How to Make Friends with the Dark is a deeply emotional story about friendship, sisterhood, grief, and the foster care system.
Here is what happens when your mother dies.
It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.
That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.
Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
TW: depression, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks
How to Make Friends with the Dark is a book that will wring your heart out. It’s always been Tiger and her mother. Even if she’s a little overprotective and the struggle of her family and poverty, it’s hers. Until the day her mother dies and Tiger’s life is changed forever – throwing her into the foster care system until they can find a more permanent solution.
Above all what kept me reading How to Make Friends with the Dark is Tiger and her grief. At times I needed to step away from this book because of how emotional it was making me. We feel the depths of Tiger’s grief, the way she feels separated from the world around her – a girl in a jar. And throughout the book, we witness Tiger processing the complicated relationship she had with her mother, their last fight, and how to move on without her.
It was a relationship of love and support, but also there were all the moments Tiger’s mother didn’t understand her, protected her, and how she felt a sense of responsibility towards her mother. Tiger has to struggle through all these feelings that came to a head in their last argument in the midst of her grief and foster care placement. It’s in these moments where we say things we regret, where we know as we are speaking that we won’t be able to take these things back, but how they have a way of coming out anyways.
Grief & Friendship
As Tiger processes her grief, her own origin story comes to light. Since her mother’s death, the state tries to find her father and his family – a branch of her life her mother never shared with her – and Tiger has to come to terms with all the secrets and lies her mother told her. How to Make Friends with the Dark manages to touch the spectrum of emotions – grief, anger, fear, and love – within a scene with startling beauty. These moments are tender, insightful, and heart wrenching.
Yet throughout it all, Tiger has her best friend – Cake – and this was one of the most wonderful friendships I’ve read in YA. Their relationship is based on love and support – a best friend who knows what you need without even asking. A love that spans distance, hardship, and new experiences. At the same time, there are so many new friendships that are so wonderful in this book that I can’t really talk about without spoilers. (There are a few queer side characters – a bisexual SC, and gay SC).
A brief note on the foster systems, Tiger bounces through a few homes and meets all sorts of kids with different levels of emotional stories. These were some of my favorite interactions because Tiger is reminded of her circumstances, and sees the various ways all these kids are grieving in different ways – their parents, a home, and a life of ‘normalcy’.
How to Make Friends with the Dark is a book that examines grief, friendship, transformation, and love. It’s a book that discusses how no one prepares you for the hollowness of grief, for living without your foundation, and where to go from now on. How sometimes when we get answers, we’re left with more questions, regrets for the price we had to pay. It’s a story about listening to your heart beat again.