Author: B.M. Carroll
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Copy: Borrowed from my local Library
Who We Were is the second novel by B.M. Carroll, who has also published novels as Ber Carroll, and the first I have read since 2015’s Once Lost (by Ber Carroll). I saw a bit of buzz on Facebook for this one and then having read the blurb I was hooked, straight onto my local Library site to place a hold and it jumped straight to the top of the pile once I got it home.
School reunions are a time fraught with emotion for many, whether it be the nostalgia of a simpler life, the scars that remain from being bullied and even the horror at the way teenage selves treated others. There’s an excitement about seeing how everyone has changed, or showing off how much we’ve changed; and there’s often apprehension about facing those we haven’t seen, and sometimes have no desire to.
I love that this book was centred around a 20 year reunion, I remember being excited for mine, though I didn’t make the trip in the end. The curiosity about what people had done over the years, who did what they set out to do.
Katy is driving the 20 year reunion, the first the class of 2000 have had. She has changed a lot in the years since high school and she can’t wait to show off who she’s become, no longer the plain, shy science nerd of her high school years. She also thinks it will be fun to print an updated yearbook with new photos and a new set of questions to get to know the cohort a little better.
RSVPs for the reunion are coming in slowly and there are still a couple of people no-one has been able to track down but Katy is efficient and putting in the hard yards to pull it off. Until people start getting messages answering the questions, and they aren’t pleasant. Someone is not thrilled with the idea of a reunion and the messages are putting people on edge.
Carroll has crafted a suspenseful story that I’m sure could come out of most graduating classes. There are always the popular kids, the class clowns, the unremarkable and the bullied. Most readers will be able to relate to at least one of the characters in Who We Were and empathise with their part in the story.
Who We Were is told in alternating chapters by a group of characters, all connected by their time at school but not part of the same friendship group. We get inside of their current lives, and how far from their teenaged selves they’ve come.
The character who touched me the most was Robbie. He was targeted for things beyond his control and his reactions broke my heart. His whole life after high school broke my heart and I think he touched me so deeply because I could relate him to someone I know, and it broke me to think that she could have felt the way he did. Of course, there is a lot more I want to say here but I don’t want to delve into spoiler country so I think I’ll leave it at that.
We follow Katy, Annabel, Grace, Melissa, Zach, Luke, Jarrod and Robbie through the escalating threats in the lead up to the reunion. We see their lives change once more, new friendships formed, old bonds reforged and penance paid for sins of the past.
Carroll reminds us that our words and our actions can have a profound effect on people and we should remember to always be kind. What you say and do as a thoughtless and insensitive teen can affect a person for decades, and a little life experience may see your actions haunting even you for years to come.
Exceptionally crafted suspense with a few timely red herrings leaves the reader guessing to the very end, never quite sure who is out for revenge. All of the popular crowd have things to answer for and each of them has wronged someone, and left a lingering hurt.
Alongside the theme of revenge Carroll explores a wealth of topical and hardhitting issues from violence, depression, loneliness, sexuality and drug use to the everyday issues of parenting, dating and finding balance.
Who We Were is a novel I’m glad I tracked down and would whole-heartedly recommend.
Who We Were is book #15 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2020.
Who We Were is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold. In these uncertain times it would be great to try and support a local bookstore, many of the ones in my area have put systems in place to fulfil orders even though their physical stores may be closed to the public.