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Friends Like These by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez

Whether you are a teenager or on the other side of the gray hair divide, Friends Like These is a great read, with a twisted mystery, and an exploration of complicated relationships. Perhaps those of us who are older can also benefit from reading to see something of the pressures and concerns of our teenagers.

An unsupervised teenage party leads girlfriend and boyfriend Jessica and Jake, and their friends from a small-town Californian coast high school into a tumultuous time.

Introverted Jessica doesn't want to go but Jake wants to have fun and enjoy the end-of-summer party at the home of Tegan, his ex-girlfriend and Jessica's ex-friend, who still harbours feelings for Jake. Intense jealousy spawns a bet and leads to a video of a hook-up going viral, then a teenager disappears and a body is found.

Jessica and Jake take turns with telling the story, and the story is interspersed with a chapter or two from Tegan so that the reader quickly becomes immersed in the personalities, the tensions and perspectives of these very different teenagers. The mysteries are sparked and reinforced by these perhaps unreliable narrators. We are being told the story but there is a feeling that what we are not being told and what we are not seeing is also important.

As the drama unfolds, the reader realises that so many of the young adult cast face real-life issues. There is the girl who stays with a toxic boyfriend, blindly trailing after him, accepting cruel and callous treatment; the girl who is driven to succeed at competitive sport, and the girl whose mother pressures her with expectations of her physical appearance and yet leaves her feeling unloved. And the events of the story also raise issues of concern for teenagers: of sexual assault, of consent, of drug and alcohol use and also the crucial one of relationships and the quest for teenagers to make connections, to have friends and to be loved.

Jealousy, toxic relationships and sex and drugs lead to assault, to disappearance and to more than one death. This group of young people are connected in different ways, full of secrets and the interweaving of their lives and problems is told with suspense, pace and tension. The pressures and the problems are revealed at a pace and the mystery unpeels, layer on layer till at the end we see what it all means for Jessica, for Jake, for their friends and for their relationships.

Are they still friends and are they wiser?

With friends like these.....who needs enemies?

The author has previously written Lies Like Wildfire, again about a group of teenagers with secrets, and Jennifer Alvarez certainly has a knack for creating a gripping story incorporating realistic relationships, friendships and romance with a good dose of mystery and suspense, all ingredients for a great read for those who also enjoy other authors like Karen MacManus.

An engrossing mystery and a great read for the teenager in your life. And the parent too.

Reviewer: Clare Lyon



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