Thanks to NetGalley and Delatcorte Press for providing the ARC. All opinions expressed are my own.
Title: When You Were Everything
Author: Ashley Woodfolk
Publication Date: March 10, 2020
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Age Range: Young Adult
Synopsis: You can’t rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again.
It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.
Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.
Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.
Here we are, sitting in front of the window on a bright sunny day with a nice cup of mint tea. It’s the perfect time to talk about best friend break-ups! As someone who resonates deeply with Cleo, I know that losing one thing leads to another and before you know it you’re in a cycle of self-sabotage because you can’t believe someone could actually want to be friends with you. Like I said, the sun is great for this kind of talk.
When You Were Everything was stunning in the way that I wish I had this in high school. It tells the story of a relationship falling apart; first there’s the drifting, then the simmering resentment, and then the explosion. Cleo Baker watches all of this firsthand, and sets off on mission impossible: erase Layla Hassan from her memory by rewriting history. But that’s easier said than done because for Cleo and Layla, it’s always been Y.O.E. – you over everything. Not to mention all the other things happening, both good and bad, that Cleo desperately wants to tell Layla, but just can’t. In this story, Cleo shows us just how difficult that process is, and how we might be able to make it just a tiny bit better.
The Beginning of the End
I’m gonna tell you now, the social psychologist in me jumped out a lot while I was reading this book, so you can just skip this section if you don’t really care for relationship analyses. Watching the start of the fallout between Cleo and Layla was interesting and almost a little nostalgic for semi-adult me, and absolutely heartbreaking for teenage me. It all starts with Layla slowly getting pulled into the Chorus Girls group, which leaves Cleo to settle for bits and pieces of Layla to avoid having nothing. The drifting stage comes with all of these inner complexities that we rarely recognize for ourselves, not that we’d ever really want to. So much of navigating our relationships is hoping that other people will just magically be able to read our minds – I want Layla to choose me over them, but I want her to want that, too. So instead of telling her (out of fear that people will see her as the “controlling” type), Cleo lets these feelings build up, all the while, Layla’s perceptions could be totally different. The truth is, we never know what someone is thinking unless they tell us, and it works the other way around, too.
Another thing that I added to the list of things I would’ve told little me was that growing apart sucks, and more often than not, trying to prevent it is worse than letting it happen. As they’re slowly growing apart, Cleo and Layla find themselves hurting each other in these tiny, microaggression type ways, but it’s worse because they know each other better than anybody, and it only adds fuel to the fire. It was such a beautifully written scenario not only because both of them have so many opportunities and so much history/ammo to hurt each other in these little ways, but also because logically, they’re both right (or wrong, if you wanna look at it that way). Layla wants Cleo to be happy for her, and Cleo wants Layla to care just a little bit more. In short, it’s better to just not have friends (this is 110% a joke, find your people, I promise they are out there for you). In all seriousness, I loved reading about this process because not only was it comforting to know that shit happens, but it was also exactly what I’d need if I were in that situation.
In addition to dealing with best friend break-ups, When You Were Everything is about how to let new people in, which is especially hard after getting hurt by one of the people who loved you most. In trying to overwrite her memories with Layla, Cleo meets Dom and Sydney – a gorgeous boy and a cool, outgoing gal, AKA everything she needs right now. But as soon as the smallest bit of doubt creeps in, Cleo’s instinct is to run. You know, leave before they can hurt me kinda thing. While it is a defense mechanism (usually pretty effective), it can sometimes do more harm than good. Cleo learns that relationships are a choice. People choose you, and it’s okay to think that you don’t deserve them, but you don’t get to just ignore the fact that people want to make an effort.
Another thing I loved was that while there was a bit of high school romance with Dom, I don’t think it took center stage. This really was such an amazing story about friendship and navigating the social world and that’s hard enough. I think people forget that relationships are more than just romantic ones, and that platonic and familial relationships also take work and communication, and they can hurt just as bad.
Although this was about friendships falling apart, I think it was also about growing apart in general. Sometimes we want different things and who we used to be doesn’t work for who we become, and I think the ending was particularly genius because it showcases how (sometimes) even after all the nasty words and what seems like miles between them, you can still wish the best for people who no longer choose you.
Add When You Were Everything on Goodreads, and check it out at the links below (out tomorrow)!
All the love,