Old friends reminisce about their emotional high school years in this debut novel about acceptance.
Margaret MacGregor Monahan is happily married in Northern California, with kids, a husband, and her best friend, AnneMarie Calzaretta, nearby. What she can’t tell Anne is that her family may have to move to Minnesota, a secret Margaret keeps even as she prepares to host her friend’s wedding in her backyard. The two pals go way back, their adolescence documented in Margaret’s many diaries. When Anne asks to read the diaries, Margaret brings them out and recalls the beginning of high school. Summer camp brought summer romance, and her best confidante was Jennifer Cone, a sweet Mormon girl. In Margaret’s memories, high school is filled with mean girls, pep rallies, and flirtatious boys. But when teenage Anne comes to her with a secret, young Margaret struggles to respond as a friend, and as a religious person. In the present, the two women realize they’re each holding something back: Margaret confesses that she’s moving, and Anne reveals that she hasn’t been honest at work. As the two friends continue to prepare for Anne’s wedding, Margaret’s remembrances reveal that her friendship with Jennifer is indicative of something worrisome. The truth will bring Margaret and Anne closer, as teenagers and as the women they’ve grown up to be. It takes a while for this tale to warm up to its main characters, but once young Anne tells Margaret her secret, the stakes are raised and a compelling and uplifting story is revealed. The narration alternates between the drama of their high school years, and the bond of their friendship as adults, although the school portions sometimes drag (the Homecoming festivities take up nearly four chapters). Pop-culture references are frequent enough that the book could come with its own soundtrack of Van Halen tunes and modern Flo Rida songs. What could plateau as a predictable coming-of-age story takes an interesting turn when the truth about Jennifer is revealed, elevating First’s novel from a bunch of sentimental recollections to an absorbing read.
Readers who stick around for the reveal will be rewarded with a tale about two women’s secrets that’s both entertaining and surprisingly touching.