I Had Such Friends – Meg Gatland-Veness

Charlie Parker, who was loved by everyone (including his teachers), has died. The entire school has been deeply affected by his death at the beginning of Year 12. Well, everyone except Hamish and his only friend Martin. Hamish hasn’t been the same since a tragedy in his own family years ago and he thinks he knows what Annie, Charlie’s girlfriend and the prettiest girl in school, is going through.

Back then, I thought I was invincible. Back then, I didn’t realise children could die.

It’s a hard book to review for a couple of reasons. Most of the time I didn’t even like the main character, particularly when he kept ditching his only friend because someone more popular was suddenly paying attention to him. I also spent most of the book wondering why a specific character suddenly wanted to spend time with Hamish when they were polar opposites in most respects. This is explained towards the end but, although I liked the other character, I didn’t really take to their unusual friendship. I had guessed a big reveal early on so I didn’t feel the impact of that when it happened.

Some conversations work better in dark rooms where faces are hidden by the quiet.

At times it felt like I was playing YA Social Issue Bingo while reading this book (look at length of my content warnings list if you don’t believe me) but at the same time it was realistic because many high school kids really do have to deal with all of these issues and more.

I appreciated that this book highlights the fact that you really don’t know what is going on in other peoples’ lives. Behind the smile of the prettiest girl in school there could be a world of pain. Beneath the bravado of the star football player there may be secret shame. I wish that these kids had been given help for their problems or at least been able to tell a trusted adult instead of another kid who didn’t know what to do to help.

I loved that not only does the author live in the same county as me but we even live in the same state. For those of you living in America you will probably never understand how wonderful it feels to actually find your local area represented in a book when it happens so infrequently. Whenever I find a book by a local author I always relish all of the minor details.

In this book the distance between places was measured in kilometres and the temperature was in celsius so I didn’t have to convert any numbers in my head as I was reading. A character ate Vegemite on toast for breakfast. I love Vegemite! The beat up car one of the characters drives? I drive one of those! The tar melting on the road and sticking to the bottom of your shoes? Welcome to summer in Australia!

Once Upon a Nitpick: In chapter 15, Hamish and another character go to the beach. It’s specifically noted that the other character leaves his football in the car and Hamish has a little internal monologue about why this is the case, but on the next page Hamish takes a photo of the other person with the football on the beach. However they never go back to the car to retrieve it.

The sentences that addressed the reader only served to pull me out of the story and the repeated use of “As you know” irritated me. For example,

I guess I don’t need to tell you that Martin hated the beach. As you know, he couldn’t really swim, and he didn’t look too great with his shirt off.

Content warnings include grief, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, homophobia, alcoholism, discussion about prior drug use, bullying, accidental death and suicide (including method used).

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Pantera Press for the opportunity to read this book. I’m interested in reading this author’s next book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Charlie Parker dies, it affects everyone who knew him. Everyone, that is, except for seventeen-year-old Hamish Day, the boy who lives on a cabbage farm and only has one friend. But Hamish soon finds himself pulled into the complicated lives of the people left behind. Among them is Annie Bower, the prettiest girl in school. As he uncovers startling truths about his peers, his perspectives on friendship, love, grief and the tragic power of silence are forever altered.

Meg’s own teaching experience has enabled her to delve deeper into the true nature of a universal high school experience. I Had Such Friends will speak to high school students/teenagers on a personal level, and foster important conversations among Australian youth, school and family culture on issues including abuse, failure and neglect.

With hard-hitting themes including unrequited love, abuse, neglect, sexuality, bullying, prejudice, death and suicide, I Had Such Friends is a poignant journey of self-discovery, grief and the tragic power of silence. A gripping look at adolescent pain with a narrative maturity that accurately reflects its YA milieu, I Had Such Friends resonates with young adult audiences and pushes them to reflect on their own ‘sliding doors’ moment.

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