CW’s: Loss of a Loved One
Representation 🌷 Bisexual MC, f/f couple
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.
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➽ Told in alternating timelines, this is a heartbreaking story of a friendship breakup. I honestly think that we need more of these books as the author emphasizes how devastating losing a friend can be and how nowadays society is pushing girls to center themselves around a romantic partner instead of their best friend. Yet though breakups are undoubtedly hard as well, we need to shine a better light on the impact a friendship breakup can have. So with that being said, it should be no surprise that this one hit really hard, as almost everyone can relate to how much it hurts to lose a friendship that means the world to you. That’s why this story had me so emotional, as it was something that I had been through as well and as it was told with such nuance, everything felt even more real and authentic.
➽ The story stars both Kat and James (a girl with a boy’s name) who used to be best friends. I thought that both characters were really complex and as you get both their perspective you really got to know them with all their flaws and problems. I feel like – depending on your personality and experiences – you will relate to one girl more than the other, yet the book makes it clear that you’re not supposed to ‘pick a side’. Instead, you get to see how both girls feel.
James is a quieter, more private person, which is why I related to her so much. She’s honestly one of the characters that spoke to me the most, as I could feel her pain and hurt at feeling like you were replaced and not as important. Like me, she’s not much for confrontation and in general listens more than she talks, which sometimes makes it easy for Kat to take up more space in their friendship. James is also a bit bad at communication, as she cannot tell her best friend how badly her parent’s divorce messed her up and how it makes her feel like their perfect little family is now forever broken. I really felt for her so so much, all the little scenes of her feeling left out and alone, when Kat was with other people and close to her girlfriend, yet she didn’t want to say something. It hurt and yet I related to her so much. It can be so easy to feel like you’re not really part of the group, especially as she’s friends with Kat’s friends by default though they wouldn’t be friends in their own right. However, I also loved seeing her passion for running track and getting closer to some of her fellow runners that she never considered as friends before. Like James, I’m someone who’s really close with very few people instead of having a large close friendship group, so I understand how heartbreaking it was to feel like she was losing Kat and feeling lost without the main friendship in her life.
However, the book also did a great job of showing Kat‘s troubles. She’s undoubtedly the more extroverted and charismatic part of their friendship duo and therefore is kind of popular at school. She’s got such a disarming way of making you feel special, I can 100% understand why James was her friend and felt drawn in by her. However, Kat can also be a bit self-absorbed, always involved in her own little dramas, and therefore pushing others away without realizing it. She also idolized her girlfriend Quinn because she saw her as this perfect person, though I 100% appreciate that Quinn made her realize how bad it made her feel and that Kat needs to listen more to her issues without accidentally dismissing them. That’s why I couldn’t dislike Kat: she’s not doing these things on purpose, she genuinely has no idea how intense she can across at times, as all she does is out of love for those close to her. Losing her mother really devastated her, so she’s even more attuned to those left.
➽ The portrayal of how a friendship can fall apart was so realistic and heartwrenching. It was SO SO well done and I especially liked how the book is giving us an insight into both girls, so we can see where they failed to communicate and how it reached a point where they felt alienated from each other. The book is always reminding us that friendship is made up of two people and often not only one side is to blame for a fallout, rather both girls made their fair share of mistakes. I really appreciated that, as the narrative never pushed us to see only one girl at fault for their friendship slowly breaking apart. Instead, we would get frustrated at Kat when we saw her from James’ perspective, yet when we got Kat’s perspective we began to understand that she was trying her best and struggling as well – and vice versa. The dual POV’s definitely worked so well in highlighting the frustrations both girls had with each other but also showing that they both had a lot to deal with that they weren’t talking about. I did relate to James more, but I also understood Kat and why she was acting the way she did. It was a great way to get an insight into what you usually don’t see: the side of the other person and what they are thinking.
➽ I also liked that the story showed how it’s often not one big thing that drives people apart, rather it’s a lot of little things that accumulate to the resentment and frustration slowly building up and then exploding in a fight. James could have been more open with what she was feeling – especially as she’s barely told Kat anything about the divorce – yet Kat could have been a better listener, paying attention to how replaced and pushed apart James felt, especially as Kat has such a big personality. This broke my heart, because both of them hope and try to get back to each other but with all the things left unsaid they are drifting farther apart, especially as a lot of events in their personal life is sadly what often opens up this gap. I liked seeing their happier days when everything was better, but the slow deterioration of their friendship was also important to see. As I said it broke my heart, as I know it all too well, especially from James’ side. It feels like your friend is slowly replacing you and you’re not their number one anymore. Kat’s new girlfriend Quinn is this person that seems to take up all her attention and it’s easy to see how James feels pushed apart in favor of romantic relationships – another great discussion as they are often valued over platonic ones – yet I also liked that Quinn was never intended on pushing her out. Instead, even James remarks that Quinn is actually a really nice person. Yet though I have undoubtedly felt pushed away when someone else took up all available space, we also see Kat trying to navigate this new relationship that is so much more intense than her past relationships. Especially in her perspective we see her attempts at including James and trying to find out how to explore this new situation – she obviously wants to spend time with her girlfriend but fails a bit to pick up on James’ clues that she also wants to spend some alone time. James however, could have communicated this earlier, but I also understand how hard it is to do so, without seeming like you don’t want to see the other person happy. It’s easy to feel like you come across petty and jealous, especially if you’re a more quiet, private person, who doesn’t like confrontation. So as time goes on I really felt James’ pain at being slowly pushed aside, so many little jabs that made her feel unwelcome and like the second choice for Kat. I could only relate all to well and it broke my heart. The awareness of growing apart, but not knowing how to find back to each other was so real, especially once the parents also notice. To her credit, Kat tried to reach out, but sometimes communicating can be so hard and there is not much to be done once both sides feel stuck with their complicated feelings. James felt like there was no space in her friendship for what she wants – as a fellow quiet person I understand all too well how you often listen more than talk and can easily be stuck in that listener role on accident – while Kat has no idea that she is taking up so much space when all she wants is to tell her best friend everything.
➽ The end really messed with me as well. For the entire book we’re following the different timelines, both good and bad times, and wondering if the girls can ever find their way back to each other. We slowly get to the point of the big confrontation and oh did it hit hard. Hearing all the frustrations both girls had with each other said out loud when it was way too late to resolve anything hurt so much, as they waited too long to have this talk. Yet I appreciated so much that each girl somehow still takes what was said to heart. Kat says that she feels so sorry James felt like she had no space in their friendship, but also vows to pay better attention to others and listens rather than talks. Meanwhile, James realizes that she should have told Kat about how her parent’s divorce and her new girlfriend were influencing her, even though it would have been hard. In the end, the book messes with us a bit as the first scene is the last one chronically, you just don’t know it at the time – making this an open ending. James tried reaching out to Kat, yet we don’t know if they actually tried to rekindle their friendship. The last scene in the book is the first one chronologically, right before that, and James senior year, showing much they still loved each other. So that was mean 😭😭😭 However, the most important message of the book is that you can learn from your mistakes and survive to lose a friend. Sure it’ll always hurt but when you can do nothing to fix things, sometimes the only choice you have is to move forward. Life goes on and even though it might hurt at the moment, there’s always hope for the future, though you’re not the same person you were back then.
➽ My only complaint is that a lot of the minor characters weren’t well fleshed out. The main one being Quinn. Unlike Logan (James’ ex-boyfriend) she almost felt a bit too perfect. That’s mainly because we almost only see her from Kat’s perspective, who is idolizing her so much that it made me feel like Quinn wasn’t a real person. I also didn’t really feel the chemistry between Quinn and Kat, as the way Kat was obsessing over her was a bit too intense for me at times, making it hard to feel like their relationship was authentic. It was a bit too much instant love as Kat is immediately taken with her. I also felt like Kat’s friends blended into the background, only some of the fellow track runners that James befriends stood out to me, the rest of the friendship group didn’t get much development.
Have you read We Used to be Friends? What is your favorite book featuring strong friendships