I had such friends opens with the quote from William Butler Yeats, ‘Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends.’
Seventeen-year-old Hamish Day, the protagonist and narrator, doesn’t have many friends. He is short, pale, and weedy – certainly not built for work on the family farm nor for popularity at school. The only person at school that gets picked on more than Hamish is Martin, Hamish’s only friend. Martin is into video games, collectables and comic books. Hamish prefers photography.
At the beginning of year twelve, two of the most popular students, Charlie Parker and his girlfriend Annie Bower, are involved in a car accident where the driver died. Charlie swerved so that his side of the car took the impact, protecting his passenger. The whole school is in shock, especially Annie. Hamish, however, is detached. He knew Charlie but wasn’t close to him. As Hamish recounts the atmosphere at school on the day after Charlie’s death he notes how frustrating it felt to be surrounded by his fellow classmates in their collective grief and to still feel like an outcast.
This incident precipitates a significant change for Hamish. To his surprise, Peter Bridges pulls into the bus bay and offers him a lift. Although Hamish has nothing in common with the rough, unreliable but extremely talented footballer, Peter starts to seek out his company. Annie is also drawn to him. Although he can’t understand the reason behind it, Hamish enjoys the sudden attention from both and eagerly engages in whatever activities they suggest. Having lost someone close to him, Hamish empathises with Peter and Annie. He listens as they talk about Charlie. As the friendships deepen, Peter and Annie disclose more about their lives, the difficulties that Charlie had supported them through and the secrets the three of them had shared.
I found it difficult to engage with Hamish but acknowledge that the characterisation is realistic and consistent. Hamish is a factual but apologetic narrator. He is self-absorbed, nervous, lacks confidence, and keeps making excuses for his poor choices and for not standing up for his friends. However, as a victim of bullying and an outcast, it is not surprising that he is fearful, critical and self-depreciating, over analysing everything.
It is interesting how having friends who are interested in him, changes Hamish. It broadens his perspectives. He is surprised to learn about the separate issues that Annie and Peter face at home and the secrets they were hiding. As he learns about the trauma in their lives he begins to understand them much better and realise he had misjudged them. Through the friendships he also learnt a lot about himself and his sexuality. His friendships don’t make his life less complicated, but they do help him to face the future.
Some of the themes explored in I had such friends include death and loss, suicide, bullying, homophobia, the impact of ‘coming out’, domestic violence, sexual abuse, friendships and relationships.