Goodreads: So Done
Series: So Done #1
Tai has been waiting all summer for her best friend Bean to return, but, when she does, things aren’t the same. Bean wants to be called Mila now. And, worse, she’s starting to speak up for herself, instead of agreeing with everything Tai says! Then there are the looming auditions for the new talented-and-gifted program at school. Mila wants to try out for dance. Tai couldn’t care less. Can Tai and Mila repair their friendship? Or are they destined to drift apart?
So Done is a realistic portrayal of growing up and potentially growing out of old friendships. Mila and Tai have known each other for ages, but after an incident at Tai’s house, Mila seems withdrawn. Worse (in Tai’s eyes) is that Mila is starting to stand up for herself, instead of just agreeing with everything Tai wants. As auditions loom for a new talented-and-gifted program at school, the girls have to decide what they want in life, and if they are going to be together, or stay apart for good. While I enjoyed the complexity of Mila and Tai’s friendship, the ending of the story threatens to undo everything the book works so hard to build. In the end, the book suggests that external factors can save friendships, and that Tai does not need to grow along with Mila. I wanted a story where both Tai and Mila can change, but that promise is never fulfilled.
Perhaps the highlight of So Done is the wonderful way in which Mila and Tai are so very different, yet both get a chance to tell their story and gain some of the readers’ sympathy. Mila tends to quieter, politer, and more focused than Tai. She is afraid living in the Cove, and starts to dream of moving to the suburbs, away from the dealers. Tai, on the other hand, is loud, attention-seeking, and rude. She also loves living in the Cove, where she can flaunt her body on the streets and show her superiority by dissing the other girls. Their interactions are fascinating because they do not really seem to go together, and those interactions become even more interesting when Mila starts to stand up for herself and want she wants.
I admit–I didn’t really like Tai. Her chapters are all about her musing how unfair and wrong it is that she can no longer control Mila. Multiple characters call Tai out for her treatment of Mila, the way she makes fun of her “friend” so that Mila will go along with whatever she wants, just so Tai will stop being mean. But I give credit to the author for making a character so disagreeable. Tai may be petty and selfish, but she is also real. I only regret that Tai shows very little growth throughout the story.
Most of the times in middle-grade friendship stories, one hopes that old friendships can be restored. In this case, however, I was cheering on Mila as she began to pull away from Tai. Tai offers her pretty much nothing in terms of friendship–no kindness and no support. I hoped that So Done would be a story about how it is okay to outgrow friends, especially when those friends are more like bullies. However, that does not happen. The author instead introduces an external incident that the girls can agree upon, instead of having Tai realize how mean she is and apologizing for past behavior.
This book does, regrettably, rely heavily on that old trope of “The Incident.” That thing that happened in the past that casts a looming shadow over everyone, but which cannot be named for ages, because the author wants to build suspense. I hate books with Incidents. In this case, it becomes clear pretty early on that some sort of sexual harassment occurred, which has traumatized Mila, but which Tai wants to pretend never happened. Thus, the end of the book is about Tai agreeing to help Mila speak out. This is all great! Messages about speaking up are important. But does Tai ever look inward and realize that she has been bullying Mila for years? No. It is apparently enough for me to be nice just one time for this friendship to be declared healthy and fixed.
Ultimately, I have mixed feelings about So Done. The characterization is wonderfully done, and I appreciated how the author brings up romance (even to the point where Tai thinks of showing herself nude on a screen), since some tweens are worried about going out and maybe are doing things like sexting. These are aspects middle-grade books often leave out in favor of showing platonic friendships. But the ending does take away from everything the rest of the story seems to be saying: that it is important to be yourself, that you don’t have to put up with friends who tear you down. Not having Tai reflect more on her past actions makes it seem like she will just bully Mila again in the future. Maybe the ending is realistic. It just does not feel satisfying.