Friends and Strangers

Friends and Strangers

By J. Courtney Sullivan
416 pages
June 2020


An insightful, hilarious, and compulsively readable 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 theWashington 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 twenty 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.

"J. Courtney Sullivan’s fifth novel, which examines the intricate relationship between a babysitter and her employer, begins in the middle of the night, in the middle of the suburbs — 'Nobody up at this hour besides mothers and insomniacs' — from which promising vantage point we’re given delightful permission to sit back and spy... Drawn by Sullivan’s deft hand, the relationship feels authentic and richly textured... Friends and Strangers is a big novel with big ideas... An honest rendering of what happens behind closed doors."
—Clare Lombardo, New York Times Book Review

"There’s a rare degree of emotional maturity in Friends and Strangers, a willingness to resist demonizing any of the players, a commitment to exploring the demands of family with the deliberate care such complex relations require. Once again, Sullivan has shown herself to be one of the wisest and least pretentious chroniclers of modern life. Every hard-won insight here is offered up with such casual grace."
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post