“Marlena” by Julie Buntin

Female friendships…namely, teenage female friendships are interesting. They’re complicated.

Marlena by Julie Buntin follows the story of a 15-year old girl, Cat, who moves to a new, rural town in Northern Michigan with her brother and her newly divorced mom. Cat befriends a girl next door named Marlena — she’s older and cooler — and life for Cat is pretty much never the same. Cat went from the snobby private school good girl to the girl who pretty much drank and did drugs daily because there’s nothing to do in rural Michigan. Man talk about a downward spiral.

The book opens up with Cat talking about her friend Marlena who died. I thought this book was about friendship and it would unravel the mystery in the end how Marlena died. Nope. It did not go over that. But looking back the story was all along about Cat on how that first year living in the new town defined to who she becomes well into her mid-thirties. This was not a story about Marlena and how she died. We all have those defining moments — no matter how big or small — it’s meaningful because it makes us the person we are today, for better or for worse.

“When you grow up, who you were as a teenage either takes on a mythical importance or it’s completely laughable. I wanted to be the kind of person who wiped those years away; instead, I feared, they defined me.” 

Sometimes I am annoyed with the unreliable narrators who carry the story. This book is through the eyes of a 15-year old girl who pretty much thinks her new best friend is perfect and became pretty needy as the story progresses. For me, I tolerated the narrator. But what I did not like was that Cat in reality is not a great friend. Because she saw no wrong in what Marlena did from the drugs to cutting class, I would think a more “level-headed” Cat would have stopped Marlena. I felt if Cat intervened, Marlena may have turned her life around. However just like any other teenager who desire to fit in, Cat may have thought it was the “cool” thing to do. In her old life in private school, she was nerdy and I would assume never popular. Maybe for Cat, fitting in with the cool crowd was an upgrade. Again, female friendships are…complicated. Cat was never really a true friend.

Marlena by Julie Buntin

Have you read Marlena? Any coming-of-age books you recommend? Comment below!