In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
It’s nearly the end of the year – a time of reflection, thoughtfulness, and change. I thought I’d do a book recommendation post on change because, well, change is hard! and scary! Even though we say that change is the one constant in life, it’s inevitable, and on and on and on, change is different and new every single time. When I myself face change, I look to books; in their stories, I find comfort in the discomfort and a little ray of hope that things are going to be okay, even if they aren’t okay for a time.
Growing up – and even now! – friendships changes were always super hard. From being close and sharing all of your life with someone else, to finding yourself in a moment where you look back and wondered why and when it all changed, wishing you could go back to when things were better and simpler. Once again, I’ve always sought comfort in stories, so I hope today’s book recommendation post will help our friends out there who may be navigating friendship changes right now.
When We Were Them by Laura Taylor Namey
When they were fifteen, Willa, Luz, and Britton had a friendship that was everything.
When they were sixteen, they stood by one another no matter what.
When they were seventeen, they went through the worst.
And when they were eighteen, Willa ruined it all.
Now, the week of graduation, Willa is left with only a memory box filled with symbols of the friendship she has nearly destroyed: A book of pranks. Corsages from a nightmarish homecoming. A greasy pizza menu. Greeting cards with words that mean the world… It’s enough to make Willa wonder how anything could tear her, Luz, and Britton apart. But as Willa revisits the moments when she and her friends leaned on one another, she can’t avoid the moments they leaned so hard, their friendship began to crack.
As Willa tries to find a way back to Luz and Britton, she must confront the why of her betrayal and answer a question she never saw coming: Who is she, without them?
If you love quiet YA that explores friendship and change with such poignant, understated yet devastating force, then When We Were Them will blow you away and leave you feeling breathless.
- The story centers on the best friendship of three girls, alternating between then and now, chronicling their high school years while exploring the ups and downs that you go with your loved ones, trauma, grief, and love.
- When We Were Them asks: Who are we when our friends and their friendship define who we are? Who are we – who could we be – without them?
- I just loved following Willa and her best friends on their journey – all the things they go through together, all that they overcome. At its very heart, this story is about love and how the memory of that love can endure, even if the friendship does not.
The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert
Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.
Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.
When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.
I love how middle grade stories explore change, so I feel that I have to recommend The Only Black Girls In Town – a stunning and multi-faceted story about growing up, friendship, and change.
- First and foremost, The Only Black Girls in Town is a friendship story. As well as a friendship story where the characters have to navigate change, toxic friendships, and misunderstandings, there’s also this wonderful subplot where the girls find a collection of journals, filled with secrets that also delve into history and race of the time.
- This book is also about identity, particularly in how people place expectations on Black girls and try and fit them into stereotypes. I loved how both girls show that being Black can mean so many things and that the girls were given room to be who they were, unapologetically.
- This book does a wonderful job of exploring and portraying racism and its different forms, and how racism of today is very different of the past (as they learn through the journals).
It Goes Like This by Miel Moreland
Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they’ve been though a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school, never expecting to headline anything bigger than the county fair.
But after a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens’ band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste’s starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl…of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they’ll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.
In putting together this book recommendation post, It Goes Like This immediately sprang to mind. With its poignant exploration of friendship and how sometimes we grow apart – and how we may find each other again – and how we and friendships change, this is the perfect read if you’re looking for something a bit more hopeful.
- Years after a messy fallout, the ex-best friends come together one more time to put on a benefit concert for their hometown, and have to reconcile the past and their friendships. The story is beautifully character-driven; each member of Moonlight Overthrow stand out but also come together wonderfully.
- This book balances sweet and wholesome with some really compelling emotional and almost-messy stuff about friendship and making up. There’s also a sapphic second-chance romance.
- This was so delightfully queer. Eva and Celeste are lesbians, Gina is bisexual, and Steph is non-binary and pansexual. It isn’t just surface-level queer rep though; the story beautifully shows how queer identity and queer love connects us to others and shows the beauty of being seen and understood. This book celebrates queerness in such a genuine and wondrous way.
When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk
It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.
Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.
Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.
Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.
If you’ve ever wanted to read a story about friendship breakups – the messiness, the bitterness, the yearning – then I cannot recommend this splendid book, When You Were Everything, enough.
- In alternating timelines between ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, this book follows Cleo, a Black teen who has a friendship breakup with her then-best friend, Layla, a Bengali teen with a stutter.
- When You Were Everything lays bare the messiness and hurt and pain in friendship breakups while also being incredibly empathetic and understanding. I also loved that in friendship breakups, no one is ‘right’; both sides hurt each other and also hurt themselves in turn.
- At its heart, I just loved a book centered entirely on friendships; how they are so important and formative to teenage girls, how they can be so healing and wonderful but also hurt as well.
Ophelia After All by Racquel Marie
Ophelia Rojas knows what she likes: her best friends, Cuban food, rose-gardening, and boys – way too many boys. Her friends and parents make fun of her endless stream of crushes, but Ophelia is a romantic at heart. She couldn’t change, even if she wanted to.
So when she finds herself thinking more about cute, quiet Talia Sanchez than the loss of a perfect prom with her ex-boyfriend, seeds of doubt take root in Ophelia’s firm image of herself. Add to that the impending end of high school and the fracturing of her once-solid friend group, and things are spiraling a little out of control. But the course of love–and sexuality–never did run smooth. As her secrets begin to unravel, Ophelia must make a choice between clinging to the fantasy version of herself she’s always imagined or upending everyone’s expectations to rediscover who she really is, after all.
And what about a story where you’re the one who has changed, not your friends? Ophelia After All isn’t quite out yet – it comes out next year – but promise me you’ll read this gem? It’s one of my favourite YA contemporaries of all time.
- Ophelia After All a gorgeous story about identity and who you are. How do you tell the people that you see everyday, who know you everyday, that you’ve changed? When did this change happen? And how do you tell people that you’ve changed?
- The storytelling is so organic and just so real. I loved Ophelia so much; so many of her thoughts will resonate with readers and the emotional journey that we go on with her is truly splendid and satisfying. Her friendships are a big part of her life, and that shines through in her story; we really get to know her friends and their dynamic and its wonderful.
- It’s also a love letter to those who are queer and those who are still figuring it out. That it’s okay to not have it all figured out, that it’s okay to simply be.