I initially speed read this book for a blog tour Q&A earlier this month but I knew I had to read it again, as the pressure of finding questions to ask took away from me actually taking the book in.
It’s a recent release, and McCulloch’s debut, and I already know it’ll be on my favourite books of 2021 post coming later in the year.
It’s easy to put someone in the friend zone. But what happens if you change your mind?
Bea isn’t happy. Desperate for a change, she looks to her friends for inspiration. Every single one of them is paired off, perhaps that’s what she needs too.
So, she starts dating again. But everywhere she goes – amid the hilarious and scarring dates – there’s Peter. Good old, oddball Peter, her closest friend from university. He’s always been firmly in the friend zone but something’s happened lately – he seems taller, more handsome and suddenly making him smile is Bea’s favourite thing.
But how can Bea possibly risk their friendship? And how do you even go about taking someone out of the friend zone? What if Bea and Peter were only ever meant to be just friends…
From the offset, I loved the tone of this one. The book is very character focused – which I prefer to books that focus a lot on creating places and introducing lands and worlds I’ll forget by the morning – so I couldn’t help but feel like I was reading a friend’s story instead of a fictional character. Bea is extremely relatable, not afraid to mess up (even down to constantly spilling things on herself, and owning it, which is relatable content if you ask me!) and a hilarious narrator. Initially I did want this to be a dual narrative, and thought it would be, but I think Bea carried the story along really well and the reader is still able to get a grasp of the other characters, too.
Another thing that McCulloch does brilliantly is characterisation. I’ve already said how much I loved Bea (I could go on but I’ll stop, for your sake!) but McCulloch also includes loads of characters you grow to like – and maybe even love – by the end. Of course, there’s Peter – Bea’s friend from uni who seems to be everywhere she looks – but there’s also her group of friends, her work friend Penny as well as family and the weird and wonderful men she dates throughout. I think there were points when I closed my eyes and thought these people could easily be my friends, or people I’ve passed on the street, there’s something about each and every one of them that feels real.
As someone who is very much single, and has been for a stupid amount of time (not that I’m keeping track), I completely related to the mess that is the dating scene – and getting back into it – through Bea’s eyes. As well as despairing in our mutual back luck, I found myself laughing out loud at parts of this book (including one very unfortunate incident involving a chilli 😣) as Bea’s dating journey unfolded.
I also loved the romance. As much as I am a lover of enemies-to-lovers and the more organic meet-and-gradually-fall-in-love stories, something has to be said for friends-to-lovers. As a painfully shy girl in a joint-primary school, and still painfully shy girl in a Catholic all-girls-school which later was part shared with boys, I never had the ease of falling in love with my male best friend which only makes reading this kind of story sweeter for me. I think having Peter and Bea as friends allows you to get under the characters skin, find their good points and bad points (definitely agree with Peter’s stance on lounge pants. Two words: Game changer), and it makes their slow-to-start love story even sweeter.
My only complaint was the ending. It wasn’t a bad ending, I should say, I just wanted more from it. I was happy with the honest way it ended but – as I read on and fell in love with the characters, and their story – I could’ve easily read more. Saying that, it just gives McCulloch the opportunity to revisit these characters in the future and I, for one, hope she does.
Just Friends is a great debut and a lovely rom-com, perfect for unwinding during these never ending lockdown days.
You can buy this book here.
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