In Janet Gurtler's latest book, HOW I LOST YOU, nothing stands between Grace and Kya. Not boys, not secrets --- nothing. But during the summer before senior year, life throws challenges at them that tests their best friendship. In this blog post, Janet Gurtler lets us know about her hardest best friend break up and how it affected her...and eventually, her writing.
Confession. I haven’t been a teenager for a long time. But when I write, she is the person I write for. Teenaged Janet. She loved to read and longed to find people who were like her. Confused sometimes. Confident other times. But mostly confused.
For me, being a teenager was hard. Oh, it was fun too. I went through a lot of stages as a teenager. Middle School was great. High school was pretty tumultuous, and then I moved to a new city in my senior year and that was a disaster. Most of the trouble I had, admittedly, I brought on myself, but it stemmed from a low self-esteem. I didn’t MEAN to be so destructive, I just was.
I wasn’t into high school sports so I didn’t have a team as an outlet. I wish I had been more physically active in high school. Like Grace and Kya in HOW I LOST YOU. Or like Sam in WHO I KISSED. Looking back, I know now I could have gone the artsy route. I should have tried out for the school plays and musicals, that could have been my thing, but there was a barrier in my way. A person. A former best friend from middle school I did my best to avoid.
I ended up struggling with things I should have stayed away from. I got involved with people and things that weren’t in my best interests. It wasn’t her fault, but she was always there, a sort of roadblock to the things I might have done.
I lost my way at times during my teen years. And so in my books, you will always find that girl somewhere. She’s never the main character because her story is not the main focus, but she is someone I feel a need to include. The lost girl.
But the best friend. I met her in seventh grade when my family moved to a new city. I floundered a little until we connected. She was blonde. Tiny. So cute. We were instantly best friends. We went to each other’s houses; we played on the same baseball team. We hung out at her pool, we told each other secrets. I would have done anything for her. BFF love. I would have defended her against anyone or anything.
I stood by her while she fell for the guy I secretly had a crush on and put my feelings for him aside. She came first. Buds Before Studs. Forever. We ran for Middle School President (her) and Vice President (me). Sure there were a few cracks. We were also friends with another big group of girls, and there were times when we got caught up in drama. Her mom was a little bit odd, too. Way too involved with our teenage lives and gossip. She’d sit with us and cut down other girls and boys our age. Even back then I sensed it was…off.
I heard things every once in a while about my BFF. Her mom saying rotten things about me or about my family to other people. Weird, but I let it go. I was far from perfect, too, but I do remember that crazy strong bond I felt for her. Don’t mess with my bestie bonds. Until the end of the year camp trip in eighth grade.
I don’t remember the exact details now, but everything exploded out in that wilderness. Somehow I found out my BFF trash talked me behind my back to absolutely everyone. Her boyfriend. All the girls we hung out with. Everyone. I was devastated. Betrayed. I would have taken a bullet for her. But the other friends burst out the truth and seemed so relieved to tell me. She’d been doing it for a long time. A first class back stabber, I’d been stabbed repeatedly.
I took it hard and cried for days. I still remember how much it HURT. When she came to me a week or so later and tried to brush it all off and resume our friendship, I refused her. She was angry. And then the school year was over. I found new friends to hang out with that summer before high school. But I was devastated. And she was a manipulative girl, and when we went on to high school, I knew she was going to make things difficult for me. She did.
I helped her along by becoming kind of a mess myself, but I often wonder. Would things have been different if she wasn’t there? It doesn’t even matter now. She went on with her life. I went on with mine. But honestly, to this day though, I still feel betrayed by her.
I found new best friends in high school. And then I moved a few more times and found more good friends in the cities I lived in. And I have great friends now. And none ever betrayed me the way I felt when I was 15. That hurt partially inspired the story of HOW I LOST YOU. Sometimes best friends aren’t forever. It’s a hard lesson to learn. And I wrote it for teen me. For the teen me that wasn’t sure things were ever going to get better.