I have been a fan of Amy Spalding ever since The Summer of Jordi Perez. So when I heard about We Used to Be Friends, I was hooked. My current obsession are books that talk about friendship. The relationships that stick with us across continents and leave the deepest marks.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
When the emphasis on heartbreak is the romantic kind, the ones that give us butterflies, and inspires songs, the importance of friendship can get left behind. We Used to Be Friends tells the story of James and Kat. Told through dual POVs and timelines, we are able to witness the ways we drift apart from each other. Stop speaking that same silent language of unspoken gestures. The ways our plans go awry so fast that it seems like an accident of a moment, when in fact it had been breaking down for so long.
I am so impressed with Spalding’s ability to choose just which moments to jump back and forth in time. Feeling that rush of love in our blood can overwhelm us. Kat’s first girlfriend (questioning and bisexual representation) seems to be the beginning of a schism, but what Spalding demonstrates is that that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a story full of mistakes, moments of selfishness, times when we should have asked more, We Used to Be Friends is all about the events underneath the surface. The ways they dance our their feelings. Saying without saying. And the moments we miss when we are turning back around.
At the end of We Used to Be Friends, I asked myself whose perspective I liked most, and it’s a difficult choice. Spalding allows us to see their friendship from both perspectives. The divorce of James’ parents shocks not only James’ entire life, but her outlook on love and the future. Is there such a thing as forever? As sacrifices to make something work? At the same time, Kat feels this need to be perfect all the time, to have things figured out, and with the arrival of her new girlfriend and college, she has to figure out how to be true to herself.
We can often form our senses of self around our friends. Feeling like two pieces of one puzzle. But how do we cope with that hole? The one that seems to matter more than a summer fling. We Used to Be Friends looks at the way things start slipping away from us. The gulf of silence steadily growing further apart. The images we have of other people. We’ve all been through that situation where we have a friend we orbit around and it’s hard to let go. Both for the one who is used to be the center of attention, and the one who has to figure out how to be the star of her own universe.