Two eleven-year-0ld girls... go into the woods... Only one comes out
The False Friend by Myla Goldberg isn't so much a story as to what happened to eleven-year-old Djuna Pearson when she never came back from that fateful day when she and 4 other eleven-year-old girls walked the twisted dangerous road to the woods, as it is a journey of self discovery as Celia Durst retraces those steps 20 years later after a flashback sends her running back to her hometown to find the truth. The truth about what happened to Djuna, but also the truth about Celia & Djuna two best friends who were cruel & bullies and what long term consequences their cruelty had on themselves and the other girls in their clique...
From the Book Jacket...
Celia and Djuna were the ringleaders of a highly competitive quintet of girls, caught in an escalating cycle of test, reward and punishment that peaked the afternoon they all walked home along a forbidden woodland road. Celia blocked out what happened, but everyone else in Jensenville assumed that Djuna was abducted that day, though neither Djuna nor her abductor was ever found.
Twenty years later, Celia and her boyfriend Huck are professionally successful, but their relationship has fallen into a stasis that Celia feels helpless to change. When Celia’s memory of that terrible afternoon suddenly returns, she is forced to confront the part she played in her best friend’s disappearance, and returns to Jensenville to confess.
In a hometown defined by what it was and can no longer be, Celia discovers that her unconscious avoidance of what really happened so long ago has had lasting repercussions. Her aging parents—their love handicapped by a lifetime of reserve—insist that she is innocent. Celia’s childhood friends not only don’t believe her, but insist that she should be apologizing for a completely different offense. Huck wants to be supportive, but can neither ignore all that contradicts Celia’s version of the past, nor the damage it has inflicted on their shared life. Celia’s search for the truth has startling and powerful consequences, resulting in a story that persists in the mind long after the last page has been turned.
Deeply resonant and emotionally charged, The False Friend explores the complexities of moral judgment, the fallibility of memory, and the adults that children become—leading us to question the truths that we accept or reject, and the lies to which we ultimately succumb.
The False Friend opens with Celia walking to work, and something she sees jars a long forgotten memory. It's 21 years before, and she's just meeting Djuna in fifth grade. Djuna will become the friend that will replace all others. But her other friends, Josie, Leanne and Becky will make up part of the circle that surrounds her. As she remembers Djuna, loving & hating her, she remembers a lie. A lie that may have had dire consequences for Djuna in the woods that day... Little girls are passionate, especially when it comes to friendships. They can be cruel, love, hate, and can be your BFF at a moments notice. Myla Goldberg captures those feeling perfectly in The False Friend. That is what really makes you turn the pages of The False Friend- Celia's introspective look at her childhood relationships. The dynamics of these 5 girls is so interesting. And the intensity of the friendship between Celia and Djuna reverberates off the page. As Celia tracks down those 3 childhood friends from twenty years ago, not only is she surprised at what she learns, but you will be too. I really enjoyed The False Friend. Myla Goldberg's writing was compelling and slowly drew me in. The relationships she portrayed, from the friendships between the girls to the relationships between the parents and the girls was so authentic. And I think that all these parts of the story, all these relationships, added the richness to the story that kept me reading well into the night... My only complaint with The False Friend is the very ending- it fell a little flat at the very last page, but all in all a very good read, realistic portrayal of bullying, and an interesting reflection on what we perceive of ourselves growing up.
* I want to thank Liz of Doubleday for sending me a copy to review!