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Written by Dorothy KoomsonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Dorothy Koomson

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On Sale: March 25, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-440-33752-2
Published by : Bantam Discovery Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

How far would you go for the best friend who broke your heart? This internationally bestselling novel tells an enchanting tale of life’s most unpredictable loves and heartaches, and the unforgettable bond between a single woman and an extraordinary five-year-old girl. From the moment they met in college, best friends Adele Brannon and Kamryn Matika thought nothing could come between them—until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn’s fiancé, Nate. Now, after years of silence, the two women are reuniting, and Adele has a stunning request for her old friend: she wants Kamryn to adopt her five-year-old daughter, Tegan.

Besides the difference in skin color—many will assume that headstrong, impulsive Kamryn is Tegan’s nanny—there’s the inconvenient truth that Kamryn is wholly unprepared to take care of anyone, especially someone who reminds her so much of Nate. With crises brewing at work and her love life in shambles, can Kamryn somehow become the mother a little girl needs her to be?

In My Best Friend’s Girl, Dorothy Koomson takes us on a warm and wondrous journey through laughter and tears, forgiveness and hope—and the enduring love forged by the unlikeliest of families.

Excerpt

Chapter One


The postman jumped as I snatched open the front door to my block of flats and eagerly greeted him.

Usually when we came face-to-face, he'd have buzzed up to my first-floor flat and I'd come shuffling down to the ground level, pulling on my dressing gown as I tried to rub dried sleep drizzle off my face. Today, though, I'd been hanging out of my window waiting for him. I was in my usual dressing gown and had sleep-sculpted hair, but this time my eyes weren't barely open slits, I'd washed my face and I was smiling.

"Special day, is it?" he said without humor.

He clearly didn't like this reversal of roles. He wanted me to be sedate and disorientated when he handed over my post. It was probably the only power trip he got in a day. Ahhh, that's not fair. He was lovely, my postman.

In fact, everyone in the world was lovely today.

"It's my birthday." I grinned, showing off my freshly cleaned teeth.

"Happy birthday," he commented, dour as a priest at prayer time, and handed over the post for the four flats in our block. I keenly took the bundle that was bound by a brown elastic band, noting that almost all of the envelopes were red or purple or blue. Basically, card-colored. "Twenty-one again, eh?" the postie said, still unwilling to be infected by my good humor.

"Nope, I'm thirty-two and proud," I replied. "Every birthday is a bonus! And anyway, today I get to wear gold sequins and high heels and brush gold dust all over my cleavage."

The postie's small brown eyes flicked down to my chest area, then he immediately snatched his gaze away. It'd probably occurred to him that he shouldn't be eyeing up the women on his delivery route—especially when said lady wasn't even undressed enough to make it worth his while.

He started backing away. "Have a good day, love," he said. "I mean, dear. I mean, bye." And then he legged it down the garden path far quicker than a man of his girth and age should be able to.

 "You too," I called after him as I shut the door. I flung the letters that weren't for me but had the audacity to arrive at this address today on the floor of the hallway. They landed unceremoniously on top of the other, older letters that sat like orphaned children, longing to be rescued. I usually felt sorry for those letters, wished the people they'd been sent to would give them a good home, but they weren't my problem today. I barely gave them a second thought as I took the stairs two at a time back up to my flat.

In my bedroom I had already laid out my birthday breakfast feast: fresh croissants with smoked salmon, three chocolate truffles and a glass of Mo‘t.

Everything had to be perfect today. Everything. I'd planned it that way. After I'd devoured my special brekky, I'd stay in bed until midday, opening birthday cards while receiving calls from well-wishing friends and relatives. Then I had an appointment at the hairdresser to get my hair washed, deep-conditioned and cut. I was going for a radical change—ditching my usual chin-length bob for a style with long layers and a sweeping fringe. After that, I'd come back home and get dressed up. I really was going to wear a dress of gold sequins that set off my dark skin in spectacular fashion. I was going to squeeze my feet into gold high heels and I was going to brush gold dust over my cleavage. And then a few of the girls from work were coming round for drinks and nibbles before we went into town to dance the night away.

I slipped carefully under the sheets, not wanting to spill any of the special spread, then took a swig of champagne before I tore through my cards like a child. Around me the pile of brightly colored envelopes grew as I tugged out the cards and smiled at the words written inside.

It wasn't dim of me, then, not to notice it. It was like all the others. Slipped in among the bundle, innocuous and innocent-looking. And, like all the others, I didn't really look at it, didn't try to decipher the handwriting on the envelope, ignored the picture on the front. I simply opened it, eager to receive the message of love that had been scrawled inside. My heart stopped. I recognized the handwriting before I read the words. The words I read with a racing heart.


Dear Kamryn,
Please don't ignore this.
I need to see you. I'm dying. I'm in St. Jude's Hospital in central London.
Yours, Adele x
P.S., I miss you.

Slamming it shut I registered for the first time that the card had "I love you" on it instead of one of the usual birthday greetings.

The glossy cardboard sailed across the room as though it had burned my fingers. It landed on the wicker laundry basket and sat there staring at me. With its white front and simple design and three treacherous words, it sneered at me. Daring me to ignore it. Daring me to pretend the words inside weren't carved into my brain like they were scored onto the card.

I took a slug of my champagne but it tasted like vinegar in my mouth. The croissant, carefully sliced and filled with smoked salmon, was like sawdust as I chewed. The truffles were paste on my tongue.

Still the card stared at me. Goading me. Ignore me if you can, it mocked. Go on, try it.

I threw back the covers, got out of bed and went over to the card. Dispassionately, I tore it in half. Then tore those pieces in half again. I stomped into the kitchen, stamped on the pedal of the trash bin to open it and dropped the remains on top of the rotting vegetables, greasy leftovers and discarded wrappers.

"There. That's what I think of that! And you!" I hissed at the card and its sender.

I returned to my bed. That was better. Much better. I sipped my champagne and ate my food. And everything was all right again. Perfect, even. Just like it should be on my birthday.

Nothing could ruin it. No matter how much anyone tried. And they were bloody trying, weren't they? You don't try much harder than with that message, dressed up as a birthday card. Very clever. Very bloody clever. Well, it wasn't going to work. I wasn't falling for that nonsense. I was going to carry on with my plan. I was going to make my thirty-second more special than my eighteenth, twenty-first and thirtieth birthdays combined.

Because when I am thirty-two I shall wear gold sequins and six-inch stilettos and brush gold dust over my cleavage, just as I promised myself ages ago.

The door was ajar and didn't protest as I gently pushed on it. I didn't knock. I never knocked on an already open door because to me it always said, "Come, no knocking required."

From her place amongst her white pillows, she smiled as I stepped into view. "I knew you'd come," she whispered.

Chapter Two


Dolce & Gabbana. Even now, at what was probably one of the darkest hours of her life, Adele wore designer clothes—a white D&G T-shirt peeked out from under the covers. She always did have more style than sense.

At one time, that thought, twisted as it was, would've been out of my mouth—callously uttered to her because she would've appreciated it. I couldn't today. Things had drastically changed between us. I hadn't seen Adele in two years, and the last time I saw her, she had her fingers buried in her hair as though on the verge of ripping her blond locks from their roots, mascara was running down her face and snot was dribbling out of her nose. She was talking, stumbling over her words, saying things I didn't want to hear. I was grabbing my clothes and my bag and blinking back tears and trying not to collapse in a heap. Things don't go back to being normal after you part on those terms.

Now, she was ill.

We didn't speak as a nurse fussed around Adele, noting the readings on the machines, checking the lines on the drips, plumping up the pillows so they propped the patient upright. The nurse had a round, friendly face with big brown smiling eyes. She grinned at me as though she knew me, told Adele not to talk for too long and left us to it.

Still we didn't speak. "Hi" seemed a pretty insufficient way to greet someone I'd sworn never to communicate with ever again.

"That nurse reminds me of your mum," Adele said when the silence had started to drown out even the hum of the machines.

I nodded in agreement but couldn't bring myself to talk. I just couldn't. This wasn't the Adele—Del as I called her—I'd come to see, this wasn't the Adele I'd braced myself to talk to after all this time.
I don't know what I expected, hadn't really thought about it when I got on that train to travel two hundred miles from Leeds to London, but I didn't expect her to look like this. I could close my eyes and see the Del I expected to see. That mass of curly honey-blond hair, always trimmed to shoulder length, would be there. As would that smooth, healthy glow of her creamy white skin. What would be the clearest thing about the image? Her eyes, which were the blue-gray of highly polished steel, or her smile, which lit up everything around her? Whichever it was, behind my eyelids, the real Del would be there. So perfect and three-dimensional I could reach out and hug her.

With my eyes open, Del Brannon was different. Altered.

The Del who was propped up in bed had skin that was a blotched patchwork of gray, white and yellow. Her face was hollowed out by weight loss, and under her sunken eyes, conspicuously missing their eyebrows, deep dark circles were scored. Around her head was tied a royal blue scarf, probably to hide her lack of hair. My body went cold. Her beautiful, beautiful hair was all gone. Stripped away by the drugs that were meant to make her well.

I didn't know she'd look like this. Frail. Like an anemic autumn leaf—so dried, brittle and fragile that one touch would crumble her into a million pieces.

"It's good to see you," she said, her voice a low rasp that was probably as painful to create as it was to hear. "I'm glad you came."

"What's with the voice?" I asked.

"It's the treatment. Makes my mouth dry and my tongue feels like it's grown shag pile."

"God, remember when we felt like that because we'd actually enjoyed ourselves by getting drunk the night before?" I commented, then mentally slapped myself. I didn't mean it the way it sounded—I was trying to express sympathy but it'd come out wrong.

Del's dry, cracked lips pulled up into a smile. "Trust you," she said. "No one else has dared say something like that to me. Too scared of making me cry, I suppose. Too scared that I might break down and die on them. Trust you to break the taboo."

"It wasn't intentional," I replied, suitably shamefaced. "Just being myself."

"I wouldn't want you any other way," she said.

"What's wrong with you?" I asked. That sounded wrong too. Harsh. Unfeeling. Admittedly, part of me was still that woman who was picking up her belongings and swearing to herself she'd never be that hurt again, but most of me was brokenhearted. I was helpless and I didn't "do" helpless very well. "I mean, you said you were . . . What are you ill with?"

"Leukemia," she replied.

"I thought only children got that," I said before I could stop myself.

"That's what I said!" she exclaimed. "You know, when the doctor told me, I said those exact words. It went down like a cup of cold sick, I can tell you."

"Glad to know it's not only me who says inappropriate things," I muttered loudly.

"Yep, even when I'm at death's door." She said that so blithely, calmly, that I had an urge to reach out, take hold of her bony shoulders and shake her. Violently. So violently that she was reminded what was going on. How could she be so laid-back about it? So comfortable with the notion of dying?

I was still struggling to understand how someone who was my age, who went to the gym, who ate relatively healthily, who had never smoked, who drank as much as I did, had woken up one day to find there was a clock ticking over her head; discovered she was one step closer to knowing when she'd meet her maker than I was. I'd been wrestling with this thought since I read the card she sent me.

"It's all right, you know, I've accepted what's happening to me," Del reassured me, as though reading my thoughts. "It took a while but I'm here. I know it's going to take you a while to catch up."

"Only a little while," I said sarcastically.

"I had to get here quickly," she continued, ignoring not what I'd said but how I'd said it. "I had to make plans. It's not just about me. So, no matter how much I wanted to pretend it wasn't happening, I had to remember the most important person that needs taking care of."

Tegan. She was talking about her daughter, Tegan. How was she taking this? If I was having problems dealing with it, how was a clever little five-year-old coping?

"I suppose you've worked out why I wanted to see you," Del said after another long silence had passed.

"To make me feel guilty for ignoring you for two years?" I replied.

"Apart from that," she said, a sly smile playing around her gray lips.

"Well then, no."

"After I'm gone . . ." Del paused, took a deep breath. "I want you to adopt Tegan."

"What?"

"I want . . . No, I need you to adopt Tegan after I die."
I could feel the frown creasing my forehead, and my face twisting itself into an Are you mad? look. But she stared back at me as if she expected an answer to what she'd just said.

"You're joking, right?"

"Do I look like I'm joking?" she replied, exasperated. "If I was joking there'd be a punchline and it'd be funny. No, Kamryn, I'm not joking. I want you to adopt my daughter when I die."

"All right, Adele, if you're serious, I'll give you a serious answer. No. Absolutely no."

"You haven't even thought about it."

"There's nothing to think about. You've always known that I don't want children. I told you enough times, I'm not having kids."

"I'm not asking you to have kids, just my one." Del inhaled deeply, a move that seemed to take all her strength and added to her gray color. "I've done all the hard stuff, morning sickness, losing my figure, twenty-four hours in labor . . . You just have to look after her. Be her mother. Love her."

"Just" look after her. "Just" be her mother. Like that was easy. And anyway . . . "Del, we haven't even spoken in two years and now you're asking me to adopt a child? Can you see what's wrong with this picture? Why I'm having problems with this?"
Dorothy Koomson|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Dorothy Koomson

Dorothy Koomson - My Best Friend's Girl

Photo © Niall McDiarmid

Dorothy Koomson is a journalist as well as a novelist, and she currently lives in England, where she is at work on her next novel.

Author Q&A

A Q&A with author Dorothy Koomson on her new book, My Best Friend's Girl


You are having tea or coffee with one of your favorite authors. Who is it, and what would you ask that author if you only got to ask him/her one question?

I’d love to say I was sipping champagne and my favourite author and I were sitting in a beach restaurant that has been hired out exclusively for us, but as is most likely, we’d be in a small, greasy-spoon café and I’d order a cup of peppermint tea (I don’t drink tea or coffee) and then not drink it because that’s a bad habit of mine. I would be with J G Ballard (Empire of the Sun, Crash) and I’d ask him how it feels to have been so prolific that he has been published in five different decades.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about having a book published?

That you don’t become a millionaire and you still have to have a day job! Oh, and that you can touch so many people and inspire them with the words you’ve put together.

What’s your typical writing day like? And what environment is most conducive to your process?

My writing day varies so much because I’ve had two jobs—journalist and novelist—for so long I’ve usually had to fit writing books around the one that pays the bills. That has also meant I can write pretty much anywhere because I write long-hand in notebooks first then type it all up. I used to write on the train to work, or during my lunch breaks. I think it’s a little self-indulgent to need lots of space and time to ‘create’. I find that if a story wants to be told, it will find ways of coming out. Also, if you passionately want to be a writer, you’ll find the time to write. (Please remind me of this when I say I can’t write another book until I’ve moved home so I can have an office.)

Can you name the first book you read that inspired you in some special way? Why?

My mum taught me to read and write before I started school so I’ve always been someone who reads a lot, meaning I can’t think of the first book that inspired me. I can remember books that meant a lot when I was younger, though. I remember being blown away by Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives — it was access to a life I would never have known about (although I was far too young to have read it!). It inspired me to want to tell stories. I loved Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, because it was a tale about being a teenager, which told me that teenagers like myself had stories to tell. And I remember reading a set of books about some talking vegetables called the Garden Patch or something. The books were written by a girl who was about ten years old and that made me believe that if she could be a writer so young then maybe I could, too.

Many writing experts advise “write about what you know.” Do you agree with this? And what practical advice would you give an aspiring author?

I have lots of writing tips on my website (www.dorothykoomson.co.uk) but I would suggest that aspiring authors “write what you love” rather than write what you know. That means writing a story because you believe in it and that you want to tell. I think many, many people make the mistake of trying to write for money or because they think they can do better than another author, or because they think it’s the type of book that will sell. They’re all valid motives for putting pen to paper, and they do work for some people, however, I’ve found that none of them will comfort you when you start receiving rejection slips as much as knowing you’ve got a story you love. Also, the sense of satisfaction of seeing a story you’re truly passionate about on the shelves is second to none.

Which came first: the characters, or the storyline?

I don’t know, to be honest. The people and the story seem to appear in my mind. If you spot me staring off into space when I should be listening to someone or watching something, it’s generally because a scene has just played itself out in my head and I know a story is developing.

If we asked your best friend to describe you in 3 words what would they be? What if we asked you?

Best friend: Warm, determined, ever-so-slightly crazy.
Me: Stubborn, funny, ever-so-slightly crazy.

Is there something in your Bantam Discovery Novel that you are particularly proud, or happy, about?

The fact that I have had so many different people contact me and say the characters are like them, or they have lost loved-ones to cancer and the book has given them comfort, or that the book has made them cry.

Can you tell us about the book you are working on now?

I’m just finishing my fifth novel, Goodnight, Beautiful a tale about a woman who agrees to have a baby for her best friend and his wife, but finds herself in an impossible position when they decide they don’t want the baby any more.

When you finish writing your answers to this Q&A, what will you do next?

It’s 4am UK time, so I will be returning to writing Goodnight, Beautiful because as I say, I’m just finishing it so that means working sometimes through the night. Then I’ll be sleeping for an hundred years, give or take a few hours.

Author Q&A

All About My Best Friend’s Girl
by Dorothy Koomson



My Best Friend’s Girl is my third novel and it centres around the tale of Kamryn a career woman who over the course of a day becomes a mother to a five-year-old girl called Tegan. It almost sounds like a fantastical, mystical tale when described in those basic terms, but that is essentially what the book is about—and that simple idea was the inspiration for the book.

When I start to come up with the idea for a novel, I usually have a scenario—a ‘what if?’ situation —bubbling away at the back of my head that needs to be nurtured so it can be grown into a story. With My Best Friend’s Girl, I wondered: ‘What if you woke up one morning and by the end of the day you are responsible for another person?’ Usually when a woman has a child she has nine months to get used to the idea of becoming a mother—even if she doesn’t use that time to prepare herself properly, she still has time to grow accustomed to the idea. But in this case, what if the child is given to you without warning and you have no option but to go along with it?

After I had this initial idea, I thought: ‘What if this child you were suddenly asked to give all the unconditional love, support and care a mother provides for her child was the one person on earth you wouldn’t want to be around? What if becoming a child’s mother hurts you more than you can imagine?’ I then set about trying to work out why that child would cause such pain. And also why you would be in that situation of having a child under your arm, and a whole new, unexpected set of responsibilities resting heavily on your shoulders by the end of the day. Where is the ‘real’ mother? Of course, then, the story takes on a whole life of its own as it grows from the seed of an idea to the tree of a whole story. That story focuses not only how the initial situation came about but also how you would rearrange, adjust and decimate your life to fit in with this new responsibility, and how the struggles you face along the way would change you as a person.

At the core of any good story, I believe, is this idea of change. How something startling, out of the ordinary or unforeseen will change a person and if they meet the challenge or buckle under the strain. It doesn’t necessarily have to be as major a change as becoming responsible for a child, it could be starting a new job you feel drastically unqualified for, it could be moving into a new place and having to develop new relationships, it could be kissing someone you shouldn’t, it could be having to face up to a secret that you’ve hidden for many years.

Stories like that, which show how the human spirit can bend, change or break, which show how people’s emotions are tested, how their personalities are opened up, or altered or are given the opportunity to blossom are my favourite kind. When I read a novel, I want the words and the story to touch me. Even if it is not a particularly emotional subject the author is dealing with, even if it makes me laugh from beginning to end, if there is something that resonates with me—makes me laugh (which does take a lot), causes me to think about something in a different way, or makes me feel as though I know the characters by the end, then I label it heart-lit. Literature that strokes its fingers over the strings of the heart. Books that fit the label of heart-lit, I find, deal with subjects that other types of books don’t. These novels allow the reader unrestricted access the minds, lives and hearts of another ordinary person they may not otherwise get to know; these novels allow the reader to consider what they would do in that situation without ever having to go through the trauma of it themselves.

My favourite types of heart-lit books are the ones that have characters that are real. These characters aren’t nice every minute of every day, they can be difficult at times, they can—like all of us—annoy others, they can be wrong at moments and refuse to see they are. For an author it is much harder to create a character who is real because readers may not like them all the time. I remember when my British agent read the first few chapters of My Best Friend’s Girl he said he was worried Kamryn came across as being pretty unpleasant at times. (I remember thinking he should try talking to me first thing in the morning— then he’d know what unpleasant really was!) I explained to him that Kamryn, as I was creating her, was a real woman and therefore not going to be all smiles all the time. When he had read more of the book, my agent did change his mind, and agreed she seemed more like a real person because of her character flaws.

From the emails and letters I’ve received from readers of My Best Friend’s Girl across the world —it has been sold and translated in over 20 countries— it is this sense of reality that has touched people. The fact that Kamryn is not perfect, but she tries to be a better person while coping with what has been thrown at her; the fact that Tegan is a damaged child who wants nothing more than to have a family; the fact that these two bereaved people who don’t know much about each other are now having to create a new life together has inspired hundreds of people to contact me. And to tell me how much they loved the book, to share their similar stories, to confess that the novel made them cry!

I love receiving emails like that because it shows that I’ve done what I want to do with my writing—I’ve told a good story. And I’ve touched another person’s heart.

Praise

Praise

“I was laughing and crying from page one. Koomson deals with grown-up issues: friendship, death, betrayal and forgiveness.” —Adele Parks, author of Still Thinking of You

“Koomson's U.S. debut is a three-hankie delight.”—Publishers Weekly
Reader's Guide|Discussion Questions

About the Book

Best friends Kamryn and Adele thought nothing could come between them—until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn's fiancé, Nate. When Kamryn discovered the betrayal, she vowed never to see either of them again.

Years later, Kamryn receives a startling letter: Adele is dying, and she wants Kamryn to raise her daughter, Tegan. Will Kamryn, a workaholic and marketing executive, accept the challenges of becoming a mother to a five-year-old? Can she put the past aside and become the mother Tegan needs?

Dorothy Koomson makes her U.S. debut with this warm and wondrous journey through laughter and tears, forgiveness and hope—and the enduring love forged by the unlikeliest of families. The following discussion questions are intended to enhance your reading of this novel.

Discussion Guides

1. What can we infer from the fact that Adele had hundreds of people at her funeral, but only trusted an estranged friend to take care of her child? What does that say about Kamryn?

2. Why do you think Adele kept Tegan’s paternity from Nate? Do you think Adele would have told Nick the truth before she died, if Nick had returned her calls?

3. Would Kamryn ever have faced her past with Adele and Nate if she hadn’t become the guardian of Tegan?

4. Do you think Kamryn had a choice in taking guardianship of Tegan? Do you think Kamryn would have taken the child if Tegan had loving grandparents?

5. All of Kamryn’s relationships seem to grow out of negative feelings. Kamryn didn’t like Luke or Adele at first. She slept with Nate on their first date just to get rid of him. Kamryn’s relationship with Tegan is the only relationship where she does not make any judgments. How does this effect your perception of Kamryn?

6. In Adele’s letters to Kamryn, she explains what happened between her and Nate. Is the explanation satisfactory? Why was it easier for Kamryn to forgive Adele than it was for her to forgive Nate?

7. Kamryn is always questioning which man is “The One” for her. Do either Luke or Nate fit that description? Who would be better for Kamryn? For Tegan?

8. Because of Tegan, Kamryn is not considered for the position of Marketing Director. Do you think Kamryn was ready to handle the position with all the changes in her life? Do you think her boss should be the one to make that decision for her? Would Kamryn have made the right choice for her and Tegan?

9. What will happen to Kamryn and Luke? Will Kamryn, Tegan, Luke, and Nate be able to live peacefully in their makeshift family?

10. What do you think is at the core of this novel? Friendship? Love? Change? Discovery?

11. The author refers to My Best Friend’s Girl as a “heart-lit” book. Do you think this moniker is accurate?


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