Emily Joy reviews We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding

We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding

We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding tackles a topic that I don’t see often in fiction — friend breakups. I’ve experienced a few friend breakups, and this book hits all the right notes.

Kat and James have been best friends since kindergarten, and had what seemed like an unbreakable friendship until senior year of high school, when they slowly begin drifting apart and choosing different goals as they start thinking ahead to college. While James keeps secrets from her best friend, Kat is falling in love with another girl for the first time, and figuring out a new identity for herself.

I first heard this book when Malinda Lo gave it a shout-out on Instagram. Although I don’t often read YA contemporary, I was intrigued by this one, and particularly by the unique formatting. Told in two first person perspectives, James’ chapters start from the end of her senior year and go backwards, while Kat’s chapters start at the beginning and go forward. In the middle of the book, their timelines cross paths and the chapters are chronological for a while, but then part ways again. I had never heard of a book formatted that way, and I thought it sounded neat!

Unfortunately for me, jumping forward and backward was not as fascinating as I thought it would be, and only made me feel confused rather than intrigued. While at times it was bittersweet to have the contrast of different phases of their friendship, often the characters’ reactions to events in the story felt disjointed. When Kat reacted to things James did at the beginning of the book, I had trouble remembering what exactly had happened. When James reacted to things Kat did at the end of the book, I was confused without any points of reference. While the story itself and characters were very good, my reader experience with this book is mostly just confusion.

The formatting did impress me on one count. It didn’t give away all of the surprises, which was cleverly done. At first as I was reading, I was disappointed because I thought I knew exactly what would happen, but just enough information was given, and likewise withheld, to maintain a few surprises.

But let’s talk about what I loved. Friend breakups! They’re so difficult, everyone goes through them, but people so rarely talk about them with the gravitas they deserve. In We Used To Be Friends, the reasons for James’ and Kat’s friend breakup are varied, and I loved that, because I think they make the book relatable to a wider audience.

One of the reasons for the breakup is Kat’s new relationship with another girl. As she discovers her bisexuality and starts a new relationship, James is left feeling left out. She is not homophobic, and is supportive of Kat, but still feels left out and alone during a time when she needs her best friend. Quinn (Kat’s girlfriend) is a wonderful character. Honestly, she was my favorite in the book. Although Quinn’s character does come between the friendship of our main characters, she was never made to take the blame for it, and I was grateful for that.

Something I loved is how Kat stands up for her new identity, and makes it very clear at different points in the text that she’s bi, and what that means for her.

“I never said I was a lesbian. There are all sorts of ways to be into girls, you know.”

“I identify as bi. I like girls and boys and people who identify as both or neither, you know? But also right now I like Quinn and that’s all that matters.”

The content in this book is wonderful. And I highly recommend it. The bisexual representation is beautifully done, and I really appreciated how explicit it was. If I had read this book chronologically, and skipped around the book to read chapters in order, I think I would have thoroughly enjoyed it. But really, the only thing I didn’t like was my confusion with the formatting. So consider reading the chapters chronologically, or read it cover to cover, but whichever you choose, I think this is a fantastic book about a heartbreaking and very real topic.

Mallory Lass reviews The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The Summer of Jordi Perez

CW: Body shaming and homophobic mother, elaboration at the end

Spoilers: Spoilers marked at the end for the first 35% of the book

I’ve been wanting to read The Summer of Jordi Parez ever since I attended a 2018 ClexaCon panel where Amy Spalding was a speaker. What jumped out at me during her panel was that her book featured a protagonist that was traversing both queerness and body image issues. Having dove head first into the world of lesfic romances in 2016, and ultimately reading so many books with conventionally beautiful protagonists, I have been seeking books with character representations closer to my lived experience.

Abby “Abbs” Ives is a plus size fashion blogger in the summer between her junior and senior year. She’s the daughter of Norah Ives of “Eat Healthy with Norah!” fame and her older sister Rachel is preoccupied with college life and her new boyfriend. Her best friend Maliah also has a new boyfriend, Trevor, and Abby feels destined to be alone. She’s just started her dream internship at a boutique clothing store, Lemonberry and has a major crush on her surprise co-intern, Jordi Perez.

Jordi Parez could be described as a misunderstood artist. She is a photographer with a penchant for wearing black, but not necessarily in a goth way, she has more of a New York artist vibe. When Abby and Jordi first meet outside the boutique for their internship, Abby doesn’t even know Jordi’s name, or that they attend the same high school. Neither of them knew there would be two interns, and they soon find out that they are fighting for one job at the end of the summer. Little does Abby know, that is the least of the complications ahead of her.

This book is written in first person from Abby’s point of view, which I mostly enjoyed. My only complaint is that she can be really self-deprecating (which other characters point out), and while I understand it does fit the character and the story Spalding is telling, I found it grating at times. My lived experience of being seventeen years old seems so far away from me now, and I didn’t always relate to Abby’s anxiety-filled daydreams, or love of fashion, but it did give me a glimpse into everything Abby was thinking or feeling and really allowed me to go on the journey with her. I felt the chaos and joy of Abby’s crush and the momentum of her relationship with Jordi as it progressed, and that was accentuated by the narrative choice Spalding made.

There are some gems of life advice in this book, and Spalding has a way of grounding all of this wisdom in casual conversation and observation which I find relatable even as an adult reader. It is definitely not preachy, and that’s a bonus. Abby’s summer is a modern coming of age journey filled with social media and text messages and also descriptions of kissing as something unknowable because it’s a thing you do. Spalding has a beautiful way with words, and all the while it still feels authentic from a seventeen year old. Some of the lines are adorably cheesy, for example: “I can’t tell the bass drum apart from my thudding heart.” The easy dialogue and great concept make this an enjoyable and quick read.

There is a fun supporting cast of characters. With Abby and Jordi’s families, their friend groups, and their Lemonberry co-workers and boss Maggie all getting space on the page, Abby’s life is dimensional and complicated. Her relationships are changing around her and that is one thing I really loved about this book. The interpersonal plantonic and familial relationships really shine, even when they are not in a positive place.

If you, like me, fell in love with Jared in the indie hit Booksmart, you’ll probably enjoy the relationship between Jax and Abby. Jax is the queer platonic friend everyone wishes they had. Abby and Jax have great banter and are building their relationship around what Jax dubs being “friends-in-law” (he’s best friends with Trevor, and Abby is best friends with Maliah who are dating) and I’m totally stealing that. If you want a story about coming into yourself, navigating evolving friend groups, familial challenges, and your first girlfriend – this is a book for you.

Content Warning (with spoilers)

The portrayal of Abby’s mother Norah is very real, but could also be really triggering for some readers. She “forgets” Abby came out as a lesbian, and fails to apologise for it. She essentially asks her to go on a diet. She plays the “why are you making our relationship so difficult” card a lot and is generally not a supportive mother to Abby. She has a skewed idea of what it means to be healthy, what healthy body acceptance looks like, and doesn’t understand how to connect with Abby in an authentic way. Based on other characters support of her I don’t think it’s a case of an unreliable narrator, or that Abby’s view of her mom is very far off from reality. Norah makes an attempt at smoothing things over, but the damage has been done and in my opinion can’t be repaired in one day by words alone, but actions over time. If you have unsupportive parents, you might want to pass on this book.

Spoilers

Abby and Jordi get together in the first third of the book, and their budding relationship is really romantic and age appropriate. I liked the way Spalding built up Abby’s crush on Jordi, and how she brought them together. Abby gets to explore the age old question of “How do you tell if a girl is into other girls?” with different characters – tl;dr attending a Tegan and Sara concert doesn’t make you gay, but it should go in the plus column. Overall, I found the pacing enjoyable and I didn’t spend the whole book waiting for the other shoe to drop or some big conflict to happen but you’ll have to read for yourself to see if Abby and Jordi can survive the summer.