I Had Such Friends by Meg Gatland-Veness // ARC Review

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⭐️⭐️⭐️

Content Warning: suicide

This story has been told many times over and it never ceases to be heartbreaking. Yet, does it make any insightful contributes on the correlation of the LGBTQ+ community and negative mental health due to society’s poor treatment of them? I’m hard press to say that this book handles the material outside of the normal depiction of it already circulating.

Hamish Day is a kid who obsesses over gender norms and makes frequent remarks criticizing himself. Referring to how he talks to how he looks, he constantly compares himself to a girl. Obviously, in a way that’s meant to be an insult. Gathering clues, you can discern that he has been bullied and these are labels that society has given which he internalizes. It’s an intriguing portrayal of toxic masculinity and insecurity.

His home is a place filled with grief as his parents largely ignore him consumed by a tragic event. Martin, a fellow loser, is his only friend that he barely tolerates. This is a character who doesn’t illicit sympathy. He lies to his parents, ghosts his friend in favor of newer, cooler people. He hates himself so much that you also hate him, too.

Overall, the narrative can be abrupt and disconnected like random thoughts strung together. All of this gives an animated quality despite his social anxiety or maybe because of it. In addition, I can’t always tell when he’s joking so some of the shit he says is off-putting even more so because he actually believes it. For example, Hamish’s idea of a gay person involves stereotypes which he safely thinks he has avoided. Innocuous behaviors like checking your nails fall into scrutiny. It’s hard to read this bullshit but misinformation leads to unfair judgements.

He also lacks self awareness but is semi-conscious of how he’s perceived and a bit cynical. Sometimes Hamish would say things such as,

“I had no funny little quirks like a boy in a book might do; one who secretly collected yellow clothes because they reminded him of the sun and piled it up on his wardrobe so that on rainy days he could open the doors and let the sunshine fall into his room. No, as you well know by now, I was not that kind of boy. “

I was fucking dying at this bit because it came out of nowhere. How delusional are you to personify who you desperately want to be in the form of ridicule. This is basically all bullies to an extent. Hamish finds comfort that as long as there’s someone lower on the social scale he can explain his own bullying. Despite having outward markers of someone totally insecure, he shows his vulnerability whenever he talks about his dead sister and cries often. It’s nice to see that. Hamish seems to regard his life as uninteresting offering an entry into the lives of others he finds more fantastic given that the story opens not about him but about Charlie Parker.

However, the ending was rushed and doesn’t explore much in the way of depression and sexuality. I think other books like More Happy than Not or Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe have handled this topic infinitely better. It’s just frustrating to have a meaningless death be justified like it is here. The bullies cry and the parents are hysterical turning the death into tiny spectacle. At least the author attached materials about where to get help, but I wonder if it’s enough (it’s at the very end, hope you don’t miss it).

P.S. What’s up with Annie and why did anyone think that was a good decision to shove in an obligatory hetero third wheel?

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for a fair review!

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