Review by Emily-Anne Mikos
Kids Can Press Ltd, 7 January 2020
384 pages, hardcover $22.99 CAN, 978-1-4197-3866-1
Ages 14-18, Grades 9-12
Young Adult, Contemporary Realism, Romance
“Are you okay?” Kat asks me while furiously texting.
“Sure.” I’d kept waiting for something, but at this point I’m not sure what we have left to snap us back into place. School is nearly over, and shouldn’t something have done it by now? We haven’t talked much about prom, or even, really, Disneyland, or the simple fact that I can’t remember the last time I was the one Kat was furiously texting. While I miss plenty of things about last year, it’s less the lunch table – and maybe even Logan – and more Kat that I miss. I had no idea you could stand right next to someone and yet have no clue how to get back to them.
Romances aren’t the only relationships that are complicated. Childhood friends James and Kat suddenly aren’t friends anymore, and both girls are unsure how to go back to the carefree, easy relationship they once had. Told through both of their perspectives, James’ chapters go from the end of their friendship back to the beginning, and Kat’s chapters travel from the beginning to the end. As we learn more about the events that lead to their friendship falling apart, we begin to understand the importance of perspective. Without communication and understanding, even the closest of relationships are in danger of dissolving.
The novel revolves around the girls’ final year of high school. Kat’s journey starts at the beginning of the year, when she breaks up with her long-term boyfriend and begins exploring her sexuality. While Kat is out finding herself, James’ world is falling apart. After the separation of her parents and break up with her own boyfriend, James feels that she can’t tell anyone what she’s going through, not even Kat. As their worlds change, Kat and James slowly realize they aren’t the friends they thought they were, and neither girl is able to stop it.
While I love any stories about the power of friendship, We Used To Be Friends does not feel completed by the final chapter. We never fully get to hear the two girls address how Kat felt when James talked badly about her behind her back, or how James felt when Kat ignored their friendship to hang out with her new girlfriend. While the novel explores the idea of loss and absence of closure, it sets the reader up to want justice for both girls. As an invested reader witnessing both girls fail as friends, I wanted the satisfaction of seeing them acknowledge the part they played in ruining their friendship. While there is a confrontation between them, it feels too light and fast, making the possibility of their revived friendship not fully earned.
Seeing Kat explore her sexuality was exciting and James’ need to hide the reality of her life made her an interesting and complex character. However, the format of the novel itself, while intriguing in premise, at times works against the story. Since there are two timelines, we constantly need to be reminded where we are in each girl’s story. I was easily distracted, trying to remember how Kat’s memory is reflected in James’ chapter, which effectively catapulted me out of the story and distracting from the focal point of the novel.
I wasn’t able to ever fully invest myself in the story, so this didn’t end up being the book for me. But for anyone who loves experimental structures, and stories of friendship, self-discovery, and what it means to move on from high school, this might be the best kind of book for you.
Emily-Anne Mikos graduated from the UBC Creative Writing BFA in April 2019. She is currently getting her Masters in Screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin, and hopes to continue writing strong stories about women that don’t have saviour complexes. She has decidedly abandoned real life for Jane Austin novels and fictional worlds where bees are still thriving. #Savethebees.