About the Book

Title: When We Were Good
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 1

Cover Story: Chronologically Appropriate
BFF Charm: Maybe Roger Murtaugh
Talky Talk: Straight Up Angsty
Bonus Factors: Diversity
Anti-Bonus Factors: Peer Pressure
Relationship Status: Young Mentee

Cover Story: Chronologically Appropriate

I saw this cover and thought, “Wow, that is very… late nineties.” And then I started reading the book, and it takes places in the beginning of the year 2000. So I guess… there’s that? But yeah. Brown bag it.

The Deal

Katherine Boatman is having a shit senior year. Her friends are terrible, her parents are terrible, and the only person in her life who gives a damn–her grandmother–dies on NYE, just before the heralding of a new millennium. Frustrated with the way her life is going, Katherine begins to explore Toronto’s indie music scene with the help of an unexpected new friend, a straight-edge classmate named Marie. In the process, Katherine examines who she really is for the first time in her life.

BFF Charm: Maybe?

BFF charm with a :-| face

So Katherine is nice, if a bit of a lost soul. Unfortunately, I’m concerned that she has a history of being a little emotionally needy, and… no. You know what? I’m taking back that Maybe.

BFF charm with Roger Murtagh from Lethal Weapon's face.

I am too damn old for this shit. Katherine, go to therapy so you can stop being so clingy in your relationships, and also start to work on your depression, because you’re not going to be able to magically fix that by getting a new friend or becoming more comfortable with your sexuality. Your issues are way more complex than that. Also, get your own personality and stop acting how you think other people want you to act. Go to college, grow up A LOT, and then we’ll talk.

PS Marie is a crazy person, and your relationship with her is super unhealthy.

Swoonworthy Scale: 1

I had MAJOR issues with the romance in this book. MARIE IS THE WORST POSSIBLE PERSON FOR KATHERINE. Katherine is constantly being steamrolled over by everyone in her life; nobody seems to like her for who she actually is, only who they want her to be. She’s deeply insecure and desperate for acceptance from the people she loves. So you know who is probably not a good person for her to date? somebody who is pushy, judgemental, and hypocritical about her aggressive “non-conformity,” to the point where she tries to impose it on other people.

Furthermore, Katherine is understandably hesitant to be seen with Marie, both because she is unsure of her own sexuality and because Marie is batshit crazy. And while I get why that would be hurtful to Marie, Marie could be a bit more understanding about Katherine’s struggles. People much, much older than Katherine and Marie are still terrified of relationships, even without the exacerbating issue of questioning one’s sexuality. Calm the fuck down, Marie.

Talky Talk: Straight Up Angsty

I think Sutherland successfully captures the essence of teenage isolation, and her character voices felt very authentic. But in an authentically angsty way. I think I would have appreciated this book more in the depths of winter, when everything was all cold and depressing, but reading it in May when I have more than 17 hours of daylight at my disposal was a bit of a disconnect. Also, I think that I am (happily) a bit too far removed from emo teen behavior at this point in my life to get a full appreciation of Sutherland’s writing. Rather, I think it would speak well to actual teens instead of grown-ass women who have long since suppressed most of their bad memories from high school.

Bonus Factor: Diversity

Pride flag being waved in a parade

I’m always glad to see more diversity in main characters, be it sexuality, gender, race, or otherwise.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Peer Pressure

So Marie is very straight-edge, which would be great if she spent more time enjoying being straight-edge and less time lecturing everyone else on their life choices. I agree that Katherine should not be swigging wine alone in her room at night. But not because it’s “uncool.” Because she’s 18 and has already started drinking her emotions.

Relationship Status: Young Mentee

It was really difficult for me to read this book, because I want to like it, but it’s not quite mature enough for me yet. Like many teenagers, it doesn’t seem to fully grasp that life goes on after 18, that solving one problem in your life will not solve all of them, and that it really, really should not be dating that girl because she is Bad Idea Jeans. I want tell this book to look at its life, look at its choices, but I know that it can only figure its shit out by making its own mistakes.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my review copy from Three O’Clock Press. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). When We Were Good is available now.

Alix is a writer and illustrator who spends way too much time reading Jane Austen retellings of varying quality.