I had such friends by Meg Gatland-Veness

‘It was scary having someone know the things that made you vulnerable.’

This YA novel is set in a small town somewhere in rural Australia, where Hamish Day lives with his parents on a struggling cabbage farm. Hamish Day is seventeen years old when Charlie Parker dies. Unlike Hamish, who only has one friend, Charlie was popular. Charlie’s girlfriend, Annie Bower, is the prettiest girl in the school. Hamish and his friend Martin Archer are on the periphery: bullied and ridiculed, surviving. But things change for Hamish after Charlie Parker dies. Peter Bridges, school rebel, becomes friendly with him, as does Annie Bower.

To write more about the plot may reduce the impact of the story on those yet to read it. Be warned, there are a number of confronting issues here, including abuse, grief, suicide, and grappling with sexual identity. The story unfolds in the self-conscious and occasionally awkward voice of Hamish, and it took me a little while to get into the rhythm of the narrative. But the further I read, the more realistic Hamish’s voice became for me. I was returned at times to my own teenage years, to my own recognition of many of these issues. I was reminded of how painful the journey of self-discovery can be, of how our teenaged sense of self is influenced and develops.

Hamish has a lot to learn, and much of that learning will be painful for him. Can we ever make the transition through adolescence to adulthood less fraught, less painful? I found much of this novel sad, but not without hope. I wonder how the young adults reading it feel?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pantera Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith