Michael C. Barrett
Independently Published (2021)
Reviewed by Megan Weiss for Reader Views (01/25)
“Good Pals” by Michael C. Barrett is told in alternating chapters by two high school students: Nick and Rachel. Rachel is from a wealthier family and is still reeling from her father’s marriage to a woman young enough to be her sister. Nick has largely been raised by an uncle after being neglected by parents who were, unfortunately, victims of addiction and substance abuse.
Nick and Rachel would seem to be complete opposites, but when they are manipulated into a forced meeting by a mutual friend, it is not long before they realize they actually have a lot in common. They find a comfort in each other’s presence that neither has known elsewhere. Quick to become best friends, they promise to go to the spring dance together. As the months pass by, however, and they spend more and more time together, their friendship develops into something deeper. Though both claim to still be pursuing other people, and Rachel even starts dating a fellow cast mate in the school play, neither can quite shake the notion that those other crushes might be missing something. The question they must answer for themselves is whether they are brave enough to act on their growing feelings and be true to their hearts.
“Good Pals” is my favorite type of Young Adult novel. I have always been a sucker for best-friends-turned-lovers plots. I grew up in a very small school district. I knew everyone in my class, and most of the kids in the classes above and below me. Like Rachel, I was quiet when not around my closer friends, and was not necessarily known for speaking up much in class. People knew me, and generally I suppose I was “friends” with most people in my class, but I was also the quintessential ‘Plain Jane.’ I never felt like there was anything that really made me stand out. I was in school plays, but I was never good enough for the lead roles. I played some sports, but mostly rode the bench. I flirted with boys and even crushed on a couple of my own best guy friends, but never seemed to shine bright enough to actually attract anyone (or maybe I just wasn’t brave enough to take the risk of acting on my feelings). So, reading Barrett’s novel was quite a nostalgic, and cathartic, experience for me. I think about my high school memories a lot, because it altogether was a special time in my life. I’m coming up on my ten-year reunion this June, so it’s also ironic that this book found me at this point in my life.
I think “Good Pals” also had some special themes. One centered around Rachel’s relationship with her stepmom, Afton. Initially, there was a lot of resentment on Rachel’s part, which was not necessarily unexpected. After learning she is going to be a big sister, though, and making more of an effort to listen to Afton’s suggestions of putting herself out there more and her attempts at making a relationship with Rachel, I loved seeing how Rachel’s opinion of her stepmother improved. On the outside, Afton appears to be like the airheaded, blonde, young gold digger type, but she actually really does love her father, and seems to want to try to, if not be a maternal figure in Rachel’s life, then at least be a support system and confidant for her step-daughter. I think this is one instance where the fact that she is so young is actually a benefit, whereas a lot of times when this kind of relationship is portrayed in a book or movie, it is often shown in a negative light.
The second theme I found to be quite profound in “Good Pals” was the idea that we need to be open to the idea that our desires change, and that changing our minds or realizing what we thought we wanted is actually wrong doesn’t mean we aren’t being true to ourselves. Rachel’s relationship with Trey obviously raised quite a few red flags. While never overtly abusive, he was possessive, slightly condescending, did not approve of her friendship with Nick, and generally believed that he was doing her some sort of favor by “loving” her. I liked that Rachel’s decision to break up with him actually came from a natural place of retrospect and internal growth. She didn’t wait for Trey to completely smother her, or for one of the red flags to become something more dangerous. She just let herself realize that Trey was not the person she thought he was, and that the person she needed all along was actually her best friend.
“Good Pals” is the third novel by Michael C. Barrett that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and this one has definitely found a place in my heart. YA lovers, rom-com lovers, friends-to-lovers fans of all ages can find enjoyment in this quick, sweet read. I can’t wait to read Barrett’s next story, and all the ones after that.