The first sentence of my novel Bittersweet reads, “Before she loathed me, before she loved me, Genevra Katherine Winslow didn’t know that I existed.”
My first was made in a small village in Senegal. She’s in nearly every memory I have from those rich days of early childhood when my father’s fieldwork took my family across the Atlantic.
The smell of her dusty skin, the bright twinkle of her laugh, the rascally way she’d set me up to get caught instead of her—all those bits of her still live deeply, fundamentally inside of me.
The next few came in quick succession, a new one for nearly every town or school or house I moved into in the years my family and I bounced around the States, looking for our home.
Nearly each of these best friends, made over the course of my growing up, helped me feel at peace in my own skin and mind, as though breathing the same air as them could help me understand more about myself than I could ever learn on my own—from the girl who drew permanent-marker cartoons of every person in our class on her pull-down blinds to the one who taught me how to lip-sync to Madonna, to the one with whom I secretly played pioneer well into my eighth-grade year, when no one else wanted to play anymore.
Yes, there were devastations too: the girl who punched me once when we fought, the one who dropped out of high school to join what I called a cult in a combination of bragging and fear, the one who told me off in the lunchroom and never spoke to me again.
When I look back on these best friends as a whole, I can see that I have hardly known greater passion, heartbreak, loyalty, fierceness, envy, and need than I did with them. Throughout my girlhood, my best friends taught me who I wanted to be, who to trust, who to listen to; they’ve made me who I am today.
The first sentence of my novel Bittersweet reads, “Before she loathed me, before she loved me, Genevra Katherine Winslow didn’t know that I existed.” Every girlhood best friendship I had half existed somewhere between loving and loathing.
I’m grateful to every one of the best friends who offered herself as inspiration; without them, I’d have never been able to write about Genevra and Mabel, the best friend who tells of loving and loathing and everything in between.
Congrats to Jessie F., Kathy L., Betty Z., Elsa A., Sheila L., and 195 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.
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RIFers! Do you still remember your girlhood best friends? Do you agree with Beverly that “my best friends taught me who I wanted to be, who to trust, who to listen to; they’ve made me who I am today”? Share in the comments!
About the Author
MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three novels, including The Effects of Light and Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best book of fiction by an American woman published in 2007. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize, she lives and writes in Brooklyn and Vermont. Visit the author online at MirandaBW.com.