Summary: Katherine Boatman loses her bearings after her grandmother dies on New Years Eve. The new millennium brings change for Katherine as she begins her last semester of high school, drowning in grief and trying desperately to find a reason to go on with life. A new friendship at school with a girl named Marie opens her up the world of punk music, and to truths about herself Katherine was previously unaware. In the midst of questioning her sexual preferences, Katherine is also dealing with losing the friendship of her best friend, conflict and apathy from her parents, as well as keeping up with her schoolwork. Unsure of a future where she admits she is gay, Katherine takes things one step at a time, finding support and love to be who she is.
Number of Pages: 227
Age Range: 14-16
Review: After her grandmother dies, Katherine finds herself isolated and friendless as her parents are busy with their jobs and her former best friend is focussed on her boyfriend and hating Katherine for dating her brother. When she is befriended by Marie, Katherine begins to feel things she wasn’t expecting, and friendship turns to love.
I liked the setting of Toronto, especially the part about the Bloor Viaduct. The picture of it on the cover is instantly recognizable. Katherine’s comments about the Luminous Veil were insightful and sadly accurate because its installation did not affect the overall suicide rates in Toronto.
When We Were Good is about a girl trying to find meaning after the death of a loved one. Katherine takes finding a 50 dollar bill as a sign that she needs to do something good, but struggles for the entire book to figure out what it might be. I was surprised she would actually jump on the subway tracks to retrieve the $50, especially since her parents were rich and would have definitely given her another one.
The premise behind using the $50 to cheer up Marie though was sound. There’s a quote from the Talmud that reads “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” In this case, Katherine and Marie end up saving each other.
My favourite part though was when Katherine reads Runaway Feeling by Tracy-Anne Sugar and it changes her life as she recognizes herself in it. It’s a prime example of bibliotherapy, because Katherine describes it as “a cheat sheet for my soul.” What a perfect way to describe a book that touched you on a personal level. I wish I had thought of it, and I wonder who Suzanne Sutherland’s Tracy-Anne Sugar was.
“I shut off every part of me but my ears, trying to let the pure sound take me over. The hairs on my arms stood on end. That kind of radical honesty, the ability to completely be yourself through your art, was something I knew I’d never be capable of. I cried until the album was over.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 56
“I wanted to make a grand gesture. Something to give people hope. Hell, something to give myself hope. I wanted to say something to everyone walking around with their eyes shut to the world, something about how we never really have enough time with the people in our lives who’ve helped make us what we are, but that we have to be able to live the way they taught us.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 99
“Marie was gay. A lesbian.
Marie was Marie.
Marie was too much too close too soon.
Marie was really something.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 127
“Getting away from the emptiness of things – wealth, relationships, love, whatever. Nothing feels special when you have it all the time. So maybe the only way to make a life seem special is to cut it short. It seemed so perfect and so obvious. An inevitability, a perfect, symbolic solution.
Which is stupid, which is selfish, which is nothing Grandma would have ever found value in. Which can’t be the way to be a good person. Which can’t be anything. But it felt so tempting, so seductive. So simple and so definitive. Cutting it short.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 151
“I went back up to my room to get Runway Feeling and set a place for myself at the dining room table. I’d already finished reading the book at school, but when I got to the last page I felt this insane pull to flip back to the beginning to start again. Everything this woman had written seemed right and bold and free. It was like she’d taken every word I’d been too afraid to say out loud and marked them down for me. Like a cheat sheet for my soul or something. It was kinda scary, but so, so cool.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 170
“The next day was Friday. I couldn’t believe how long the week had been. It wasn’t enough to find the answer to all the world’s problems and then to have to face your death, apparently. You still had to go to chemistry class.” – Katherine from When We Were Good by Suzanne Sutherland, page 221