I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Guilty Friend by Joanne Sefton
Published on June 24, 2019
Genres: Drama, Fiction, Literary
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Cambridge, 1986. Alex, Karen, and Misty are an inseparable trio at Cambridge University – one can never be found far from the others. But when Alex dies suddenly, the remaining two friends can’t look one another in the eye – knowing they both had a part to play in her death.
Present day. Misty and Karen haven’t spoken in years, but, convinced she has seen a picture of Alex alive, Karen doesn’t know who else to turn to. She soon becomes obsessed with a past she thought she’d left behind her… and her life begins to spiral out of control.
Because, when you’re living in the past, who is keeping an eye on the present?
What I anticipated out of The Guilty Friend and what I ended up with are two completely different stories. Based on the novel synopsis, I assumed two best friends would carry dark secrets about what lead to their best friend’s demise – as would be the case with a typical thriller.
That’s not the case here. I do feel like The Guilty Friend fell prey to some false advertising. It’s not a thriller. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t suspenseful or isn’t worth reading, just that it isn’t the book you might anticipate by reading the summary alone.
Mild spoilers ahead.
The story focuses on three girls, Karen, Misty, and Alex, in the past and the present. In the present, Alex is supposedly dead. In the past, we see how the three girls became so close but also the darkness that loomed over them. Alex struggled with anorexia, and the disease became both a weapon and a wall.
In present-day 2019, Karen thinks she sees Alex on television, and it spawns the semi-mystery of whether or not Alex is alive. But if you’re expecting the book to become a sordid tale of Alex’s past, it doesn’t. The focus is really on Karen’s daughter, Tasha, who also succumbs to anorexia and her journey through it.
Misty has become a doctor who specializes in eating disorders as a way of making up for what happened to Alex. She blames herself for not being able to save her.
I understand what the author was trying to do. In her author’s note, she talks about wanting to alter the common thriller trope. Instead of a human antagonist or violence, she wanted the tension to stem from a disease. It does, but the book spends more time on the dramatic tension and relationships between characters than an overarching mystery or story.
There is more angst, sadness, and exploratory emotional beats than there is suspense.
That said, The Guilty Friend is still a compelling read. The author is tasteful and factual in her depiction of anorexia, and it’s nice to see someone tackle this disease without glamorizing it.
However, I did find the story too meandering for my taste. It failed to keep me engaged for large portions. Am I glad I read it? Yes. But it wasn’t always easy to get through and not just because of the heavy content.
Should you read The Guilty Friend?
It depends on your tastes. If you want to read an emotional story about women trying to help each other through intense grief and the terrible disease that is anorexia, then yes. Sefton is a competent writer. The characters are well-crafted, and even though the relationship-building sometimes falls short, there are some stunning scenes in this book.
If you’re expecting a more traditional thriller or suspense story, I advise skipping it. I don’t think you’ll be satisfied with whats offered here.