Friends With Boys is one of the more relatable stories I’ve read in a while. Rainbow Rowell commented over on Goodreads on how she “Immediately wanted to share it with [her] 15-year-old niece,” and I feel I’ll be expressing a very similar sentiment with this review.
Contrary to the title, Friends With Boys has frightfully little to do with, you know, being friends with boys. Maggie is friends, I guess you could say, with her older brothers, but I wouldn’t consider that as being the story’s main thread at all. What Friends With Boys is about, at its core, is how terrifying new experiences can be, but how your only option is to face them and hope you come out alright on the other end.
For Maggie, what’s new is high school. She, like her brothers, spent most of her life being home schooled by her mother who we’re told up and left, yet Hicks never delves too far into the “why.” At home, she had built-in friends, AKA her brothers. Each day was like the one before. There was a safety in that.
But, in high school, she’s as ill-equipped to fit in as a kangaroo is to build an internal combustion engine. Her family are the only ones she’s ever socialized with, and it’s not like they could reject her. Now that she has to actually make friends, or else be left to weather this all by herself, which she is in no way capable of doing, she’s lost.
In essence, she’s every high schooler with the volume turned up to 11. Elementary school is easy because you go through it with the same group of people. Once you get to high school, they tend to drift away, and you’re left having to filter through a sea of others who you don’t really realize are going through exactly the same thing.
Eventually, you find someone to latch onto, or someone else latches on to you, and you slowly get the hang of this “making friends” thing. There’s no secret formula for making people like you, or for navigating the leap from the fish bowl that is elementary school to the stream that is high school (college is, then, like a river, and life after like a never-ending set of raging rapids).
People can make the process a little easier on you, but the onus is, as always, on you. Telling someone this when they’re going through it may not be comforting, but the truth rarely is. Life is about the lies we tell ourselves and others. Were any of us to tell the truth and nothing but, it’d be a wonder if a single one of us made friends.
None of us are normal; we don’t see ghosts, like Maggie, but we each have our own quirks that we should never try and wash away like unflattering makeup. You’ll find someone who’ll think that’s beautiful; you could have a shape drawn on your face in lipstick, and still you’d find the Cory to your Topanga if given enough time, luck, and effort.
Which is all any of us can rely on: time, luck, and effort. It gets better, but only if you allow it to. Resigning yourself to defeat, like Maggie does initially, will get you nowhere. As long as you remain open and give it the good old college (or, in this case, high scholol) try, good things should eventually funnel in, just as they do for Maggie.
So, for all these reasons and more, I recommend Friends With Boys to anyone around high school age. I didn’t find the writing itself particularly engaging, but that’s unimportant. I’m not the intended audience, so that’s understandable. What’s important is that, for the kids going through, in a sense, what Maggie is,Friends With Boys is hyper-relevant and a must-read.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.