Monday, April 1, 2019

Her Best Friend's Secret by Anna Mansell

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She deserves the truth. But it will ruin her life. What would you do? 

Emily was meant to be the girl who escaped their small Cornish town. She was going to be the success story. But it didn’t work out the way she’d dreamed it would. And now she’s back home. With a secret that’s even bigger than her failure. 

Emily thinks she can just hide away. But then she runs in to Lolly, her one-time best friend from school, who spontaneously suggests a small reunion with their once close-knit group of friends. Jess and Amanda still live nearby, though none of the four women have spoken in years now. 

But after so much time, everyone’s lives have changed. Nothing is as easy as it was in their schooldays. And everyone’s got secrets. One of which is big enough to ruin not just the fragile friendships, but one woman’s whole life… 

Full of truths about friendship, marriage, and the relationships that define us, Her Best Friend’s Secret is a powerful, relatable and emotionally gripping novel for fans of Jojo Moyes, Diane Chamberlain, and The Silent Wife.

Source: advance e-galley provided in exchange for an honest review

Emily, Lolly, Amanda and Jess were the best of friends back in the day having shared some memorable and significant moments with each other. When Emily abruptly moved away it put an end to that. The group's dynamic seemed to change overnight and the remaining three began to grow apart as well. 

They're all in their forties now and at different points in their lives. Emily went on to enjoy acting success in America, Lolly became a physical therapist and is married with kids, Amanda who works two jobs is divorced and semi-estranged from her daughter, and Jess has forged a successful career in advertising and continues to enjoy her singleton life. Emily running in to Lolly on her return home is the catalyst that brings the four friends together again. Interestingly, all four are apprehensive about meeting up. After all these years, what could they possibly have in common anymore? However, they all come around when they recall the fondness they had for one another and that maybe they could do with some girl time. 

This was my favourite aspect of the novel - their reunion! As soon as they were in the same room it was like all that time and distance didn't matter. Getting reacquainted is a bit awkward at first but that bond they built as teenagers is as strong as ever. Behind the smiles they're all dealing with the demands of life and personal situations that feel too big to take on without the support of the girls. As troubling as their own problems are, one of them holds a big secret that could crush the other friend. Which brings me to the most standout part of the story: each of these women are strong in their own unique way. When they find the other in trouble, they come to each other's aid without hesitation or judgment. I loved that Mansell allowed Emily, Lolly, Amanda and Jess to embrace themselves as they are. I'd say out of all the characters I was most surprised by how much I liked Amanda. I think in my younger days I would've judged her the hardest, and this is the advantage of being older and wiser, I guess, because I'm learning to abide by the motto of to each her own. Don't get me wrong, I liked all of them but Amanda astonished me because she owns every decision she has ever made about her life and owes no one apologies for how she's finding happiness. I was rather fascinated by her. 

I'd previously read Mansell's How to Mend a Broken Heart and admired how she captured her characters' emotions in it. She's done the same thing with Her Best Friend's Secret. It takes a few chapters to set up the pieces but it's thoroughly delightful once it gets underway, even though I knew that Mansell would crush me shortly. And she did. It didn't lessen the blow even when I suspected what was about to come. I was so invested in this story, in these four women, in their friendship. I'm happy to say that Mansell does give each of them their well-deserved and fitting HEA. Female friendships are a tricky thing to write. It's hard to find heroines who feel well-rounded and don't succumb to one stereotype or another. Women are complex and when an author can capture that with sincerity and allow them their strengths and flaws, and celebrate their uniqueness, I'm all for it!

~ Bel

*Please see labels below for content warning and/or potential triggers.

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