When Ruby’s long absentee father shows up unexpectedly at her sixteenth birthday party, her old buried emotions come bubbling up to the surface.
It hasn’t been that long that Ruby has been okay, or at least thought she was okay, with her father’s abrupt leaving of her and her mom. The experience had left little Ruby with a fractured childhood, warping her behavior in such a way that only time and her best friend Beth were able to get her through it.
Yet with his sudden return, Ruby wonders how much of that messed up girl was just hidden away in the recesses of her mind – because she feels as though her life is spiraling out of control once again.
So when Ruby gets the hell out of her apartment where her dad is standing, to try and enjoy what is left of her birthday, her friends – devoted Beth, daring Katherine and telltale Maria – have all sorts of advice and thoughts as to what she should do.
It’s only when she meets new boy Charlie that she feels like someone is just listening, not telling. But Ruby’s reality only gets worse when she finds out that her friends may not be as helpful and as truthful as she always believed…
A while back I read Vivian’s The List and was blown away. It was a searing fictional commentary of the various emotional struggles of a teenage girl and the realization of the futility of what seems ever so important to them. It was memorable, disturbing and gorgeously written.
I believe A Little Friendly Advice is a bit of an older title from the author, newly reprinted to have a similar cover to The List. In fact, my understanding is that this is Vivian’s debut novel.
So, though I could recognize some of the insightful, deeper aspects of the characters in A Little Friendly Advice, the dynamic was not nearly as powerful here. I found the psyche of Maria and Beth intriguing – as you read the book you’ll see what I mean – and to be honest I would have liked to have learned more about them and how they became how they are. Yet, this book didn’t delve into that.
All focus was on Ruby. Though I sympathized with Ruby to an extent, it was difficult for me to do so much. She came across as overdramatic, childish and hurtful. Though her mother obviously made many mistakes, also, the casual cruelty she treated her with made me dislike her often. Yes, Vivian excels at imbuing her books with that unsettling reality of human flaws and failures, but it was difficult to get behind Ruby for the duration of the story.
Also, the relationship between her and Charlie felt a bit rushed and – dare I say? – convenient. I’m not saying all of this was bad – far from it – just not what I was expecting from the author of The List.
Revelations were effective and there were moments you could really glimpse where Vivian would go as an author, but as a whole A Little Friendly Advice fell below my expectations just due to the fact that I believe the author’s writing skill improved with time, as well as her plotlines.
Still a good, introspective read however!