when you were everything
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.
Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.
The book’s tagline is “Sometimes best friends aren’t forever,” which is so powerful. I can relate many times over to this sentiment, as truthfully, only a handful of my friendships have been long-lasting. In fact, most people probably have a similar experience and can recall severing ties with someone who was once close. This topic is so refreshing and evergreen, and it’s rare to find a book, particularly a contemporary one, in which the central plot is about a non-romantic relationship with soft stakes.
What I love most about this book is how effortlessly Woodfolk works in Shakespearean quotes and references. As a Shakespeare geek myself, I was reciting passages with the protagonist and it helped me connect with her, especially when she applied for a summer program at the Globe in London. Cleo and I would definitely be friends if she wasn’t a fictional character. My other favorite element of this book is Dom! The slow burn between him and Cleo is torturous, but it makes the payoff even better.
With the story structure, the full truth of what happened between the girls gets unveiled like a mystery. Because of this, I didn’t always know how to feel. In general, I sympathized way more with Cleo, but I kept waiting for the shoe to drop, to find out what big-bad-thing she did. In the end, I was left a bit wanting, because while Cleo didn’t always make the right decision and could be overly clingy, Layla never apologized once! Both were wrong here, but to me, Layla was excessively and non-repentantly mean. I wish I knew that earlier on, so I could experience the “now” chapters with Cleo as she did.
With that being said, WHEN YOU WERE EVERYTHING is a beautiful novel, full of sadness and joy and singing and cooking, and all the good and bad things that make up life. This book is wonderfully diverse and an own-voices novel. It will appeal to lit nerds and those who love a good NYC setting.