When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey

Willa has been friends with Britton and Luz for years and they’re inseparable. Until Willa does something that betrays their friendship. Now she has one week to think about what she did and to see if she can make it up to them, as the story spools back to tell us where it all started and what went wrong.

This YA is aimed at 12 and up, and has some chapters set now, where Willa looks through a box of things the girls have saved that are emblematic of their friendship, and some chapters that go back into the past and the friendship of the three. Willa and her friends are 18 in the present day parts of this book.

The box made me think of books like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood, but where in those stories felt maybe sentimental, but real and heartfelt, something about this book felt hollow to me. I just couldn’t get into it. I think the characters didn’t feel rounded or maybe I couldn’t relate to them. It made for a long read for me, because there’s a lot of Willa talking about how she feels (and her feelings are repetitive) but not a lot of action or growth.

I think perhaps if the book had been more straightforward, rather than moving around in time it would have worked a little better. There feels like there’s not a lot of tension or twists, it’s not structured like a mystery where we want to find out what Willa did that was so bad. And actually, what she did do feels almost like an anticlimax.

So this one wasn’t really for me. But I think the San Diego setting was nice. I also think the sense of belonging vs identity, and separation vs relationship was a nice idea to explore,. The book is about friendship and relationships, and how that can change as we come of age, how it shapes our identity, and how we can be enmeshed with people. Holding on and letting go. I think it’s something fresh to see in a YA novel. Friendships can be more interesting than romance, as a subject, when handled well. I think this may resonate with the YA readers it was intended for, though I still think that it’s a little slow and long in the middle.

Read It If: you wonder what will happen to your friendship group when you graduate. Too slow for me, and I couldn’t get into it, but it will resonate with some readers.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the copy of this book for review.

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