Welcome to the very first Read the Rainbow spotlight post 🙂
Read the Rainbow is a spotlight for queer books, authors and readers. Every month, I’ll be hosting an interview or discussion centred around a queer book. The interviews will be conducted with authors and the discussions will take place with #ownvoice readers for each book. Every month, I’ll be announcing the book of the month for Read the Rainbow so that everyone can read the book before the spotlight, although it is not a necessity.
February’s book of the month is We Used To Be Friends by Amy Spalding and it features a bisexual protagonist. Read the blurb to know more
Told in dual timelines—half of the chapters moving forward in time and half moving backwards—We Used to Be Friends explores the most traumatic breakup of all: that of childhood besties. At the start of their senior year in high school, James (a girl with a boy’s name) and Kat are inseparable, but by graduation, they’re no longer friends. James prepares to head off to college as she reflects on the dissolution of her friendship with Kat while, in alternating chapters, Kat thinks about being newly in love with her first girlfriend and having a future that feels wide open. Over the course of senior year, Kat wants nothing more than James to continue to be her steady rock, as James worries that everything she believes about love and her future is a lie when her high-school sweetheart parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Funny, honest, and full of heart, We Used to Be Friends tells of the pains of growing up and growing apart.
Today on the blog we have Myta and Thya to hold a discussion around We Used To Be Friends. Myta (they/them) is a Manila-based book blogger at Oro Plata Myta, writer and casual Magic: The Gathering player who works as a content writer for a digital agency. They’re enby-pan.
Thya (she/her) loves reading and journalling and is blogging at Wilted Pages. She reviews all genres and books of all ages but tends to stick to YA. She’s bisexual. We’re all going to have some fun discussing We Used To Be Friends.
This discussion is unfortunately not spoiler free. But most of the spoilers are very obvious in general and since this book is more character based rather than plot, I would suggest you go ahead and read it anyway unless you are dead-set regarding even the tiniest of spoilers.
1. Just from reading the blurb and looking at the cover what were your thoughts or expectations from this book? Did your expectations hold?
MYTA: I thought it was going to be a sappy high school love-and-lost story with a lot of drama. I was kinda right about the drama, but high school’s really like that, haha! I nevertheless had kept a high-enough amount of expectation in terms of character development and Amy’s writing style despite never having read her before.
THYA: I thought it would be one of those contemporary coming-of-age novels that I tend to avoid with lots of drama, crying and um, coming-of-age…ing? I was right, but it was a book I actually enjoyed, which I definitely did not expect.
2. I don’t remember much about my intital impressions but I remember having high expectations from both the book and characters. Talking about the characters, who did you relate more to, James or Kat?
MYTA: Actually, when I look back to the story, I kind of relate to both, and at one point to Quinn. High school was such an emotionally volatile time for me (and maybe for the two of you, I’m 30 years old by the way) and I wanted to fit in with whoever would accept me. I wanted to make sure that I was ‘perfect’ enough for any group and did what they did even when it would financially cost me or take too much of my time from studies. I really wanted to be in a relationship so badly, too, and I did get into a relationship but it didn’t turn out well after a year. In that way, I felt I was like Kat, but I had the demeanour of James – I had friends but kept my problems to myself, and I was often in the guidance counselling department because I really couldn’t handle myself well in school. While I wasn’t going through her problems, I had some ‘growing pains’ in my junior and senior years that turned me even more introverted and reserved, to the point that I appeared brooding to other people.
THYA: In terms of social life, I’m very Kat – she has a lot of friends, she’s always taking charge (like when she wants to become prom queen), and she texts with emotion instead of sounding like a rock. I’m more James in personality though because I found Kat super self-centred and egotistical, and she’s so incapable of reading someone who is supposed to be her best friend. James has clarity on what she wants, she keeps her shit to herself and grows more and more distant from Kat when she’s going through literally everything being dumped on her at once. She’s also cynical and critical and I think that’s an important part of her personality that others might see as rude when she’s just being brutally honest (which is very me).
CHARVI: Oh I feel like I was almost completely like James, both in personality and social life wise, at least until the very end of highschool which is when I found some of my closest friends. But I’ve always been pretty closed off and introverted and the ‘quiet girl in the corner’. Which is why I’m kinda biased towards James.
3.We Used To Be Friends was told in dual point of view with a rather complicated timeline as we saw the events unfold from the end to the beginning in James point of view and from the beginning to the end in Kat’s point of view. Did you like this writing style or do you feel that the book would’ve been better off without it?
MYTA: I can’t say I liked or disliked it, but it was a different experience. I did appreciate Amy’s unorthodox storytelling and I think she really thought well and hard about it. I don’t know if you can do it in more complex storylines like fantasies and thrillers. I think it’s a writing style that is nice to see in contemporary fiction, but not too often. It did me a different perspective towards the end.
THYA: I thought it was interesting. A lot of the time I had to go back and reread the beginning chapters from James’ point of view to see what I may have skimmed over the first time. I love that even with the timelines being narrated in opposing directions, we don’t know that Kat is bisexual and has a girlfriend until it’s said in her chapter. I think it worked well with this novel, but I don’t know how many times I would pick up other books with this style if it wasn’t contemporary.
CHARVI: Oh hell yes, the dual perspective plus timeline would have been crazy to keep track of in, say a fantasy setting. I think it worked out for this book but like both Myta and Thya I wouldn’t be very keen on trying it out with other books.
4. Have you ever had a break-up with your best friend? How did it feel to see the concept of friendship break-ups in this book?
MYTA: I did have a falling-out with my college friends, but well after college. I was dating my then-boyfriend (now my husband) at that time and they didn’t like him because of his economic status. But unlike the break up with James and Kat, it was nowhere near screaming and loud. They first blocked me on Facebook and told their respective boyfriends not to talk to me anymore. When I wanted to hang out with them, I was often seen-zoned or was told that they’re too busy and can’t make time to go to my area (we live and work cities away from each other). The friendship just died a natural death, and honestly, I’m thankful. I don’t want to endure a group of people who can’t accept me and the partner I choose to be with.
What I liked about their break up is that it’s real. It’s an issue, a growing pain that many people go through, not just in high school but in several points in their lives. It’s actually so painful to read that I nearly cried, but I’m happy that this was the whole point of the story, and there was no stereotypical getting-back-together-again ending. I’m glad Amy left it at them parting ways. This is as normal as apologizing and being friends again.
THYA: Yes, but it’s never as explosive and loud as Kat and James’ falling-out, but yes. I’m not one to repress my frustrations with my friends, so I vocalize them immediately. I think that if you’re not able to have an honest conversation with your friends about your feelings, then they really shouldn’t be your friends. I usually just start by voicing my frustrations, being civil and then slowly texting them less and less until I don’t really see them anymore other than an occasional Instagram post.
It’s weird to see two people hold back all their feelings until it all just implodes, but it felt very raw and real. It’s obvious both of them are upset about different things and both of their feelings were validated by the other’s actions throughout the book. I liked that the ending was open to interpretation because like Myta said, friendship breakups are normal so I wouldn’t want to see a forced reconciliation.
CHARVI: I completely agree with regards to the ending. Friendship break-ups are such a crucial part of almost every person’s life and they happen so frequently that it’s tragic not many authors write about it. I had a hard-hitting breakup with my childhood best-friend in 7th grade and after that, I was mostly a loner. Whenever I found another friend the same process would repeat. That’s why I’m so glad to see the accurate representation of the pain behind breaking friendships in We Used To Be Friends.
5. Let’s talk about the queer rep. Did you relate to Kat as she came to terms with her bisexuality and started delving into relationships? Or was your coming to terms with your sexuality a bit different?
MYTA: I’m nonbinary-pansexual, and I loved that Kat embraced her bisexuality at such a young age. I came into terms with mine when I was in my late twenties, but I was married by then when I realized that I’m enby-pan. I think ‘coming to terms with your sexuality’ is different from person to person, and Kat had a different aha-moment, too, and I wish more people would feel more comfortable with who they are and who they love. I think she and Quinn make a good pair.
THYA: Kat’s experience was similar to mine, but we experienced them at different times. Until about maybe the beginning of sixth grade, I was a raging homophobic (thanks dad). For all of the seventh grade, I knew I was straight, or so I said. I was kind of in a relationship with a boy, so maybe my feelings were repressed but I started questioning this in eighth grade after our relationship fell through and I had time to properly think about my sexuality. Then, there was this really cute girl in my PE and I became fast friends with her – she was openly bisexual and in hindsight, I probably liked her. The only difference with my experience and Kat’s is that I stayed in the closet for two more years before I properly came out.
6. What were your favourite parts or incidents in the book? Mine would have to be the points were James stood up for herself 🙂
MYTA: The confrontation scene. It was the rawest part of the book that I was severely stressed and couldn’t sleep after reading that chapter. People will think that the kids are so shallow, but you know what, keeping friendships is HARD. Dealing with your parents’ divorce is HARD. Dealing with life without your mother is HARD. Kat and James were just tired of everything they had to deal with and let it out at each other in a destructive fight. You saw the worst in both of them: their insecurities, their pent up pain, their secrets just falling out. In short, you see humanity. That was the most human chapter in the entire book and Amy handled it so well that that chapter alone deserves all the praise.
THYA: James just randomly hooking up with Logan sometimes. It shouldn’t be funny but I think it’s hilarious because we all cope differently LOL. In all seriousness though, James is completely valid in doing so as long as she’s not stringing him along or deluding Logan by saying they can’t be together but then continuing to hook up with him.
7. Did anything in terms of the LGBTQ representation strike you as refreshing or something you would like to see more in books?
MYTA: I honestly want LGBTQIAP+ identities and relationships to be the norm in many books with cishet characters. No to heteronormative storylines (but I don’t like it when such relationships are forced into the story for the sex of having LGBTQIAP+ representation and not coming back to it after).
THYA: I liked that Kat coming to terms with her sexuality didn’t take up the whole novel, but also that they didn’t put her sexuality up on a pedestal if that makes sense. You can have the same relationship issues in a same-sex relationship that you can in others. Yes, Kat and Quinn running for prom queens was monumental but I think James was valid in her criticisms of Kat just in it for the clout. Just because you’re LGBT+ doesn’t mean you can’t be a jerk, ignorant, or self-centred.
8. I absolutely agree with all of your points! Hopefully, we’ll see more and more casual queer characters who won’t be forced into relationships or sexual acts. Lastly, if you were to write a short letter to either this book or the author, what would you write?
MYTA: Can Amy, like, write more? HAHAHAHA I look forward to her next books and I will definitely order her other books sometime soon. Her writing is thought-provoking and refreshing, and something that people need to see more in contemporary fiction. She blends drama and comedy so well that you see the authenticity in her style. We need more writers like her. And I wish James and Kat well, and hope that the future will be kind to them.
THYA: We (or at least I) need to know if James and Kat are friends again, or even civil. I’m definitely picking up a couple of Amy Spalding’s books after this.
And that was it for our February discussion 🙂
I really hope you liked it, and before you go, allow me to reveal the March BOTM for Read the Rainbow. We’ll be reading The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow and holding another discussion on the blog in March. The book has non-binary and demi-sexual representation. Feel free to read along and join us next month! Here’s a little blurb so that you can get to know more about The Sound of Stars.
Can a girl who risks her life for books and an alien who loves forbidden pop music work together to save humanity?
Two years ago, a misunderstanding between the leaders of Earth and the invading Ilori resulted in the deaths of one-third of the world’s population.
Seventeen-year-old Janelle “Ellie” Baker survives in an Ilori-controlled center in New York City. Deemed dangerously volatile because of their initial reaction to the invasion, humanity’s emotional transgressions are now grounds for execution. All art, books and creative expression are illegal, but Ellie breaks the rules by keeping a secret library. When a book goes missing, Ellie is terrified that the Ilori will track it back to her and kill her.
Born in a lab, M0Rr1S (Morris) was raised to be emotionless. When he finds Ellie’s illegal library, he’s duty-bound to deliver her for execution. The trouble is, he finds himself drawn to human music and in desperate need of more. They’re both breaking the rules for love of art—and Ellie inspires the same feelings in him that music does.
Ellie’s—and humanity’s—fate rests in the hands of an alien she should fear. M0Rr1S has a lot of secrets, but also a potential solution—thousands of miles away. The two embark on a wild and dangerous road trip with a bag of books and their favorite albums, all the while making a story and a song of their own that just might save them both.
Have you read We Used To Be Friends? If not, is it on your TBR?
Have you ever had any friendship break-ups?
Tell me about some of the best books with bisexual characters that you’ve read!