Watching your best friend make new friends and leave you behind is a special kind of heartbreak. It still stings a bit as an adult because the two of you spent so much time together and were into the same things, and then they chose a path that you didn’t get to follow. Maybe you tried to follow because the person was that important to you, or maybe they shoved you away and made it clear that you were no longer part of their life. Maybe you realized that you didn’t want to have anything to do with these new people and walked away on your own. Or maybe it was a little bit of everything.
No matter what, it hurts like hell.
Seems like the pain of your first lovesick broken heart isn’t quite as bad as losing your best friend. Love is supposed to break your heart, according to all those songs, so maybe you expect it. But a best friend? Someone you’ve been with since you were little kids? You don’t get to mourn publicly for that. If your boyfriend breaks up with you and you start wailing in the middle of the lunchroom, people understand. If your best friend takes up with other kids and you cry in the bathroom… yikes.
So what happens when both happen to you at the same time?
Vera and Charlie grew up near each other and have been best friends since forever. He knows her family secrets and she knows his. They’re normal little kids – kicking around in the woods and climbing trees.
Suddenly they aren’t little kids any more and Vera realizes she’s in love with Charlie. Charlie realizes he’s in love with Vera.
And everything goes to shit.
The book starts near the end. Charlie is dead. Vera is furious and hurt and silent about everything that’s happened. How do you accept that your friend is dead when he was dead to you for months before everything happened? How do you process that your heart was broken when you never got the chance to give it away?
Charlie is dead, Vera is being haunted, her father is making flowcharts and the town pagoda sits and watches kids fly paper airplanes from its roof.
Vera jumps around and lets the story slowly unfold. It’s the type of book that’s even better on a second read because you know the whole story and can find where everything fits together. The timeline is there and you see things you missed the first time.
Vera’s heartbreak sucked. Charlie was there, was in love, and then he wasn’t. He wasn’t dead, not yet, but he was gone from her life. Even worse, he shit on her before he left. And I mean that just about literally. Bad enough to get spit on by a friend, but to have shit thrown at you? My middle and high school self ached.
But now he’s gone and Vera knows the truth, but she’s not even sure she cares. He broke her heart and then took away his friendship.
Why does it matter that there was a fire?
Why does it matter that everyone thinks he did it?
Why is it so important that it has made Charlie come back to haunt her?
She’s the only one who has known and loved him for just about his whole life. Best friend love to girlfriend love. She watched him change and leave her. And now she’s the only one who can tell everyone the truth.
But why bother feeling all that pain again if no one cares? Charlie is dead and she never has to talk about him again. He left her before he died, so why bring it all back?
Can’t everyone just ignore her?
King’s structure is fantastic and the characters are really polished. Vera’s dad’s chapters are wonderful and I like how he has his own voice. This wasn’t Vera’s version of what she thinks her dad would say. He’s fully developed, even though he only gets to talk for a few small parts of the book.
I also like how she lets Vera have a life in the present time while reliving everything that she and Charlie were. Vera is alive and wants to be loved and is interested in boys. In a boy. An older boy. A young man. He’s not Charlie, but he’s there and he’s kind to her and she really likes him. But Charlie is also there, and it sucks. Will he continue to screw her over from the grave?
If you lived through the pain of a best friend turning on you, this book will make you hurt. If you are one of the lucky bastards that had it happen with your first love, you and Vera will have lots to talk about. This is a solid YA book with a strong female voice. King does an amazing job capturing that special brand of hell that happens from middle school to high school. Vera is 18 when she’s telling this story, but all the confusion is there at all those crazy age levels.