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Just about every line of J. Courtney Sullivan's Friends and Strangers resonated with me, but one part in particular very much stood out. One of the protagonists, Sam, is having a conversation with the other protagonist's father-in-law, George. Sam comes from a working class family and she goes to an expensive private college, for which she has shouldered the burden of her tuition. George was a limo-service business owner until Uber took over, and now he spends his days fixated on "the hollow tree" - his theories about corporate greed and and the complicity of the American public. Anyway, Sam has friends who work in the college cafeteria's kitchen, where she did work-study to help pay her tuition, and Sam inadvertently did something to hurt them. When she laments about her guilt to George, he mentions that she needs to remember that she is privileged in ways that her friends are not. He tells her that it doesn't matter how much money her family has or does not have. She will soon have a college diploma, and that will give her privileges that her friends from the kitchen never will have.
This is so true, yet as an educator I don't remember this nearly enough. Our society has all sorts of disparities when it comes to race, class, and socio-economic factors. Yet education plays into all of that, and this is examined in Friends and Strangers in a subtle and compelling way.
That doesn't mean the book is dry or hard to get into. Both the story and the characters are engaging from the first page. Elisabeth, a writer and thirty-something mother, has just relocated from Brooklyn to a college town with her husband, Andrew. She is having trouble adjusting and finding time to write, so she hires Sam to be a nanny. But Sam becomes Elisabeth's best friend in the town, and the two women develop an attachment to each other when their relationships with other people in their lives become strained. All the while, their levels of privilege are examined and personal boundaries are explored.
It may sound like not much happens, but so much happens, and I knew both Elisabeth and Sam and I really cared what happened to them. Both characters are flawed and they both make terrible mistakes, yet they were completely relatable, even when their friendship is in crisis and the two of them are at odds with each other.
“As you made your way through life, there were people who stuck, the ones who stayed around forever and whom you came to need as much as you needed water or air. Others were meant to keep you company for a time. In the moment, you rarely knew which would be which.”
Ultimately, the question becomes, will Sam and Elisabeth "stick" for each other, or will they keep each other company for a short time? I won't give away the answer, but I will say the impact they each have on the other's life is big. The impact of this novel is big too. I highly recommend Friends and Strangers.
My Book Reviews
I love novels! My favorite genres are high-end women's fiction, suspense, and psychological thrillers, but occasionally I'll also pick up some chick lit or YA. I mostly read books on my kindle, and I also listen to audio books every morning when I go for my run.