Book Review: “When We Were Them” by Laura Taylor Namey

When We Were Them follows Willa, a graduating high school student, as she journeys through her memories to make amends with one of her best friends, Luz, before graduation. Her self-reflection involves remembering painful experiences and examining how those events influenced her decision to commit the act she did.

Namey created an emotional read from start to finish. I immediately picked up on the notion that two significant events occurred in Willa’s life that were taking a significant emotional toll on her wellbeing. While I predicted what these events were, how they were revealed to the reader was a surprise. These reveals stopped me in my tracks, causing me to go back and make sure I had read correctly. Willa’s pivotal events were revealed at unexpected times, but this timing was well-crafted to give readers all the information they needed at precisely the right moment.

That isn’t to say When We Were Them was predictable. Though I could predict the two main events, there are countless others that I was not expecting and was not prepared for. I also was surprised at what the act against Luz was, despite the framework for it being given early on in the story. Her action was simple yet impactful, a desperate attempt to maintain something familiar when everything was changing around her.

As we take this journey with Willa, we aren’t only reliving her important life moments but those of her family and friends as well. Though these events are seen through Willa’s eyes, I still experienced the emotion that these characters were feeling. For example, Willa’s other best friend, Britton, experiences what can be characterized as an act of betrayal. As a reader, I experienced Willa watching Britton react, but I also felt like I was Britton. This adds to the character development throughout the story, which caused me to forge connections and remain hopeful that Willa would be able to right her wrong in time.

The ending was not what I had hoped, but it was what the story needed. The decisions made were in line with the direction the characters took, and the epilogue showed that it was the direction they needed to take. I finished reading and had questions simply because the characters made different choices than I would have. However, that’s why this book was so enjoyable to me. Each character never did quite what I expected, making the book more engaging and realistic. To me, that is successful character development. Character development drives this book more so than the plot, and it ultimately works in the reader’s favor. 

When We Were Them is a wonderful depiction of a young adult reflecting on their high school experience as it comes to a close. Willa taking the necessary steps to save her close relationships before her time runs out is beautifully crafted for the readers to receive just the right amount of information when they need it but to leave them wondering until the next piece is delivered. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a coming-of-age story or for well-written characters to connect with.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for review.

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