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Publisher's Summary

A Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick!

An insightful, hilarious, and compulsively enjoyable novel about a complicated friendship between two women who are at two very different stages in life, from the best-selling author of Maine and Saints for All Occasions (named one of the Washington Post's Ten Best Books of the Year and a New York Times Critics' Pick).

Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly 20 years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms' Facebook group, her "influencer" sister's Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore. 

Enter Sam, a senior at the local women's college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she's always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She's worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth's father-in-law, the true differences between the women's lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences. 

A masterful exploration of motherhood, power dynamics, and privilege in its many forms, Friends and Strangers reveals how a single year can shape the course of a life. 

©2020 J. Courtney Sullivan (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Courtney Sullivan is a writer of extraordinary gifts, and this is her most affecting book yet, which I just wanted to keep reading and reading straight through to its climactic and emotional last pages, because its world felt completely realized, and completely real. Sullivan is a writer who offers up small human moments and large social ones, all within the frame of a truly good story. I loved it.” (Meg Wolitzer, New York Times best-selling author of The Interestings, The Uncoupling, The Ten-Year Nap, The Position, The Wife, and Sleepwalking)

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What listeners say about Friends and Strangers

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

thought provoking story

I listened to “Friends and Strangers” by J. Courtney Sullivan, performed by Kate Rudd. I loved it. Rudd did a fantastic job, and the story is compelling to me as a mother and a past babysitter.

In an interview with NPR, Sullivan said that she got the idea after she had a baby herself. She had been a babysitter for a woman when she was in college and grew close to the mother of the child she babysat for. For Sullivan it was a memorable relationship; yet the mother didn’t recall their relationship at all. Also, Sullivan worked in NYC in her twenties and thirties. When she was in her thirties, she found herself jealous of those who had family wealth to fall back on and supplemented by. She used those experiences as fodder for this novel.

The two main characters are Elizabeth and Sam. Elizabeth is an author with two novels in publication and in the midst of writing her third novel. She just had a baby and needs time to write her novel. Sam is a rising Senior at a university. She’s from a working-class family and saddled with debt. Sam is hired by Elizabeth to watch her son as she writes her third novel, and the women develop a close relationship.

Elizabeth sees Sam as a younger version of herself. As a result, she tries to “help” her with advice. Sam is idealistic and is an artist as well.

Themes of the novel are social class, wealth, education, working mothers, and female relationships. And I love the title because it emphasizes that our friends are also strangers to us. Sam and Elizabeth think they know the other person and their situation. This novel is brilliant in showing how we misinterpret many issues of our friends. We all make judgements on our friends, Yet, we don’t truly know what that person’s intentions, feelings and history are. Sullivan nails those issues.

Sullivan also points out how all of us are works in progress. We all are growing, filtering, and changing. Sullivan told NPR that she saw the novel as a conversation with her younger self. That intimacy shows in this fantastic novel. This is realistic fiction with themes that will make the reader contemplate their own personal relationships. This novel illuminates our complex relationships.

2 people found this helpful

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Just everyday life

I finished about 60% and quit. It was just going on and on about nothing. Fairly boring with a great performance.

2 people found this helpful

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Glad I listened

The first 40% was quite slow and seemed tediously detailed at points, however I really enjoyed the back half of the novel and thought the characters and story were well developed. The writing is excellent but needed a heavy edit. Narration is good

1 person found this helpful

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WONDERFUL

I loved every moment of this book. It’s painfully true in ways and familiar, and turns in ways I didn’t expect. Sullivan continues to be one of my favorites.

1 person found this helpful

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good story

I liked the story but the audio reader isn't good enough , I think it's automated , it should be more smooth and organized.

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perfection

well made honestly , I'm not judging but it's the only thing that I would rather to do in the meantime.

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perfection

the store is well described , the sound actor has a smooth voice , I can't say more👍.

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Interesting perspective about the big challenges in life that women face.

I liked the different perspectives of two women in different stages in life. It juxtaposed the bitter, jaded views of one woman and the optimistic, naive views of another while showing the unlikely friendship between them. Kind of a “grass is greener” lesson.

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Not sure why I listened to the whole thing!!

Nothing ever really happened in this book! I kept waiting for something interesting to take place, but nada. I didn’t like the characters or their relationship dynamics. Use your monthly credit on a different book.

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  • ZD
  • 09-28-20

Was ok

I can always figure out how I feel about a book by how fast I finish it and how addicted am I to listening to it. But I just wasn’t with this. The story wasn’t terrible but just ok. Started boring in the beginning and was waiting for the plot to develop.. took too long, almost gave up.