I remember being a little girl. In fact, I remember sometimes being a terror of a little girl. I wasn’t bad because my mother raised me badly (she didn’t) or because my dad died, and I wasn’t bad all the time. I grew out of it and became a decent person eventually, but for a long time I reveled in being bad. I didn’t rob convenience stores or anything—I was just devious and mean in a way that seemed to generate its own energy. I gravitated toward fraught friendships with other mean little girls, ones who were sometimes even worse than me, and I had a knack for bringing out the bad sides in good girls. So I come to The False Friend with more than just passing interest.
Celia is going about her normal business when she is blasted with a memory she didn’t even know she had. Over twenty years ago, her best friend and nemesis, Djuna, went missing. Although signs pointed to a kidnapping, Celia’s new memory tells a different tale. This time, Celia is to blame. When she returns to her hometown to find evidence that supports this new version of the truth, Celia is confronted with the little girl she was back then.
Celia and Djuna were volatile children, constantly jockeying for leadership roles in their clique. They are at the same time passionately devoted to each other and given to fights that can silence an entire playground. As Celia has lived with the ramifications of Djuna’s disappearance all her life since then, she has become a nicer person— cold in some ways, but certainly far from a terror. The new memory exposes fissures in Celia’s listless relationship with long-term partner Huck, and try as she might she cannot make her parents believe that she is to blame for the tragedy. In fact, the more people she talks to, the more it appears that even Celia’s new memory may not be quite the truth.
Friendship means something different when you’re a child. In adulthood, a friend raises you up, brings out the best parts of you. A friend is a comfort, not someone who makes things worse. As a little girl, you cling to what’s there—the thought of ending a friendship is a horror of unknowns. Who will still be there on your side? Who will your ex-friend keep? What will be said about you behind your back? To see the poisonous relationship that Celia and Djuna kept feeding is to see that its end, no matter how premature, is the one good thing to come out of Djuna’s disappearance.
Writing this review is difficult because I want to go on and on about this book. The problem is that you haven’t read it yet and I don’t want to tell you anything that might spoil the mystery of what really happened to little terrifying Djuna Pearson. (And really, you don’t want to read a review that long.) But I want to say this much: Anyone who ever was a little girl, whether you were good or bad or friendless or a mini-Djuna yourself, will disappear into Goldberg’s story. It’s not a comforting book, but it is challenging, absorbing, and assertively written. It will go quickly. And it will make you grateful for your good friends.
The False Friend is coming out in early October. Now’s a good time to request it at your local indie or to pre-order it online. You can read more about it here at Myla Goldberg’s website.