortable with 'black books' aren’t confronted by anything that jars them out of their comfort zone.
After Richard and Judy included MBFG in their Top Summer Reads of 2006, Koomson, a career journalist, gained overnight literary fame, by selling over 110,000 copies of her book in a very short period of time. She made the best-sellers lists over here in England.
This was a book, written by a black woman, from the point of view of black female character.
So, how come most of the people who bought this book were white?
Simple. If you market anything effectively enough, people will buy. Richard and Judy gave it their seal of approval on their show, which meant that people were more than happy to go out and read it, regardless of the colour of the person who’d written it, and the colour of the protagonists.
Kam is a black woman who falls in love with two white men, and has been entrusted to look after a white child, but at no time did the racial element ever take over from the main theme of the story.
This was a story about the fragility of life, grief, forgiveness, and love. In short, this was a story about people. And as people, aren’t all of the above issues, something we all have in common?