I Had Such Friends – Meg Gatland-Veness

(Rant/Review)

I received this book free from the publisher via netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.

Going into this novel, I was expecting more of a coming-of-age story about a young man finding his place in the world. That’s not quite what I got. This review might be a bit stilted because I’m finding it difficult to explain exactly what tipped me the wrong way about this novel. I’ll try to section it out.

The main character wasn’t entirely likable, which is okay for me because I don’t always need to like my characters, but he was so undeveloped and immature for a person who had supposedly grown from experiencing his own hardships and tragedies. He remained selfish and jealous throughout the novel and didn’t seem to grow even from his newer experiences, and there was a LOT of room for growth.

I enjoyed Pete’s character, he came across as very real, honest and natural, however the decisions he was making throughout weren’t in line at all with how his character experienced his life. There seemed to be somewhat of a disconnect between who he was and what he did, which felt forced. This may have come from trying to push him to his ending which, again, did not feel like a choice he would make.

There are a few slurs at the beginning of the book and through-out which I found excessive, the main character constantly referring to himself as a “pansy” even though this early on in the text there was no reason for it. The use of terms like “f*g” were also quite rough, given this isn’t an own voices story as far as I can tell.

And the portrayal of country Australia, though, yes, it can be rough and backwards at times, was made out to be a cesspool of homophobic thugs with absolutely no possibility of redemption. City folk GOOD, country folk EVIL, as though lgbt+ and open-minded people couldn’t possibly exist out on a farm or in a small town. While this may be the experience of the author (no word on that), it’s not a universal truth and can be quite isolating for lgbt+ folk like myself.

There were some great elements in the text, there were some very muddy messages about acceptance and mental health, but there was no real conclusion or understanding around these issues. They were used more as plot tools.

I hate writing negative reviews, and I don’t consider this to be entirely negative as overall the novel was reasonably entertaining, but reading it critically and from my perspective having grown up between the city and the country, as a member of the lgbt+ community and having dealt with severe mental health issues, it just didn’t ring true or helpful.

I do hope to see more from Meg, but as always, I often feel like these kinds of novels should be left to own-voices authors.

Trigger warnings for this novel include suicide, alcoholism, sexual abuse, homophobia.

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