The Best of Us, For the Rest of Us (Not to be confused with Festivus)

May 6, 2013 Chick Lit, Family, Friendship, Romance 36

Howdy Bookworms,

It’s a Monday, and let’s face it… I’d rather be on a beach. As luck would have it, I was offered a new title to review from Netgalley that is set in Jamaica. While visions of sand, surf, and fruity cocktails dance in your head, I’ll go ahead with my full disclosure statement. I may sound like a broken record, but here it goes again. I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Best of Us by Sarah Pekkanen is about a group of friends from college who take a trip to Jamaica to celebrate one of their 35th birthdays. You know how every group of friends has that one internet billionaire who randomly calls his friends from 15 years ago and offers them free vacations? Oh you don’t? Yeah me neither. But. Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and live in book land. If we can accept boy wizards and the occasional dragon, we can get down with the filthy rich.


Dwight the billionaire and his wife Pauline decide to treat Dwight’s college buddies to a week long Jamaican vacation complete with private plane and fancy chef. Their motley crew of guests is comprised of 3 couples, or at least it’s supposed to be. First, there’s Tina, an overwhelmed stay at home mother of four young children and her overly macho husband Gio. Next we have Allie, Tina’s BFF. Allie is a social worker with two daughters and a seemingly flawless marriage to her easy going husband Ryan. Finally there’s Savannah. Savannah has recently split up from her two timing doctor husband Gary, but doesn’t want to reveal that to the group. Instead she claims Gary is working, and she prances around in very little clothing and hits on every male in the general  vicinity.

What follows during the week in tropical paradise puts all kinds of relationships to the test. Friendships, marriages, and the all important relationship between the really rich people and the help. Actually, it’s not at all about the help, but I’m still astounded by the lives of the rich and important. Who has this much money?! Seriously!

You're absolutely right. I DO have a penguin butler. I should simmer down on the wealth jealousy.

You’re absolutely right. I DO have a penguin butler. I should simmer down on the wealth jealousy. Alfred doesn’t approve of hypocrisy.

Okay guys. Honesty here. This book was not my favorite. It was a bit heavy on the melodrama for my tastes. I think part of my problem was a lack of connection with the characters, and that’s on me more than it is on the author. Of the four women in the novel, I didn’t see any representation of myself or my circumstances. I don’t  have kids, so it was difficult for me to relate to the plight of Tina, the SAHM. The way Allie chose to handle her personal demons isn’t an approach I would have taken- keeping secrets to “protect” people seems counter productive to me. Pauline was really uptight and came from old money, so she hid her feelings pretty well, which I ALSO don’t get because my heart is forever out on my sleeve. I’m a crier, okay?!  Savannah used her sexuality in a way that made me uncomfortable. I’m kind of a prude, and it bugged me that she was so open in her flirtations and was scantily clad all the time. It’s hard for me to connect with a book when I don’t empathize with the characters.

Also. Gio. I’m not sure what Pekkenan was going for, but he felt like a caricature to me. He’s Italian and super Catholic and has a breadwinner complex. Tina seems miserable as a stay at home mom, and it’s unclear to me whose decision it was that she stay home- it felt to me like Gio may have pushed that traditional ideal on her. (Don’t get me wrong- if you’re a SAHM and CHOSE that path for yourself, more power to you. I just got the feeling that Tina was kind of forced into it and that pissed me off.) He also gets competitive when faced with the massively wealthy Dwight and tries to childishly beat him at basketball and pinball. It’s hard to draw a clear line between cultural differences and flat out stereotypes, but Gio. I just don’t know about that guy. I LIKE flawed characters, but I just couldn’t get into this set of flaws.

HOWEVER. Just because I didn’t like this book, doesn’t mean you won’t. I would recommend this title to people who enjoy reading about marital strife, the complexities of friendship, drool worthy vacations and neatly packaged endings. If you’re a stay at home mom who is conflicted about her choices, you might just feel like Tina is your soul mate. Maybe you are an internet guru with an outlandish amount of money and would appreciate reading about your personal lifestyle in fictional form. I don’t know. Books are so often a matter of perspective. This didn’t suit mine, but it might just put the rum in your hurricane.

Bookworms, I must know. Do you feel the need to relate to and/or empathize with a character in order to enjoy a book, or are you able to appreciate it for its aesthetic virtues from a distance? I’m basically asking if I’m a giant jerk got not liking this book on shallow grounds. What are your thoughts?

36 Responses to “The Best of Us, For the Rest of Us (Not to be confused with Festivus)”

  1. Megan M.

    Empathy for the characters is really important. Or if you can’t relate, you could admire something about them and that makes them readable. Who can relate to a millionaire friend offering you a free vacation? Sounds like a major flaw to me. I would be worried the whole thing was a weird murder setup, a la I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (although in that stellar example of plotting, they “win” a vacation from a radio show.)

    • Words for Worms

      Ha!!!!!! Yes! There may or may not have been a hurricane in this book too! (There totally was. But no murderers. Just a hurricane, muggers, and a lot of booze.)

  2. Liesel Hill

    Nope, you’re not a jerk. I’m the same way. Even if a character is unlikable, they have to be unlikable in a likable way, you know? Incidentally, it occurred to me while reading your review that the whole millionaire-calls-up-his-college-buddies-after-15-years-to-offer-them-free-vacations would actually be a great set-up for a horror story. Relationship angst for that premise is less interesting to me anyway. Also, if you’re looking for more on-the-water type books, I’m doing a Summer Mermaid Lit Reading Challenge if you want to join. It starts the week of the 15th, if you’re interested. Great review! 😀

      • Liesel Hill

        It’s a Summer challenge I’ve put together. No euphemism involved. We’ll really be focusing on mermaid lit. I’ve had people wanting me to put this together for some time. You can go to either of the links below for details or to sign up in the Linky. 😀

        Musings on Fantasia

  3. Milo

    With the understanding that the vast majority of my reading is science fiction, fantasy, steampunk or some combination of the three, I definitly need to identify with the characters to enjoy a book. I don’t necessarily need to understand what it’s like to be a spacesip captain lost in the outer fringes of the system battling in a 100 year long war, or a young girl dressing up as a boy to go and fly for her country on a giant sky whale during a variation of WW1, but I do need to feel as though the characters are making choices based on a sense of humanity that transcends setting. It’s less about being able to see myself in the actions and personalities of the characters, and more about an understanding that if I was put in that position then those are the sorts of things I would do…within reason of course.

    With that being said, I have no problem dealing with 99 out of 100 characters in a story that I DON’T identifiy with, so long as there is one that speaks to me.

      • Milo

        The Leviathan Series by Scott Westerfeld. Also includes giant bears, steam powerd mechs, talking lizards, dirigibles and bats that poo nails. I’m not even joking a little bit on that last one. It’s a alternate history set in WW1 where the major players are divided along “technology”. The “Good Guys”, i.e. England, France, Russia and the like, utilize bio based tech and are called Darwinist. The “Bad Guys”, i.e. Germany, Austria-Hungaria, etc., use steam powered technology and are called Clankers. America is pretty much the coolest ’cause we use what the hell we want. Also has brief, or not so brief, appearances by such notables as William Randolf Hurst, Poncho Villa and Nikola Tesla.

        Way up there on my list of awesome books, not least of all because of the phenomenal illustration that accompany the story.

        • Words for Worms

          Is he the same guy that wrote The Uglies series? I’ve heard mixed things about that, but this sounds really cool. I’ve yet to read any steampunk. I feel like this needs to change.

  4. Laura Lynn

    Good review and I totally get it. Need to feel some empathy to SOMEONE in the novel and also frankly, I don’t buy the whole billionaire swooping in thing. Kinda lame, if you ask me.

  5. Rick Wiedeman

    The protagonist has to be likable — not like me, but likable by me. A book read is intimate and takes days, and I don’t voluntarily spend intimate days with jerks. I can easily quit a book if I find the protagonist boring, whiney, or without merit.

  6. Leah

    This sounds like an interesting book, but I don’t think it would be my cup of tea, either. And I think feeling empathy for the characters is important; I don’t have to necessarily relate to them (I’m 23 and sheltered, so there are many many things I can’t personally relate to 😛 ), but I do want to care about them.

    • Words for Worms

      Ha, yes, I suppose there are a lot of characters I love that I don’t have personal experience with… But I’d like them to evoke something in me that’s more than, “meh.”

  7. Amanda

    This book sounds like it would stress me out. Life has enough flawed relationships and strife, I don’t care to read about a bunch of people whose lives are even more stressed than my own. I especially don’t care for characters that ride the line of being overly-stereo-typical. I’m with you, books are much better when I can relate to at least one of the characters.

    • Words for Worms

      I just peeked at your review and I immediately thought it was about Rochester’s secret wife! That title! It can definitely swing both ways- I don’t like being SO connected with a sad character that I’m depressed for a week, either. It’s a fine line.

  8. The Underground Writer

    I love that you admitted you are “kind of a prude.” Me too. Which is why I refuse to read 50 Shades of Grey (or as you so perfectly put it: 50 Shades of Shenanigans).

    • Words for Worms

      LOL! I did read 50 Shades, and while I’ll occasionally indulge in some harlequin scandal novels, I don’t talk about it. I’m basically an 80 year old church lady in a 30 year old’s body.

      • The Underground Writer

        Me too! I also drive like an 80 yr old church lady. In fact, yesterday I had to pull over because some guy in a red Audi was tailgating me.
        If I do read something that has a racy part, I always think, “If my mom only knew I was reading this!” like I am some kid sneaking in a dirty book.

        • Words for Worms

          It’s like the time I read Forever when I was like 12 and hid the book under my pillow… I totally hear where you’re coming from!

  9. Sarah Says Read

    This doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I’d like either. I tried reading an Elin Hilderbrand book a while back that kind of reminded me of this – a few girls spending the summer away and they all have various problems going on that I just couldn’t relate too. It happens, I guess!

    But HOW AWESOME would it be if we had old billionaire friends just call us out of the blue to go on vacation? Super awesome. Although I’d be suspicious and wonder why…

    • Words for Worms

      I want to become a billionaire so I can take you on vacation while dropping weird hints about man being the most dangerous game the whole time. I wouldn’t hunt you or anything, just freak you out to see your reaction. I would make a really evil billionaire. Of course, now that I’ve told you my plan, if said situation ever comes to pass you’ll be all, “Yeah Katie. Whatever. Pass me the margaritas, will you?”

  10. Heather

    It depends on the book, really. There are some books that require empathizing with the characters in order to be able to really enjoy them…and then there are books for which that just doesn’t matter.

  11. Milo

    I don’t know why but I can’t reply to your last comment to me…weird…

    Anyway, yes that is the same Westerfeld. I’ve never read Uglies so I can’t speak about that series but Westerfeld is one of my favorite authors, not least of all because he incorporates the illustrations I mentioned earlier.(which I feel is so sorely lacking in the modern, “adult” style literature today)

    Also, If you want to talk steampunk or any of the genres/books/series that brush up against it in one way or another I’d be happy to oblige you.

  12. Charleen

    For me it kind of depends on the book, but I do need to feel a connection to SOMETHING. If not the characters, there needs to be something that I can invest in, whether I’m drawn in by the plot, or the setting, or the writing itself… but especially in a “real people, real problems” book like this, if I can’t connect to the people or the problems… it’s really hard for me to get invested in the book.

    Just the base premise kind of reminds me of a book I read a couple years ago, Second Time Around. A group of college friends, a sudden windfall… I actually quite enjoyed it (even though I don’t remember much of it now).

      • Charleen

        I know, right? All the things I would do if I had that money. One of which would be to get into therapy, just so I could say, “See? Money CAN buy happiness!”

        • Words for Worms

          You seriously just blew my mind. If therapy is the route to happiness and you can afford it, you LITERALLY bought happiness. Bravo, my dear. Bra-freaking-vo!

Talk to me, Bookworms!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.