The Friends We Keep


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All page references are from eBook.  I read most of it in my Kindle app and also listened to some of the last half on audio book.  I did not care for the reader.  Her voice was rather detached.  I find that I also take WAY more notes on an eBook, I think because it is so easy to just highlight - so it's a rather long review...

The book could almost be a How-To guide for handling a teen's pregnancy.  It has lots of wise advice such as, "I need to remember I'm upset with the situation, but she's still my daughter." (p. 135) and "This is a low, so there is going to be a high." (p. 268) as well as for other relationship situations.  Aside from that though, I consider this a bubble-gum book.


On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex:  2

Religion:  0

Gruesome:  1

Suspense:  3

Morality:  4

Sex - a married couple's explicit thoughts about sex are interrupted by life (p. 61), a woman's thoughts about masturbation (p. 61), makeup sex (p. 297). a newly romantic couple has a rather descriptive encounter for two paragraphs (p. 335)

Religion - I don't recall any mention or church, not even at Christmas

Gruesome - when two children throw up in their mom's car the passage was descriptive enough that I could almost smell the vomit and worried I might start to feel queasy

Suspense - I was rather hooked about seeing how different story lines would wind up.  I had my opinions of what I thought should happen and I wanted to see if they did happen.  And there were also things that I knew would happen but I got anxious and wanted it to hurry up.

Morality - I thought the exchange between Hayley and Nicole on page 125 is a great example of friendship.  Even though Nicole doesn't understand Hayley's feelings, she supports her and doesn't judge or criticize.  Discussions about options for a teen pregnancy - abortion, adoption or keep it. (pgs. 142, 351)


In general this is a nice story and an enjoyable book -
    One of the key families deals with a step-child and an ex-wife - something that many readers can relate to.  Having been suddenly single in my 30s I could also relate to Nicole getting back into the dating world.  I especially chuckled at her moment of wondering about the clothing she had chosen (p. 334) when things got more romantic than she anticipated.

but I found it to have several flaws.  
    There were several times that the story repeats character facts - like what was Candace's job (pgs. 37 & 46) or that Hayley helped her sister and got paid in dinners. (pgs. 12 & 99) I wondered if it was bad editing or they felt the reader's needed the reminder.  
    Then, there were other times when I did need a reminder and there was none.  I don't need a repeat of a character's job description nine pages later but chapters later a hint would have been nice for the minor characters, especially Pam and Shannon.  I had a hard time keeping straight who they were.  Pam was the mother of Hayley's boss Steven Eiland who owns a plumbing company but Pam is also a sort of friend of Hayley's.  Shannon is someone's sister-in-law.  Pam and Shannon also attend Nicole's exercise classes which Gabby also starts attending.  After exercise class many women are chatting including Shannon, Pam and Gabby.  They all seem very familiar with each other - Gabby even references "Char and Oliver" although the reader has never seen those names and never will again. (p. 87)  It is more than 80 pages into the book before Pam is even mentioned for the first time but it sounds as if she is one of the inner circle the way she is referenced.  Also, on page 96 Gabby reflected on her husband Andrew being "so sophisticated and out of her league."  I was confused - was he older than her?  I used the Kindle search but couldn't find an earlier reference that would explain Gabby's feelings.  On page 280 "Shannon joined us" and by then I couldn't even remember who she is.  On page 357 she is referenced as Hayley's friend but I thought she was someone's sister-in-law.  I read on the author's website that there will be other books in the series and perhaps these side characters will play more of a role in them.  However, I believe that any book in a series should also be able to stand alone without confusing the reader.
    On page 123 Nicole and Hayley go shopping during their "precious [lunch] hour".  Nicole owns her own business so she's certainly not restricted to exactly one hour.  Hayley worked in an office job for a plumber.  Yet, "She'd dressed for their outing in a tank top and shorts..."  Was that what she wore to work?  At the time I'd forgotten exactly what Hayley's day job was but she does mention having a sandwich "back at the office" which makes a tank top and shorts seem inappropriate.
    Sometimes I felt like the book was actually written by a man because the portrayal of the men being so perfect seemed a little unusual.  There are three key couples and they all communicate so well. (pgs. 295 & 371)  Sure there are problems but they talk them out like civilized adults.  People admit when they are wrong and take their share of the blame.  Friends call each other out on their mistakes and nobody gets mad at anybody. (p. 284) Men surprise their wives with gift cards for shopping or a romantic night out, even arranging for babysitting.  While I understand it is fiction and many people read for an escape, there is also a wide school of thought that believes the characters should be relate-able.  While the romantic in me wants to believe that there are really such wonderful men out there, the realist in me believes they are few and far between so to have three of them in one small town makes it seem far-fetched.  Until it is time for sex and then the perfect man doesn't bring his own condom.  (p. 336)
    On page 219 Morgan presents a situation which, if she were a main character, we would be upset about.  But until now we have been led not to care about Morgan so having her seeking sympathy seemed a serious diversion from the plot.
     On page 292 "Makayla also had a three-week reprieve on gym class, so she wouldn't have to get changed in front of the other girls and then wear an outfit that would make her pregnancy obvious."  It seems like starting out with the reprieve is backwards.  She wasn't showing that much but would show more later in the school year.

Discussion Questions

Commiserate about the joys of parenthood and never getting to be alone. (p. 9)

How long did you blame weight on pregnancy?  (p. 14)

There are several times when Gabby thinks a drink would be nice but pushes aside her desire and continues in mom-mode.  Is this a natural tendency or can anyone learn to choose to suck it up and be blessed instead of drinking? (p. 19)

Gabby thought, "that if she were a better mother she would find more self-actualized stories to read her daughters." (p. 32 - 33)  Debate the merits of this idea versus the additional stress and guilt it puts on mothers.  Is there more harm or value in children reading fairy tales?  What other societal notions cause you stress in raising your children?

Nicole was okay with the Fancy Nancy character but thought Brad the Dragon was "just so...annoying." (p. 53)  Which of your children's favorite characters did you enjoy most?  Which ones annoyed you?  Were there any that you liked but they didn't?

Gabby looks at Pam as an inspiration for a healthy lifestyle.  What is your most effective motivation for making healthy eating choices?  (p. 86)

Gabby wondered, "if having it all meant doing a lot of it badly." (p. 88)  Does it?  Is that okay?

When Gabby suddenly had unexpected free time she knew it, "would probably be better spent going for a walk or doing sit-ups, but there was no way that was going to happen.  Wine, bath and book, here I come."  How do you spend your unexpected free time?  How should you spend it? (p. 96)

When Andrew announced he'd get the girls booster seats Gabby, "knew she'd been outplayed.  Worse, she'd been weak.  What she didn't understand was why it always seemed to come down to surrender or being the bad guy.  When was there any middle ground?" (pgs. 97 - 98)  Have you ever gelt like Gabby?  What is the best solution for such a situation?

Hayley was adamant that she could not adopt a child because of her own experience being adopted.  She thought her adoptive parents, "couldn't help loving their biological daughter more than their adopted one." (p. 102)  Yet Hayley couldn't have a biological child so there wouldn't be anyone to love more than the adopted child.  It took Hayley a LONG time to realize this. (pgs. 198 - 199 & 274)  Why didn't she need to love an adopted child as they should be?  Isn't she just continuing the message that biological kids are better than adopted?  Was that realistic?  Later Hayley shifts from needing a baby to, "As for having a child, she was beginning to think she'd been on a fool's errand.  Maybe that had never been her destiny." (p. 249)  Does this seem like a big shift within approximately one week?  What caused her change of heart?

Gabby told Nicole, "...the best things in life aren't safe.  What moves us, what we want the most, always means taking a risk.  Isn't that what makes things worthwhile?" (p. 114)  Do you agree?

"Gabby felt she lived three steps behind.  She honestly didn't know how her mother had done it." (p. 116)  Can you identify with her feelings?  How had Gabby's mom done it all?

Gabby thought about telling her mom she'd seen Makayla and Boyd kiss.  Should she have?  Would it have changed anything? (p. 117)

When do you struggle with not wanting to argue but sending mixed messages. (p. 126)

Was being pregnant better or worse than being on drugs?  Better or worse than stealing or being a bad person?  (p. 129)

Do you agree with Rob's tactic to move out? (p. 163)

Why did Hayley tell her sister and not her friends about Rob moving out? (p. 182)

How often do you fail to see both sides of a situation like Hayley's perception of Morgan being more loved?  (p. 198)

There is a lot of talk about facing fears in this book.  Hayley is afraid she won't love an adopted child. (p. 199)  Nicole is afraid of getting hurt if she falls in love.  What fears do you need to face?  How does facing our fears contrast with Jairus' idea that, "We all have our own personal truth, but I don't think it has much relationship with reality." (p. 326)

Gabby thought the baby would be given up for adoption.  Andrew thought Gabby would raise it.  (p. 207)  Have you ever had a big misunderstanding due to two people hearing things different ways? (p. 215)

When Rob came back home Hayley had a hard time trusting that he would stay.  (p. 224)  Was she justified?

When Jairus and Tyler were drawing, Nicole "retreated to the living room to read and give them space to just hang out".  (p. 234)  Was this an appropriate action or part of her fear?

Gabby worried what kind of message she would send to her daughters if she quit work to take care of the baby and thereby "caved".  (p. 267)  Do you feel it would have sent a positive or negative message?

When Makayla told Gabby that she'd lied to her friends about when she and Boyd broke up, "Gabby supposed she should chide her for lying, but didn't have it in her." (p. 278)  Do you agree or is this an okay time to lie?

When Gabby tells her mom about Makayla's baby and says the father's name is Boyd her mom says, "The father's name is Boyd?  Who names their child that?" to which Gabby replies, "Mom, that's not really the point." (p. 286)  Sometimes as mother's age they say things that seem inappropriate or off-topic.  Share funny stories of off-topic things your mothers have said.  How did you feel about the unusual name of "Jairus"?

Hayley, "...remembered their mother saying that it was okay to be a little mean now and then, as long as you felt bad afterward and didn't make a habit of the behavior." (p. 290)  What do you think of this advice?

When Gabby dropped the twins off at Kindergarten she stood with the other parents and, "They all looked shell-shocked, as if unable to believe this had happened." (p. 294)  Share stories of dropping your children off at the first day of Kindergarten.  Or discuss coping strategies for those who haven't yet had the experience.

When Gabby tried to go back to work she felt like her brain had changed. (p. 299)  Did you encounter brain changes after pregnancy?  Do you have a reentry into the working world experience to share?

There are several times throughout the book when characters reference "everyone gets part of the blame in the failure of a marriage" (p. 327) or a similar thought.  Why is this such a strong thread?

Are you a complainer?  Nicole says, "You get to complain.  We all do.  Someone elses circumstances have nothing to do with you." (p. 328) Do you agree?

Did it change your view of how perfect Jairus was when he had to ask Nicole for a condom? (p. 336)

What did Hayley's dream symbolize when she fell asleep on the sofa and dreamt that Rob was gone/dead? (p. 337)

When everyone was sick and Andrew was out of town, Gabby called her mom. (p. 344)  Share your worst sick-kids story.  Who rescued you?

Nicole called a babysitter and got out of the house so Tyler wouldn't see her cry about his father. (p. 347)  What tactics do you use to keep your emotions from your children?

Gabby wanted to be excited about her work. (p. 364)  What did you think Gabby should do?

On page 371 Gabby said, "I'm staying."  When was she leaving?

Nicole worried that if she got involved with Jairus he might break Tyler's heart. (p. 375)  If the relationship had ended then, would Tyler have been unharmed?  Unchanged?  Was it less impactful than if it would have ended some time later?

Gabby recognized, "She'd been trying to recapture who she'd been when she'd quit.  That woman was long gone." (p. 385)  Tell how you've reinvented yourself through different phases of your life.

Theme Ideas

Hold your book club at a similar location like Supper's in the Bag. (p. 11)

Serve enchilada casserole. (p. 14 or recipe p. 407)
Serve stew. (p. 16)
Serve refrigerator-cold beer in tall glasses. (p. 28)
Serve enchilada casserole and beer like Hayley and Rob. (p. 28)
Serve chocolate - Gabby's go-to for tough times. (p. 34)
Serve cookies and brownies in memory of Gabby's first exercise class. (p. 85)

Gabby met Andrew at a charity fundraiser involving painted wheelbarrows. (p. 95)  If there is a similar fundraiser in your town, consider participating as a group.

Serve protein shakes (or smoothies) like Hayley made:  Rich coconut milk went in first, followed by a double dose of high-grade protein powder.  She added flaxseeds, avocado, blueberries and a few other powders designed to help her body heal. (p. 99)

Serve cherry tomatoes and "whine" in honor of Morgan. (p. 104)
Serve chicken cacciatore like one of the meals from Supper's in the Bag. (p. 104)
Serve cookies and lemonade from plastic glasses like Gabby's mom, Marie, served the twins. (p. 115)
Serve lattes like the characters frequently drink from "Latte-Da".
Serve burgers, fries or sweet potato fries and milk shakes - a common meal throughout the book. (pgs. 168, 322, 324, 326, 386)  Possible variations are guacamole or bacon burgers and peanut butter cookie, cookies and cream, vanilla or chocolate mint shakes.

Meet at a tea house like when Nicole and Gabby met at Let's Do Tea. (p. 212)  Or serve similar things such as ginger beer, scones, a high tea lunch with "coronation chicken sandwiches" (p. 213), a "tiered tray filled with mini scones and little pastries" (p. 214), and "a tray of finger sandwiches, along with a plate piled high with crisps - aka potato chips" (p. 218), and cookies (p. 218). 

Serve marinated and grilled chicken, salad and white wine like Hayley and Rob. (p. 248)
Serve salad, chili and corn bread like Gabby. (p. 254)
Serve lemonade like Nicole served Hayley in her backyard. (p. 283)

Meet at Red Robin in honor of the twins. (p. 267)

Serve cake like Nicole took to lunch at Jairus'.  (p. 303)

Hide Easter eggs with prizes, no matter the season, like Rob did when they had all the children over. (p. 310)

Serve "not just any cookies, but healthy, nut-free, low sugar, yet delicious cookies" like Gabby was supposed to make for the school class.  (p. 314)
Serve herbal tea like Jairus made for Nicole when she went to his house because she was upset. (p. 348)
Celebrate life!  Serve ice cream like Makalya and Gabby had after they firmly told Makayla she couldn't have an abortion. (p. 355)

Hayley talked to Noah about books he liked to read.  Collect books and donate to a hospital. (p. 386)

Serve pineapple paleo muffins and M&Ms like Nicole served Hayley. (p. 376)
Serve chocolate chip cookies like Tyler said he'd like to not eat. (p. 388)
Serve salad, grilled pork chops with rosemary and garlic rub, marinated grilled vegetables, and brownies like Gabby served her family before they discussed home-schooling. (p. 388) 

Playlist:
  • a combination of country and rap like Nicole's playlist (p. 119)
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