“You can't rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again”
B o o k R e v i e w
Okay, so I have a question to ask you. When was the last time you’ve read a young adult novel that dealt with a friendship breakup? Uhmm, maybe like, never? Young adult fiction centers on a lot of romantic breakups, while forgetting that platonic breakups hurt just as badly, and are just as important to be talked about! As someone who has had quite a few intense friendships that have ended, I often feel unseen because fiction, including YA, focuses so much on romance. This book, however, gives voice to the people that have both sustained me and hurt me throughout my life: best friends. When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk is a novel that offers a super close-up view of what it means to lose a best friend and to feel like you’re facing the world alone.
The novel follows Cleo Imani Baker and Layla Hassan, two friends that met at the age of 12 and have prioritized each other over everything. A shift in their relationship starts to begin as Layla spends more and more time with the “Chorus Girls,” who make it clear to exclude Cleo from their group as much as possible. Cleo’s hurt and frustration at Layla for prioritizing her new friends over their already-built friendship sets off a domino effect of misunderstandings and betrayals that lurches their friendship into a ball of emptiness. Cleo is left all alone to pick up the pieces of her torn and broken heart, all while dealing with her parents separation and the loss of her grandmother. But even as she meets new friends and a potential lover, Cleo has a really hard time with trust issues and following what her heart wants, especially after Layla had beaten and bruised it during the fallout of their friendship.
Although I’ve kept the plot short and simple, there’s more to the story. This story is so much more complex than what it may seem to be. Woodfolk explores the concept of friendship in such a complex and nuanced way, it’s sure to bring you tears. Everything that Cleo had experienced, I had experienced too. Had a hard time accepting the fact that a friend doesn't act or look the same anymore? Been there. Hurt your friend after they’ve hurt you, feeling miserable yet cathartic at the same time? Felt that, too. Woodfolk has created a beautiful narrative validating all of these thoughts and feelings, highlighting how painful it can be to lose a friend, especially a friend that you’ve always trusted.
Overall, this is a fantastic read that I would highly recommend for young adult readers. While the first 50 or so pages are quite slowly paced, it eventually picks up.The diversity and queer representation in here is fantastic, and the cast of characters couldn’t be more amazing. I am so grateful for Woodfolk’s vulnerability and her creation of this sad yet breathtaking piece of work. If you enjoyed what you’ve just read, then I suggest you give this book a try. If you have any books to recommend about friendship, please let me know in the comments below!