Josh Copeland is looking for a new start. After realizing that his long-time girlfriend was not changing her mind about having children anytime soon, he has ended that three-year relationship and moved across the country to work in the same firehouse as his best-friend. He has an empty apartment full of boxes, bills for appliances he no longer owns, and guilt and frustration over the relationship in equal measure. The last thing he should be doing is falling in love with a unavailable woman like Kristen, but the more time he spends with her the more he is convinced she is his “unicorn”.
Kristen Petersen is bossy, driven and completely uncompromising, and it is with narrowed eyes and a scowl that she hires Josh. She desperately needs a part-time carpenter - without him, the doggie stairs that are central to her online business would have to go on back order. She knows it's a mistake from the start to find Josh as attractive as she does, especially with her long-distance boyfriend Tyler just weeks away from finally moving in with her. Kristen does all she can to make herself Josh-proof, hiding nothing of her moods, or demanding nature, dressing to un-impress at every opportunity. But instead of being repelled, Josh’s caretaking nature kicks in, handing her Motrins for her painful cramps, and buying her all the menstrual products she needs for her heavy painful periods.
Soon they are hanging together and she is ignoring her boyfriend’s calls, but they keep things platonic, till the night she breaks up with her boyfriend. To Josh’s shock, all Kristen is willing to offer is no-strings just sex, not the relationship he craves. What Josh doesn’t know is that while he has been sharing his dreams of having a large family, Kristen has been cringing, as her severe fibroids and upcoming partial hysterectomy will make it a near impossibility for her to share that with him. It is Kristen’s conviction that this makes her the wrong woman for Josh and her unwillingness to hear otherwise at the heart of their emotional conflict.
The best thing about The Friend Zone is the genuineness of the friendships, the humor, the banter and the heart-to-heart conversations. The whole novel is structured around the dynamic intersections between friends and lovers. While Kristen does very intentionally “friendzone” Josh and it is their rocky romance the novel is centered on, the story is just as much about two sets of best friends and how their lives change as a result of a series of collisions. Each set of friends has each been in each other’s lives for more than decade. Kristen and Sloan have been inseparable since their teens, Brandon and Josh bonded as young Marines. The first collision is that between Kristen and Josh, their mini-fender bender shortly before being formally introduced to each other by their best-friends, sets the tone for their relationship, combative, flirty and complicated. The second collision, late in the novel shatters all their expectations of what their lives are going to look like. Grief, anger and all the frustrations bubble out and make it impossible to go on as before.
It is a rare thing for me to read an ARC in just one day. But a combination of Jimenez’s voice, which was both funny & angsty and the pacing of the novel kept me glued to my ereader. There is a lot to love in this debut novel, from its uncompromising heroine, Kristen, to the depth and the centrality of friendships that ground the story. There are however some narrative choices that according to the author’s note are based on the specific experience of the author’s best-friend that are likely to give some readers who have faced infertility pause. There is also some questionable OCD rep, where the OCD manifests exclusively as stress cleaning. Yet despite these issues, I greatly enjoyed this novel, even as I cried buckets at points. I look forward to reading more from Ms. Jimenez.
Content Warnings: infertility, medical procedures, fatphobia, ableism, OCD, traumatic death of secondary character)