After a meet-cute over a fender bender on their way to plan their best friends’ wedding, maid of honour Kristen Petersen and best man Josh Copeland can’t deny the sparks between them. Unfortunately, Josh wants to have lots of kids (he broke up with his last girlfriend because she didn’t want any) and while Kristen does as well, she biologically can’t have any. She has endometriosis, which makes it hard for her to get pregnant, and she is also weeks away from a surgery that’ll free her from pain but will also render her infertility absolute. Since it’s important to Josh to have biological children (he has no interest in adopting or fostering), Kristen realizes they can’t be together and keeps them firmly in the friends-with-benefits zone.
The Friend Zone is a rom com that tackles some heavy issues. I sympathized with Kristen, and I love how the author delves into the ways that endometriosis has impacted Kristen all of her life. Even when she was in school with Sloan, her best friend and the bride, she sometimes had to forego certain trips and activities because of period pain. The author also talked about how Kristen worked around her condition in previous relationships, so that her boyfriends wouldn’t have to sacrifice their own sexual pleasures while she was dealing with pain. So often, when a character has a disability or a chronic condition, it’s mentioned and then set aside whenever convenient for plot, so I really like that the reality of Kristen’s condition was ever-present throughout, without ever devolving into a pity-fest. It’s simply part of her everyday reality, and leads her to some major decisions over her own long-term happiness. Even when I don’t necessarily agree with some of her choices, I understand where she’s coming from, and Jimenez does a great job of putting us in her shoes.
The hero Josh was sweet, and I like how respectful he is throughout of Kristen’s decisions. Even though he wants to take their relationship to the next level and, not knowing of her condition, doesn’t quite understand why they’re stuck at the friends-with-benefits level, he doesn’t push her to change her mind. Instead, he talks things over with her, and actually listens to what she has to say.
The one thing that I didn’t like about him is how he kept pegging Kristen as “a unicorn” amongst women because she’s low-key, no-drama “cool girl.” It was fine the first time, but he mentioned it so often I’m starting to feel he has a low opinion of women in general, which is such a turn off. To that point, I’m not a fan of the “not like other women” trope in general, so while I understand that the author wanted to show that even snarky, sarcastic women can find love (and I appreciate that she spelled this out in her Author’s Note), I’m very much meh over the stereotypes it propagates about “most women.”
I also wasn’t a huge fan that Kristen’s “cool girl” persona was partly due to her liking beer and chips rather than posh stuff like red wine. This is more a personal preference than anything, but meh on the reverse snobbery. The other thing is that we learn that the main characters love hunting, and that too is a major personal turn off for me.
I’m also not fully sure how I feel about the ending. The romance was fairly lighthearted overall and I loved the friendships that Kristen had with Sloan and Josh had with Brandon, but there was a twist at the 75% mark that dampened the vibe considerably and changed the tone completely for the rest of the story. It was handled well, and it’s certainly the author’s right to take the story wherever she wanted, but it did detract from my enjoyment and I ultimately felt it was unnecessary.
Beyond that, there was another twist late in the book that had a bit of a happier tone. It struck me as a bit fairy tale-ish and I think that, given the characters’ journeys, the happily-ever-after would have been more powerful without it. But I like that Jimenez addresses this directly in the Author’s Note. She clarifies that it’s based on lived experience with a friend, and also that it wasn’t actually central to the happy ending of the characters’ arcs.
Overall, The Friend Zone is a sweet and emotional book that deals with some real issues. I like that Jimenez delves into a medical condition that’s an unfortunate reality for many women, and incorporates it into a romance.
Thank you to Forever Romance for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.