At the beginning of their senior year, Kat and James (her parents were convinced she’d be a boy) are inseparable. At the end? Well, the title of Amy Spalding’s latest novel is a bit of a spoiler: We Used to Be Friends. These longtime BFFs both end up bruised and bewildered by their friendship breakup. As James observes in the novel’s opening chapter, “It was easy to believe that romance was the only heartache out there.”
Kat’s year starts when, after splitting from her boyfriend, she starts to develop feelings for a girl named Quinn. Between exploring her bisexual identity, idealizing her new girlfriend and embarking on a campaign to take down the heteronormative prom king and queen competition at school, Kat doesn’t seem to have much time for James anymore. In the meantime, James hasn’t told Kat that she’s dealing with her parents’ separation and her own decision to break up with a boy with whom, once upon a time, she imagined her own happily ever after.
James’ and Kat’s stories unfold in alternating chapters and in opposite chronologies. Kat’s narrative starts at the beginning of the school year and moves forward, while James’ story begins the summer after senior year and goes backward. Each girl’s narrative voice is unique, introspective and often funny as they each navigate this pivotal year of their lives, at first together and then increasingly on their own or with others.
By the time Kat and James meet in the middle of their timelines, readers will have developed an appreciation for the ways relationships can evolve and sometimes even end, often without any kind of crisis or anyone to blame. It’s rare to find a novel that treats friendship so perceptively and acknowledges its potential end so truthfully.