Review: The Friendship Study, by Ruby Barrett

[fa icon="calendar"] Feb 13, 2024 7:30:00 AM / by Suzanne

The Friendship Study Cover
Synopsis from the Creator: Jesse Logan doesn’t want a fresh start. He wants his old life back—before an injury made his career as a firefighter impossible, before his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s got so bad he doesn’t recognize Jesse anymore. When a friend tells him about a paid psychological study, Jesse sees it as a chance to get back to the man he was while making a little extra cash.
All Lulu Banks is asking for is a fresh start. Back home after a devastating breakup, she’s struggling to find her place. She’s always been a lot—too loud, too eager, too obvious about her feelings. The friendship study seems like a great idea…until she’s paired with Jesse Logan, who recently ghosted her after a blind date that led to a steamy make-out session.
Now that old familiar tension is back. Despite the program’s strict “no romance” rule, Jesse and Lulu are quick to find a work-around that allows them to explore their tenuous connection. And soon they’re on their way to total self-improvement…
As long as they don’t get caught.

After their mutual friend sets them up on a date that leads to a great kiss and nothing else, Jesse and Lulu independently sign up for a social study meant to find out why millennials struggle to make friends as adults and how to help them do so. One rule: they're not allowed to have sex with other participants. Naturally, our two leads fall head over heels and try (not that hard TBH) not to hook up with each other.

Jesse is a security guard and Lulu is a contract history professor. They've both had professional and personal setbacks in the last couple of years that have led to their respective shortage of friendships and difficulty opening up to new people. People told me for years that once my kids started school, I'd make lots of new friends. That never happened. In the last decade, I've made a total of three IRL friends and only see one of them with any regularity. I absolutely related to Jesse and Lulu's struggles to put themselves out there and I would like to read George's study conclusions, please.

This is a fun, steamy book, but it also covers some weightier subjects. Before the characters decide to make a real go of a relationship, Barrett uses her proficiency for writing steam to craft several "parallel play" scenes that were scorching and emotionally vulnerable.

When Jesse was in a bad car accident and broke his femur, he had to leave his life's work as a firefighter and several of his hobbies. He sometimes uses a mobility aid and does a lot of strength conditioning to counter his mobility loss. The disability rep reads well to me, but there's quite a bit of soul-searching and I think some of it will read differently for folks who have always used mobility aids. He's also bi and that was handled really well. Not one quick mention and we're done, but not a source of angst in his relationships either. The grandfather who raised him has dementia and no longer remembers him, which leads to the main source of his bi angst - he never came out to his grandfather and it's too late now.

Lulu is an academic recently returned to the United States from England because her boyfriend and best friend cheated together and pretty much wrecked her life there. There's one scene in which the main characters are speaking about how they'd like to proceed with sex and she tells him she was raped by a past boyfriend and doesn't like to be held down during sex. She's gone to therapy and Jesse is the model of respectful partner. They check in with each other frequently and I'll hold this book up as an example of how ongoing consent can be on-page and still super sexy.

I read this on audio and in print and had to switch to print several times because I think my earbuds caught fire. Okay, not really. It's because I wanted to read faster! And yet I was sad when it ended. This is by far my favorite of Ruby Barrett's books and I suspect it'll be the rare book I reread.

Thanks to HQN and Harper Audio for the early reads!


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Content Warnings: grandparent with dementia, past death of parents (not described), car accident (past, not detailed), past rape (FMC, not detailed). Additional content warnings are provided by the author at the beginning of the book.

Topics: review