“You just made me feel like none of that had to define me anymore.”
Notice: I requested and was approved to receive an eARC of We Used to Be Friends from Netgalley. This book is set to be released on January 7th, 2020.
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 high-school sweetheart 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.
I requested We Used to be Friends during a Netgalley request spree a few months ago. What caught my attention about this book was its promise of contemporary cuteness and relatively light-hearted content about two best friends and conflict between them. I am happy to say that it definitely delivered on that promise: I read this book in a breeze. It gave me a breather from the highly complex fantasies I was reading at the time.
This book is all about the pain and discomfort that comes with growing up and evolving. Our two main characters Kat and James are childhood best friends and practically tied at the hip until the end of junior year/beginning of senior year of high school comes, and aspects of their lives begin pulling them in two different ways.
The central conflicts of this book are very true to adolescence: Fights. Breakups. Underage drinking. Popularity/being a shadow of your popular best friend. College decisions. Etc.
However, not all of the conflicts of this book are juvenile, and there are a few very important conversations that can be had about this book, so let’s talk about them!
Conversation #1: The Paramount Nature of Communication in ALL Relationships
When we talk about communication issues in relationships, we usually are talking about them in the context of romantic relationships. However, this book is a reminder that clear communication should be present in both romantic and platonic relationships.
If I remember one thing from my interpersonal communications class I took last year, I remember the types of logical fallacies that we often fall into during heated arguments. James, 1/2 of our main character duo, often falls into the fallacy of should when it comes to her expectations of Kat. For example:
[Kat] “Stuff was clearly bothering you! You didn’t say anything about that, either. If you thought I was being a crappy friend, you should have said something.”
[James] “And you should have known.“
The fallacy of should is at play here because James expects Kat to read her mind and instantly know what is going on inside of it. But as we all know, no one can read minds. Not your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner. Not even your best friend. The only way for a problem to be resolved is to talk it out, and We Used to Be Friends demonstrates this perfectly.
Conversation #2: Parental Death, Divorce, and Moving On
I was really surprised to see the amount of careful attention given to the topic of the death of a parent and how it forever alters the structure of a family in this book. Be aware that if this is a soft spot for you, it may be hard to read. That said, it may also be incredibly comforting and healing to see how Kat traverses her life without her mom around.
“I love that Luke and I are just back to bickering like we did as kids, before we lost mom and suddenly it didn’t feel OK to be kids like that anymore.”
And with the absence of a parent and a great amount of time and healing past, eventually, some parents may choose to move on. Kat experiences on-page confliction of her feelings about her dad’s choice to move on, and I found that very necessary to her character arc. I enjoyed experiencing the development of her opinions on the matter, including her worrying about erasing/replacing her mom, and her ultimate relationship with her new stepmom.
“This is how I end up at The Grove after school the next day with my dad’s girlfriend. I don’t think anything about getting to know Diane is hurting Mom’s memory, but sometimes I still think about it. If Mom could see me flipping through racks of clothing with this woman when obviously ideally it would be with her…I don’t know how she would feel.”
Conversation #3: The Fallacy of Causation
The final conversation I think We Used to Be Friends was an excellent launch pad for is avoiding the fallacy of causation in all—but especially—in romantic relationships. The fallacy of causation basically means that a person is in a mindset that they should not do or say anything that would cause someone to have a negative reaction.
If I may expose myself for a moment, I relate to this fallacy hardcore and I am always working on avoiding it myself. Here is an example of this fallacy at work between Kat and her girlfriend Quinn:
[Quinn] “‘You know you don’t have to pretend you are or aren’t anything, right?'”
[Kat] “‘I just liked being…’ I sigh. ‘I like being this version of me, with you. The one who cried less and didn’t talk about her dead mom all the time. Who didn’t say, like, all her neurotic stuff aloud.'”
[Quinn] “‘You can cry and talk about your dead mom as much as you want. And I’m up for hearing as many of your worries as you want to tell me.'”
10/10 couple, if I do say so myself.
Even though We Used to Be Friends had a few good conversations in it, everything outside of those conversations left me feeling so incredibly frustrated with our characters and their plotlines. I found myself skimming and skipping pages of overly-dramatized problems they were facing that I simply didn’t have the patience to read. As I said before, most of this book feels very juvenile, and I frequently found myself asking, “really? We’re going to be upset about this trivial detail now?”
Additionally, the character cast of this book is very archetypal: Kat is insanely popular, James is ridiculously smart (I’m talking this girl has a 15-year-plan smart), Quinn is a boyish lesbian, Logan is the college boyfriend, etc. These characters were nearly nothing outside of the boundaries of their archetype, which made them feel really 2D (with the exception of Kat. She’s probably the most developed character of the book).
In all, while I thoroughly enjoyed analyzing the conversations of this book, everything else felt very disappointing. I can refer people to this book for these conversations if needed, but outside of that, I can’t say that this is a book I will reread.