Looking at The Friend Zone (or judging it by its cover), it’s easy to make the assumption that this will be another run of the mill modern romantic comedy. From the outside looking in, this book certainly does look pretty average: it has an ever-so-popular illustrated cover, a will-they-won’t-they synopsis, and a fair amount of buzz around it. So, what sets this book apart from the pack? The Friend Zone deftly handles difficult topics and doesn’t sugarcoat the complexities of infertility, on top of being a darn cute book.
Kristen Petersen doesn’t do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don’t get her. She’s also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.
Planning her best friend’s wedding is bittersweet for Kristen—especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He’s funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he’d be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it’s harder and harder to keep him at arm’s length
The Friend Zone follows Kristen, a tough-as-nails business owner who is organizing her best friend’s wedding. When she collides (literally) with Josh, they instantly connect, despite her constant attempts to push him away. Kristen is relentless in the pursuit of being independent and settling for her emotionally distant boyfriend, despite her growing chemistry and attraction to Josh. Naturally, because this is a romantic comedy, she can’t keep him at bay for long.
Overall, the plot was a well-paced affair – for the most part, it balanced the cutesy falling-in-love romantic moments with the dramatic ones (because come on, who wants to read a romance without a little bit of friction). The one exception to The Friend Zone’s well-honed balance was the ending. It honestly felt excessive and out of place. It was jarring, not because it was emotional to lose a character, but because it made no sense in the context of the plot. The ending honestly felt like an afterthought – something tacked on to the existing plot, not like a natural ending to the story.
Infertility is something that many women face (10% of women in the USA will struggle to get pregnant), but rarely shows up in romantic fiction. The lack of representation for such a common issue is disappointing – infertility is a fact of life and should be normalized in fiction. The Friend Zone really handled the topic of infertility with respect – it was never used for dramatic effect, it was very much a part of Kristin’s character, and it felt like the author did a lot of research before writing this book. Also, the book didn’t sugar coat what Kristen’s day to day experience was like with the tumors in her uterus – she was down for the count for days on end.
Kristen was unapologetically herself, unafraid to tell everyone around her what was on her mind, and tough as nails – borderline too tough at times. She valued her friendships over everything and was generally a sarcastic/sassy character. Her character arc was mostly focused on coming to accept her impending infertility and learning to let people into her life. Right off the bat, she had mega-chemistry with Josh – against her own better judgement. Their chemistry only grew and grew, despite Kristen’s resistance to Josh’s charms (and her having a boyfriend). They had the perfect will-they-won’t-they dynamic, and it was very easy to root for them.
Josh, on the other hand, was a good standard for rom-com men: he never pushed Kristen or forced her into a relationship with him. He was willing to take only what she offered, respected her existing relationship, and listened intently to her. Also, it was super cute when he would bring her food and help her out when she needed it. That might seem like kinda low standards for a man, but the bar in romance tends to be set pretty darn low.
Abby Jimenez definitely has a promising future as a romantic comedy author – The Friend Zone skillfully treads the line between levity and serious topics, between comedy and the truly dark times in the story. The Friend Zone is the story of a woman learning to open up and go after what she deserves, and while it’s not perfect (*cough cough* that ending), it’s certainly a very strong debut novel. 4/5