I had such friends by Meg Gatland-Veness
Pantera Press 2018. ISBN 9781925700015
(Age: Teens) Themes: Death. Grief. Suicide. Bullying. Depression. Prejudice. Love. Loneliness and coming of age issues. Homophobia. Sexuality. Sexual identity. Abuse. Neglect. Alcoholism. Domestic violence. Child sexual abuse. Self-confessed loser Hamish Day lives with his parents on a small cabbage farm in an Australian seaside town. His whole school is in shock after their top student, Charlie Parker, is killed when his car swerved to avoid a dog; his girlfriend, the also popular Annie Bower, survived the accident. Hamish, also in year 12, wasn't friends with Charlie; his only friend is Martin, a computer geek from an affluent family. Both boys are studious and conscientious but relentlessly bullied at school so it is a great surprise when Peter Bridges, one of the popular footballer boys, offers Hamish a lift in his beaten up car. A friendship develops between this odd couple, the tall, strong confident Peter and the skinny, weak, anxious Hamish who so wants to impress his new friend that he wags school and nearly drowns after jumping off a rock into the sea. "I was worried about looking like a wimp in a situation where I could have died." (p 37) Hamish is no less surprised when Annie Bower, the most beautiful girl in his year, asks him on a date. Bewildered, but hopeful, he opens himself up to love and friendship. Hamish has some rapport with Annie's survivor guilt as his little sister died in a tragic accident at home and he lives in a home filled with grief. But both Peter and Annie's problems go deeper and Hamish's introspection is challenged as his new friends confide in him and he seeks to comfort them. In doing so Hamish discovers more about himself and the people around him than he thought possible. Appearances can be deceiving and people he thought were most to be envied for their perfect lives turn out to be holding on emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially out of sheer desperation. The dark underside of country life is explored and the feelings of hopelessness and isolation felt by teenagers who don't fit in are confronting. The homophobic rage and the actions of the teenagers against Peter and Hamish are horrific to read. It is possible the author tries to tackle too many big issues in the last half of the book ending up not doing them justice but there will be many boys who will relate to Hamish's insecurities and need to discover his identity. The story requires some emotional maturity but all teens should read this, if only to be made aware of the damage caused by bullying.