All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

on August 7, 2018

I Had Such Friends 
Meg Gatland-Veness
Pantera Press
2018, 275p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

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.

This is a contemporary debut #LoveOzYA novel focusing on Hamish who is 17 and in his final year of high school. Hamish is on the fringe of society in school – he really only has one friend, a boy named Martin who tends to be the butt of everyone’s jokes. Although Hamish isn’t really bullied like Martin is, he’s mostly ignored. As Hamish will readily admit, he hasn’t been himself for a while. Not since the incident that changed his family forever.

There was quite a bit to like about this book. Hamish felt like a really genuine voice. He’s on that cusp of adulthood and he’s struggling with his life choices. His parents are farmers and things have been tough. They work very long hours and Hamish seems to feel that he’ll be expected to take over the family farm but that’s the last thing that he really wants. He has no interest in farming and seems to resent the farm (cabbages – who even likes cabbages?) and wants to move away from their rural area to go to university.

The book opens with the aftermath of the death of Charlie Parker, a popular football player at Hamish’s school who was killed in a car accident. There’s a sort of vigil held at the school for Charlie so that the students may share memories of him and mourn the loss of their classmate. It’s always tough to be honest, that first death of a peer. When I was about Hamish’s age, a boy I’d gone to school with (he’d actually left the year before) was killed in the same way. Even though we weren’t close friends, it still hit very hard, that example of our mortality. Even now to be honest, I really struggle when I hear of people my own age dying. Even though Hamish doesn’t really grieve Charlie Parker as such, his death definitely changes Hamish’s life.

This book went in some directions that I did not expect and that was a pleasant surprise. I thought the evolution of Hamish’s strange friendship with Peter Bridges was quite well done. Peter is notorious in their small town – football player, wrong side of the tracks, troubled home life and he was Charlie Parker’s best friend. Previously Hamish would not have had anything to do with Peter Bridges but Peter seeks him out for reasons that are quite a mystery to Hamish for a little while. And Hamish seems bored – bored with the same routine at school, bored with his one friend, bored with heading home to the cabbage farm. He seems to latch on to the idea of letting loose a bit, cutting school to go to the beach with Peter Bridges. It’s something different and perhaps he also enjoys being the one that’s sought out, like Peter Bridges could choose anyone to go hang with but he’s choosing Hamish. And then there’s Annie – formerly Charlie Parker’s girlfriend, prettiest girl in school. All of a sudden Hamish’s life is very different to what it was before….and perhaps also from how he thought it would go.

So as the story picked up, I started to become more invested and wonder how it was going to play out. It was obviously building to something so I was interested to see how Hamish would negotiate these new complications in his life and the ramifications that they would have. As much as this novel showcases the often tedious monotony of living in a small town with not much to do, the ending also showcases the uglier side, of people fearing and hating what is different or what they don’t understand. There was opportunity for some real exploration of this issue but apart from being a brief catalyst it isn’t looked at in any real depth. At times it almost feels like there’s too much going on in this book, once all the issues come into play which means that some of them are more glossed over than others. And I really feel as though the ending came up very quickly and very abruptly without any real indication that this was how it might go. And that might be deliberate on the author’s part to show that this can happen in real life and people are left wondering and bewildered, not having seen it coming. But it honestly just felt like the author had the ending in mind but just wasn’t quite sure how to really explore the issues that lead to such an act and maximise the impact. I had to read it again in a ‘what?’ sort of way, not an ‘omg I cannot believe it!’ kind of way. I think I was just expecting a bit more from the ending: more power, more emotion, more impact, just more.

Despite the few reservations I had about the ending, I think that for the most part, this is a really interesting and well written story. Hamish is not really a sympathetic character in many ways for a bit of the novel and he’s portrayed in a refreshingly honest way, highlighting his flaws rather than trying to hide them. His home life is done fantastically – his struggling, worn down parents desperately hoping for a good crop, the differences between his mother and father, the family’s heartbreaking grief after their loss. Hamish’s struggle to deal with that loss is definitely a highlight of the story for me. I also enjoyed his acceptance of his true self though and the friendships he built. I think that Meg Gatland-Veness has written the sort of debut that could slot into a high school curriculum and I look forward to see what she produces in the future.

7/10

Book #130 of 2018

 


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