Friends Unlikely by Susan Smith Alvis is a YA novel that is yet another gripping story about teens having to deal with some serious social issues. In this book it is drug addiction and HIV. As the title suggests, it is a story about a group of kids who on the surface appear to have nothing in common with each other.
The narrator of the story is sixteen year-old Abbie Davis, who lives in Sevierville, Tennessee. Abbie tells us that she is the “product of dismissive parents”, who she describes as being “delusional and drunk.” Academically, she’s not as smart as her friends but she is the paste that keeps the group glued together during a crisis.
Abbie introduces her friends and informs us that they are more of a “real family” to her than her own. First up is Juan, a childhood friend who is infatuated with her and acts as her protector. He brings Abbie out of her shell. Next there’s Davina St. Clair, her best girlfriend, who is black and a little on the spoiled side since she’s the daughter of a well respected doctor and whose family is second cousin to Dr. Martin Luther King. Then there’s Carlos Garcia who is handsome as sin with plenty of hang-ups which is an irresistible combination for young teen girls to ignore. Lastly, there’s Rajesh Hussain aka Raj, whose family moved from Pakistan to the South right after 9/11.
It isn’t too long into the story that life for this tight group of friends take a turn for the worst. One of the friends during summer break loses his virginity only to find out several weeks later that he contracted the HIV virus that causes AIDS. All it takes is the first time. While the group absorbs that bit of news, they are also dealing with a problem with another friend who is addicted to Crystal Meth. Everybody knew that this friend was smoking pot but never realized that they’d graduated up to something more serious until an incident brings it to their full attention. I know it seems like a lot for a group of five kids to have to deal with but it’s not improbable. Most of the novel is spent showing how these tragic events tests their friendship and brings them closer together.
More and more novels of today are addressing the issues of meth addiction that are destroying families and devastating communities. This drug epidemic has affected all of us in some shape or form (like having to show your photo ID at the pharmacy counter for your favorite cold medicine). The author has done her research and there are more than a couple of scenes with info dumping. As for HIV, there’s still a social stigma attached to the disease but the disease itself is treatable and people are living longer with it.
Friends Unlikely was a gripping read for me. I even enjoyed the rather morose prose:
People act strangely when staring into death’s eyes and no matter how dark it seems for the other person the scary thing about dying is another realization. When you look over the edge and see the valley of death, all you see is the fact that you too will eventually face it. The death angel will come for you and when tomorrow never comes, that’s when things left unsaid seem to haunt those that are left behind.
I stayed up late to finish this novel last night because honestly, I couldn’t put it down. The narrative voice/style was very engaging, characters were well fleshed out and memorable. The earmarks of a truly good novel is when the story stays with you long after that last page is turned. This book is far from perfect. Sure there were info dumps and the overall tone of the novel felt a bit preachy, but it’s still a very good read and one that I strongly recommend to young teens and adults alike. I pretty much gave you the bare bones of the story but there is much of the story that I left out. Friends Unlikely would have never been on my radar if the author hadn’t asked me to read her book. I’m glad that I did. My grade, B+. I hope Ms. Alvis continues to write more gripping stories. Oh and you might want to have a tissue or two on hand when you reach the end.
[tags]Susan Smith Alvis, YA novel, Drug Addiction, HIV, ebook[/tags]