The Kind of Friends We Used to Be
We met Kate and Marylin in the previous (excellent) THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS. As their story, told in first-person alternating chapters, resumes, they are preparing to enter seventh grade. The girls were once best friends. But now their lives run on parallel tracks, propelled by totally different interests, although they intersect on occasion.
Kate has decided she is destined to become a guitar player, which means she definitely needs new shoes. She has seen female guitar players on TV, and they sure aren't shod in gym shoes, high-tops and the other kinds of footwear Kate has always worn. She needs shoes that send a message, such as the heavy black lace-up boots she finally persuades her mother to buy her.
Kate also finds herself leaving Marylin's cheerleader-heavy sleepover party (which she did not enjoy) early one morning, only to be invited by her ex-enemy Flannery to breakfast. One thing leads to another, and Flannery lends Kate her electric guitar, along with a book on how to play it.
Marylin thinks the whole guitar idea is pretty ridiculous. She's more interested in telling Kate how she and her fellow cheerleaders have decided to wear identical outfits to the first day of school. Marylin wants to give Kate advice so Kate will become what Marylin considers to be a successful, popular seventh grader. Meanwhile, Kate is secretly pleased that Marylin doesn't like her guitar-playing ways. And Kate wants to give Marylin advice:
"Drop cheerleading. Make friends with people who have good values. Ignore fashion. Play guitar."
On the first day of school, Kate and Marylin give a nod to tradition by riding the school bus together. They are tentatively trying out their friendship again after a rough period last year in which Flannery persuaded Marylin to shun Kate. On this day, Marylin is stunned at the sight of Kate's boots. She is appalled, knowing that no one else in seventh grade would wear such a thing.
At school, the girls separate. Marylin joins her fellow cheerleaders, including the leader of the group, a mean-spirited girl named Mazie, where she is tried --- and fails --- in the social mores of the cheerleader group, but not for the last time. There are opportunities to be close to some of the nice girls on the cheerleading team, like Rubie, but Mazie is a major stumbling block.
It's the very start of another step along the journey for both Marylin and Kate as they seek to define their friendship, discovering more about the person each girl truly is becoming. Marylin's first day of school will not be remarked upon by both parents at the dinner table. Since they split up, she will call her dad, who is a great communicator face to face. But when Marylin talks to him on the phone, he seems distracted and she can hear telltale computer sounds as if he's reading email while speaking with her.
As the year continues, Marylin works hard not to be friends with the really strange Rhetta Mayes, who draws fabulous fairies in her notebook but dresses in a big black blouse that looks like a garbage bag and has chalk-white skin and black-eyeliner-circled eyes. Meanwhile, Kate is writing songs and unwittingly discovering a faint glimmering of romance (it is refreshingly realistic to find that the boy in question has layers --- and not all of them are completely appealing).
This is another wonderfully engaging tale of the pleasures and pains of tween friendships from Frances O'Roark Dowell, who never missteps relating Kate and Marylin's points of view. The story strikes so close to home, and is so poignant, that readers may find themselves gulping down a sob or two, even while smiling with pleasure --- and in recognition.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 6, 2009
The Kind of Friends We Used to Be
- Publication Date: January 6, 2009
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
- ISBN-10: 1416950311
- ISBN-13: 9781416950318