Sorry for the long hiatus, but I’m finally back.
Over the winter break, I had some time to read The Best Friend and its prequel (which was released separately, but it’s so short that I’m just gonna add it to this review), I Miss Him So Much, by Ally Williams. Both books center around the relationship between Elsie and Hayden, our aforementioned “best friends”. Elsie, however, is and has been desperately in love with Hayden since very early on in their relationship. Obviously, Hayden does not know about this – he happens to fall in love quickly and constantly, so Elsie’s heart is repeatedly broken.
Our story (TBF) starts off during their senior year. Elsie’s just about had it with this relationship: Hayden continuously ignores her in favor of his girlfriend of the week, as exemplified by his dropping their plans together and absconding from their hang-outs at the buzz of a text. Elsie is stood up by him twice, I think? In that first chapter alone. And she’s miserable. Ms. Williams is great at describing emotions and really tugs at your heart, but also… there was a part of me going “really Elsie? You’re going to keep crying but then run back to him at the drop of a hat? smh dude” And that pattern continues for the rest of the story. Elsie puts her faith in Hayden. Hayden messes up really badly. Elsie cries. Hayden continuously texts her and begs for forgiveness. Elsie reluctantly forgives him. He coddles her for a month or so and then the cycle begins again.
So I’m not sure what this book means to be about, but I construed it as being about a toxic relationship. A really toxic relationship, because Elsie is fully invested in Hayden, who is flaky, narcissistic, and demonstrates very manipulative and possessive behavior. He doesn’t seem like a predator or an abuser, but he definitely has some deep-set issues and he’s dragging her down with him.
Elsie is… not my favorite. While she’s self-aware, she doesn’t do anything about her situation. She wallows in her misery and literally is at Hayden’s beck and call, despite all the stuff he’s pulled on her. She recognizes his pattern of manipulation, yet does nothing to break free from it. And this is the pattern of someone who is being abused, but… also, aside from that, she has no personality or character outside of her devotion to Hayden. She’s just a sad girl.
But maybe I’m being too harsh. There was definitely character development and I enjoyed reading her perspective on the issue. Elsie brings a human element to the table; she’s the star of her own tragedy. Hayden is just the perpetrator.
I guess that my main problem with this story is that the main character’s spinelessness is kind of unbelievable. She doesn’t buckle down and move on from the toxicity until the very end of the book; but I recognize that my judgement is extremely subjective and biased. I’m looking at the book and thinking about how I would have reacted – I’m quick to anger, so if I were in the same situation, the novel would have been about two chapters long. Elsie is extremely forgiving, so of course, she reacts differently. Still, I can’t help but think that she’s not setting a great example for young female readers.
Overall, the book was a bit slow and I did end up skipping some of the passages. While Elsie’s self-pitying was understandable, intriguing, even, at the beginning, it got very repetitive towards the end. And before I forget, I want to add that while I liked Elsie’s character development – she does stand up for herself in the end, although after the very worst has happened – Hayden is two-dimensional. He’s the archetype of a romance-novel love interest, and has no depth beyond that. I Miss Him So Much contains one chapter in his point of view, where he sort of justifies why he doesn’t go after Elsie but it’s… a very weak argument. And he recognizes that he hurts her consistently, and that he treats her badly, but… he doesn’t really do much beyond talking about how much he hates himself? Hayden has issues he needs to resolve. They do sort of skim over his anger problems – he punches a mirror and that doesn’t bode well for his fists – but Ms. Williams doesn’t expand on that at all. Ultimately, I was rooting for Elsie, which is what I expect she wanted, but it was only because Hayden had no personality beyond being a sappy playboy.
I Miss Him So Much is a prequel, which recounts the events of a short vacation Ally’s remaining family takes with Hayden’s family follow the death of Ally’s father. I loved that we got to read more about Ally dealing with her grief and trying to come to terms with the realization that her father will no longer be around for her, and will miss all these experiences that she’ll partake in, in the future. Unfortunately, Hayden is part of that mix. He’s just his usual jerk self, so I won’t bother listing all the ways in which he’s a grade-A douchebag, but as I mentioned before, we do get to read one chapter in his perspective. So that’s interesting, I guess.
I did enjoy reading both books, and they were easy reads. There weren’t any complicated plot devices and ultimately, what made me give The Best Friend two, rather than one star on Goodreads, was the ending – which I don’t want to spoil. But it’s a good wrap-up and really resolves the matter of Elsie’s lack of grit. I don’t know if I’d recommend these books, but have a go if you’re interested in tragedies and love stories.