"The Friend Zone" by Abby Jimenez
I went to college in the early 2000s. And I, like most of my female classmates, did so in hopes of acquiring the skills necessary to earn gainful employment and… you know… finance my fondness for cocktails and novels. Had I matriculated half a dozen decades earlier, however, my goal likely would have been to land a man.
But despite the fact that I didn't expect to find a husband in college *spoiler alert* I did.
After four years, I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a teaching license in my portfolio, an engagement ring on my finger, and a life all but mapped out.
Looking back on it, though this wasn’t my plan, I'm so fucking glad it worked out this way.
Otherwise, I don’t think I ever would have gotten married.
Outside of the relatively cloistered community of higher education in which you are thrust together with loads of people your age, all with similar aspirations — and given relatively ready access to inhibition eliminating drinks -- I just don’t think I would have found someone.
I mean, how do people even meet these days?
Were I single, what would I do?
Talk to strangers at bars?
Like a fucking psychopath?!?
I suppose I could hold out hope for a meet cute.
Or pray my mom introduced me to a haughty yet handsome man at her annual turkey curry buffet.
But, really, though, how often does that happen?
Well, if romance novels are to be believed, often.
I don’t believe that the rate of meet cutes depicted in romance novels is accurately reflective of the real rate at which men and women meet in these oh-I-can’t-wait-to-tell-our-grandkids-about-this ways. However, I am happy — especially during beach read season — to gorge myself on a heavy diet of novels that make up for in enjoyability what they lack in accuracy.
In The Friend Zone — the debut by “Cupcake Wars” winner Abby Jimenez — readers first meet our dual protagonists, Kristen and Josh, when they meet each other.
Kristen is strong.
She runs an online boutique selling tiny-dog-related merch and makes a comfortable living doing so. Though she lives alone, she’s been in a long distance relationship with Tyler, a Marine who is stationed overseas, for several years.
As the book opens, Kristen is busy preparing for her best friend, Slone’s, wedding as well as readying her home to accommodate Tyler, who will be moving in with her as soon as he returns from his current deployment.
Josh is basically every woman’s masturbatory fantasy.
He’s a fireman.
And, when he’s not busy manning fires, he does carpentry work.
And when he’s not busy doing that, he hunts.
Of course he’s ripped.
And he wants a family.
A big one.
He is busy, too, as he’s just moved and taken a job at a new fire station. He’s preparing to serve as best man for his best friend, Brandon, who is marrying Kristen’s best friend, Slone.
But Kristen and Josh don’t meet as you would expect, at a shower or one of the many other events surrounding modern nuptials.
Instead, they meet cute and have instant chemistry.
Despite this chemistry, though, Kristen isn’t willing to entertain the prospect of a relationship with Josh — even after her long distance relationship dissolves
While Josh can’t understand this reluctance, Kristen has a good reason for keeping Josh at arm’s length.
Though she doesn’t tell him, she is soon going to be forced to endure a medical procedure that will render her infertile.
Because her future will — she is certain — be a childless one, the closer they become, the more resolute Kristen grows in her instance that Josh remain friend-zoned.
After all, she can’t give him the family that he has always wanted.
And she loves him too much to see him sacrifice this dream.
With this conflict, Jimenez set the stage for an experience that was much more emotional and intense than you would normally expect from a novel of this type.
As anyone who has ever read a romance — or even seen a rom-com — knows, the genre is a bit formulaic.
Man and woman meet and sparks fly, but an obstacle — or, more often, a series of obstacles — stands in their way.
Usually, these obstacles are petty.
A misunderstanding that could easily be cleared up if they would just fucking talk to each other.
A fight over something inconsequential.
A family squabble that they can’t get past.
And while there were some of these low-level obstacles present in this novel, the overarching hurdle was absolutely powerful and life-impacting.
In selecting this obstacle, Jimenez made readers — especially women — feel for the protagonists, mourn for Kristen, and struggle to decide what, if anything, could be done to overcome the stumbling block standing between these two otherwise-perfect-for-each-other characters.
Further increasing the emotional impact of this novel is the strength of the characters.
Both Kristen and Josh were tremendously likable characters with endearing flaws that gave them depth and made them appear more authentic.
Jimenez took her time developing these characters, giving readers the opportunity to warm up to them while still moving the plot forward quickly enough that it didn’t feel plodding or induce boredom.
She masterfully told a love story that was turbulent and complex — just like real life love affairs — not saccharine sweet and inauthentic like those found in many modern romances.
When I picked up this novel, I did so expecting a fun diversion.
A relaxing summer read that would entertain, though not change my outlook.
Something that I would quickly read and enjoy, but just as quickly forget.
Given this, I must say that, without a doubt, this book wasn’t what I expected.
It was so much more.
As I read, it captured my interest.
And as I finished, it captured my heart.
I will absolutely recommend this book to others — though maybe not my mom because there was some risqué shit in here. And I will without a doubt think about it for quite some time to come.
It easily earns a fervid 5 out of 5 cocktails.
This is one amazing beach read that, while sexy and fun, is neither frivolous nor disappointing. What’s your favorite beach read? Tell me about it in the comments, below.
Time for my next read. 🤞Hopefully it’s as good as this one.🤞
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