We Used To Be Friends
by Amy Spalding
“It’s strange to think you can grow up right alongside someone and be one category of person when it turns out they’re another entirely.”
To be published Jan. 7, 2020 by Amulet Books
Genre: YA contemporary
Date finished: Dec. 24, 2019
Content warnings: loss of parent, cheating
Told in dual timelines—half of the chapters moving forward in time and half moving backward—We Used to Be Friends explores the most traumatic breakup of all: that of childhood besties. At the start of their senior year in high school, James (a girl with a boy’s name) and Kat are inseparable, but by graduation, they’re no longer friends. James prepares to head off to college as she reflects on the dissolution of her friendship with Kat while, in alternating chapters, Kat thinks about being newly in love with her first girlfriend and having a future that feels wide open. Over the course of senior year, Kat wants nothing more than James to continue to be her steady rock, as James worries that everything she believes about love and her future is a lie when her parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Funny, honest, and full of heart, We Used to Be Friends tells of the pains of growing up and growing apart.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
I’ve read more books than I can count about romantic relationships of all kinds, from new relationships to relationships that are falling apart, but before now, I’ve never read a book that’s all about the end of a friendship.
We Used To Be Friends is the story of two childhood best friends, Kat and James (a girl with a boy’s name), during their senior year of high school. At the beginning, they are as close as two people can be, certain that they’re going to be friends for the rest of their lives. By the end, they’re not even speaking.
The fact that I’ve gone this long without encountering a book with such an emphasis on a platonic breakup is astounding, because who hasn’t experienced something like this? When you’re young, you think you’re going to stay friends with the same people for the rest of your life, but that usually doesn’t happen. This book captures the end of a friendship perfectly: it’s not always one big, dramatic moment that marks a breakup like in a romantic relationship, but a slow decline as you drift apart. And that can be even more painful.
The story is told in two timelines, one moving forward and one moving backward, like in the musical The Last Five Years (the title of this post is a reference, in case you didn’t catch that). James’ POV begins after the end of their senior year when she’s leaving for college, then moves backward to the beginning of senior year, while Kat’s begins then and moves in the opposite direction.
Even though this method of storytelling was confusing for a bit, I can’t imagine this book being nearly as effective without it. We truly don’t get to see the full picture until we see the whole story through both of their points of view. And the amount of dramatic irony is unreal; there were so many moments that I knew something was going on with one character, but the other character didn’t know, and I just wanted to scream at both of them. Plus, it made the ending even more painful.
Kat and James were both wonderfully complex and flawed characters. Kat, falling in love and starting to believe in a future she could be happy about, while James, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, shutting herself off from people and tearing down everything good in her life. From each of their own POVs, they were sympathetic and understandable, but from the other’s, they were frustrating and selfish. It was so clear how each of them felt justified in their own actions and their annoyance with the other.
Everything about this book felt so real, from the teenage interactions to the gradual decline of the friendship. It captured the sense of uncertainty at the end of high school, right when everything is about to change and you don’t know what’s going to last and what’s not. This book was melancholy, thought-provoking, frustrating, and hopeful all at once, and I definitely recommend it.
“Friendship can look so different from the inside than out.”
*ARC PROVIDED BY NETGALLEY IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. QUOTES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE.*