Cover of Just Friends by Dylan Sheldon. A white boy carrying a rose and a white girl in a dress, shot from the waist down

About the Book

Title: Just Friends
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Whatever
Drinking Buddy: No
Testosterone Level: None
Talky Talk: No Plot
Bonus Factor: Friend Zone
Bromance Status: Awkward Date

Cover Story: Whatever

Yeah, the headless teens and the implication of a one-sided crush. Could have been worse. Could have been better…

The Deal:

Josh has always been an awkward musical nerd. He doesn’t really fit in at his high school, and spends most of his time with his friends, Sal, Carver, and Ramona. But then Jena Capistrano enrolls at his school, and Josh falls hard. And thanks to a dog walking accident, they become friends. Actually hanging out and talking on the weekend friends. Jena made it clear that’s all she’s interested in, and Josh is cool with that. But her new boyfriend doesn’t treat her right, and Josh is always the one there with a shoulder to cry on. Does he risk being the jerk who can’t be friends with a girl? But they’ve been hanging out so long, maybe things have changed. But she’s seeing this other guy. But won’t he regret it if he doesn’t at least tell her how he feels?

Meanwhile, Ramona couldn’t telegraph her romantic interest in Josh more clearly if she were Samuel Morse. Jena wonders why they’re not already dating. Sal thinks Josh is an idiot for not seeing what’s in front of him, and is ready to ask out Ramona himself.

Drinking Buddy: No

Two pints of beer cheersing with a "Denied" stamp over them

At first I thought Jena and Josh would be a good example of people who could truly be friends, even if one of them would like more. But the entire book was pretty much Jena calling Josh, Josh blowing off his other friends, band practice, or other commitments, and rushing to her side. Nothing wrong with expanding your friend base, but that ain’t healthy. Jena never seems to find it strange that Josh is always available, and she never, in the entire book, really does anything nice for him.

On top of all that, her friend Tilda, the school’s queen bee, constantly runs Josh down, explaining what a weirdo he is and how being seen with him will hurt Jena’s social status. Does Jena say ‘Hey, that’s my friend you’re talking about!’ or ‘I know he’s an oddball, but once you get to know him, he’s very nice’? Nope, she just nods and agrees. Same when her boyfriend cuts Josh down for not being an athlete or when her father makes crude jokes about Josh’s supposed sexuality. Not a word in his defense, and never once does she invite him to hang out with her ‘better’ friends.

I’m like Montresor. I’ll overlook the injuries, Jena, but not the insults.

Testosterone Level: None

There’s nothing wrong with having romantic feelings for a friend, just as there’s nothing wrong with them not feeling the same way. When Sal finally asks out Ramona, she politely tells him she doesn’t see him like that and they move on, friendship intact. But Josh was kind of pathetic. It seems he’ll abandon everything in his life just for a chance to hang out with Jena, who will occasionally ask if he had other plans when she called him to come over. Josh never says he’s busy or suggests they do something he picks. Josh was spineless, and quite frankly, Jena was cruel.

Talky Talk: No Plot

First of all, this book was written in the third person, even though we’re constantly in Josh’s head. This gave the novel a weird vibe. Then, randomly, we’d suddenly be following Ramona’s or Jena’s or Sal’s POV for a few pages, just long enough to feel awkward.

Now early on, Jena tells Josh that it’s nice to have a guy for a friend who wasn’t going to hit on her. Nice and straightforward. I figured she’d give him a male makeover and some conversation pointers and send him off in the direction of Ramona. Nope. The whole book was just Josh pining, not realizing what was right in front of his face the whole time. Very much a formula book, and a bland one at that.

Bonus Factor: Friend Zone

Isabella and Ferb as teens

Lately, the term ‘friend zone’ has taken on a sinister context, evoking the image of a guy thinking if he’s just nice enough to a woman, then she’ll have to have sex with him. I prefer the more innocent definition. Sometimes you like someone, but realize that they simply will never see you that way. You treasure the friendship, but occasionally wish you could be more than a buddy in their eyes.

Bromance Status: Awkward Date

I had hoped to fall in love with this book, but by the end, I was counting page numbers.

Literary Matchmaking

The Stand-In

Another awkward boy doesn’t notice the cute girl in front of him in Steve Bloom’s The Stand-In.

My Kind of Crazy

Or Robin Reul’s My Kind of Crazy.

My Faire Lady

Or gender reversed in Laura Wettersten’s My Faire Lady.

FTC full disclosure: I received neither money nor beer for writing this review.


Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.