Publisher: Penguin Books (Trade Paperback – 15 November 2022)
Length: 377 pages
My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
Hot off her impressive debut in the world of young adult thrillers, outstanding author Jennifer Lynn Alvarez presents another intense and deeply addictive read with Friends Like These, a compelling and twisty novel about secrets, lies, and teenage mistakes.
In 2021 I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez, which I instantly fell in love with. The author’s first foray into the young adult fiction genre, Lies Like Wildfire told the story of a close group of teenage friends whose lives are torn apart when they accidently start a fire that destroys their hometown. Desperate to avoid the consequences of their actions, the group tries to keep their involvement secret, but they soon turn on each other with tragic consequences. I loved Alvarez’s powerful and relatable story and Lies Like Wildfire was one of the best debuts I read in 2021. Due to her strong first young adult novel, I was very eager to see how Alvarez would follow it up, and I was very happy when I received a copy of Friends Like These.
For the teenage residents of Crystal Cove, California, the annual end of summer beach party is the social event of the year, the party that heralds the upcoming start of the senior year. However, for three young people, this party will be the most pivotal event of their lives, which they will never recover from.
Jessica Sanchez has never been a fan of big parties and really has no desire to attend this latest big bash, especially as it is being hosted by her nemesis, Tegan Sheffield, the ex of her current boyfriend, Jake Healy. However, Jake is always keen for a drunken bash and manages to convince Jessica and their friends to attend. While Jessica girds herself for confrontation and awkwardness, nothing will prepare her for a terrible video prank that breaks her heart and destroys any trust she has in the man she thought she loved.
However, the worst is yet to come, as the video prank goes viral and everyone is dragged into the resultant chaos. Not only are the police and the FBI looking into the video but they are investigating the disappearance of Tegan, who hasn’t been seen since the party. As the case gains media attention and the whole nation is transfixed by their plight, Jessica and Jake attempt to weather the storm surrounding them, which only worsens when a body is found in the water. However, both teenagers are hiding dark secrets, and as the investigation continues, the truth will be unleashed, and nothing will be the same again.
Alvarez continues to shine as a brilliant new voice in the young adult thriller genre, with another exceptional read. Loaded with intrigue, drama and powerful characters, Friends Like These is an epic and powerful read that will leave you hanging until the very end as you grow deeply attached to its dark and personal tale of teenage woe and bad decisions.
I was deeply transfixed by the epic and captivating story in Friends Like These as Alvarez has woven together another complex tale of betrayal, murder and the loss of teenage innocence. Alvarez cleverly tells the story from three separate perspectives based on her three main characters, Jessica, Jake and Tegan. Jessica and Jake’s chapters are told in the present and follow the events of the party and its tragic consequences from their perspectives. Both experience very different events and consequences as a result of the party and the subsequent disappearance of Tegan, which completely destroys their lives and places them in a terrible situation. At the same time, Alvarez alternates some chapters from Tegan’s perspective in the weeks leading up to the party. These prequel chapters give some compelling extra context to the main story and help to provide deeper meaning behind the motivations and actions of all the characters as you get a better look at the relationship the missing Tegan had with everyone.
The story proceeds at a pretty quick pace after the party, and Alvarez loads in a good combination of mystery, suspense and emotionally charged scenes as you try to unwrap everyone’s actions. Jessica and Jake are both forced to deal with the consequences of the video prank and Tegan’s disappearance in their own ways, especially as their lives are being effectively destroyed as a result. While Jessica attempts to discover what really happened to Tegan, while also hiding her own involvement in the events, Jake finds himself breaking down as he finds himself the main suspect in Tegan’s disappearance. The story goes in some intriguing and dramatic directions, and Alvarez loads in a ton of compelling and well-executed twists and reveals that constantly shock the reader and completely throw them off the scent. While I was able to predict a few of the reveals, I honestly did not see every twist coming, and I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next. The intriguing mystery, the excellent use of alternating timelines, and the complex and emotionally charged characters really served to keep me hooked the entire way through and I honestly could not put the novel down in places. The entire book ends on a fantastic, if dark, note as the final reveals about who was behind both the infamous prank and the subsequent disappearances and murders really leave you shocked. None of the characters come out unscathed, and you will come away from Friends Like These extremely thoughtful as you contemplate the character’s actions, as well as your own teenage mistakes.
One of the things I most liked about Friends Like These was how Alvarez wrote a complex and captivating read that will really appeal to a wide range of readers, especially its intended teenage audience. Just like with Lies Like Wildfire, Alvarez attempts to dive into the mindset of a group of teenage characters with a dark cautionary tale about the lifelong impacts of bad decisions. Alvarez presents the reader with a plausible, terrible scenario that could potentially happen to modern teenagers, and shows both the events that led up to it, and destructive impacts that follow. Alvarez covers a huge range of heavy topics in this book, including drinking, grief, obsession, drugs, abusive relationships, online videos, teenage sex, rape, and more. It also prominently covers the malicious sharing of intimate videos, and showcases the many different ways it can impact people involved, whether it’s the emotional damage or the legal troubles the participants can find themselves in. The author pulls no punches when it comes to these terrible topics and shows all the different ways that the characters attempt to deal with the consequences. I really appreciate how Alvarez really doesn’t talk down to the young adult audience this book is targeted at and instead she tries to engage her audience and really hammer home how things you think might be harmless can actually destroy lives. This is really highlighted in the way that all the characters are severely impacted by events they originally think are harmless, and it isn’t until the full impacts of their actions emerge that they realise just how much trouble they are in and panic as a result. Not only does this ensure that the young adult audience are going to strongly engage with the story, but it also helps older readers connect as it brings them back to their own turbulent teenage years and the many mistakes they no-doubt made there. Alvarez really has a gift when it comes to portraying complex teenage issues and it is definitely one of the things that makes her such an incredible young adult author.
Finally, I must highlight the outstanding characters that Alvarez wove such an amazing and heartfelt story around, especially the three central point of view protagonists, Jessica, Jake and Tegan. Alvarez came up with some amazing character arcs for these three protagonists, as each of them are far more complex than initial impressions would let you believe. Just like any real-life teenagers, all three come into the book with some emotional baggage and relatable damage, which are fully explored and become a major part of the plot as Friends Like These continues. Jake, for example, is highly traumatised by the recent death of his father. Despite the help of his family, friends and girlfriend, Jake has turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism, and this leaves him wide open to the terrible events of the party. While initially shown to be a bit of a cad, Jake is actually a victim, especially as he is forced to suffer all the consequences of a terrible video prank. Even though he is a major suspect in the subsequent murders, you can’t help but feel for Jake the entire way through, and Alvarez wrote a particularly captivating and emotionally rich narrative around him.
One of the other major characters is Tegan, who is initially shown as the villain of the story and Jake’s bitter ex. However, as the book progresses and you see more and more preceding chapters from Tegan’s perspective, you begin to realise that Tegan isn’t as mean or as manipulative as you are initially led to believe. Instead, she is a loyal friend who has been emotionally abused by her mother her entire life and one of the few good things she had, Jake, was taken away from her by circumstance. Bitter over that and egged on by her peers and rivals, Tegan impulsively initiates the events of the party without fully knowing how everything would unfold. Her entire arc was an outstanding part of the overall plot of the book, especially as it paints her in a much more flattering light, and I am very glad that Alvarez ended up featuring them here.
The final character is Jessica, who in some ways is the main protagonist. A seemingly normal girl who is caught up in terrible circumstances, her story revolves around her trying to escape the events of the party while also making big mistakes due to her conflicted feelings for Jake. While she initially appears to be a suitable and stable protagonist, Alvarez eventually reveals some hidden secrets about Jessica that completely change your view of her and make the reader question everything you’ve seen her do up until that point. I deeply enjoyed how Alvarez would continually change your expectations about her protagonists as the book proceeded and the resultant development and portrayals helped to turn Friends Like These into quite an exceptional read.
Jennifer Lynn Alvarez continues to shine as one of the most complex and talented authors of young adult fiction. Her latest novel, Friends Like These, is another clever and captivating thriller that explores the powerful consequences of teenage choices. Loaded with outstanding characters, a highly relevant plot, and a compelling mystery, Friends Like These was one of the best young adult reads of 2022 and I cannot recommend it enough. I look forward to seeing what brilliant and relatable story Alvarez features in her next gripping novel, and I already know it is going to be quite impressive.