FALLING IN FRIENDSHIP by Ally Condie
I’ve fallen in love many times in my life. In kindergarten with the quiet boy who sat across the table from me. With characters in books, with actors in movies. In college, with the guy who played guitar at the Friday-night parties (reader, I married him). When each new baby boy was placed in my arms, when my daughter stared me down in the airport the day my husband brought her home from China.
I fell in love in seventh grade. Everyone teased me about it. We met in Mrs. Fotheringham’s English class and soon we were always together. We had inside jokes. During band, we caught one another’s eye constantly when funny things happened. At lunch, we ate fast and then sat together in the hallway. We made up nicknames for people. We wrote a fake newspaper together. We planned our Halloween costumes. In the evening, we talked on the phone until my dad got on and told us it was time to be done. We walked downtown to the pawn shop to look at weird stuff. When one of us was in the money, we bought candy at the gas station to share. People teased us about being boyfriend and girlfriend. “How long have you guys been going out?” people would ask. “You like him,” my friends would say.
I did. I liked him so much. I loved him, even, but that’s not a word that seemed allowed in middle-school friendships. Can you love someone as a friend? Can you fall profoundly, deeply, in friendship? In middle school and junior high, romantic love is often on everyone’s minds. We’re playing with that concept, thinking about it. But the true miracle, it seemed to me then and it seems to me now, is finding a friend who lasts.
Justin had a sense of humor that delighted me. Never had I met someone so funny, so smart. And there was a layer there too, of understanding. When my grandfather and baby sister died that year, he was kind. Sometimes he said the wrong thing. Sometimes he didn’t quite understand. But he was always there to say something, and that meant the world. Later, in high school, when I suffered from depression, he sat on the porch swing at my house and cried for me when I couldn’t cry for myself.
When I first saw the cover of SUMMERLOST, with the illustration by the incredibly talented Jennifer Bricking, I cried because it was so beautiful, because it spoke to me. Because those little figures on the front, with that great big sky, reminded me of those two friends years ago. I sent the image to a few people, including Justin and his wife, Lindsay, who is a dear friend of mine (I’m the one who set them up on their first blind date!). Lindsay emailed me back, This cover is so gorgeous. It evokes all kinds of mixed feelings about summer and childhood. It’s kind of dark, yet kind of innocent. She put into words what I felt so strongly.
When I wrote SUMMERLOST, I knew right away that Cedar was going to meet someone. I knew he was going to be special. I knew he was going to be able to help her heal, the way a true friend can. The character Leo is, of course, very different from my friend Justin. Justin and I never worked together, we never even, to my recollection, went to the festival upon which I based the Summerlost Festival together. We didn’t live down the street from each other, and we didn’t give a clandestine tour about anyone famous the way Leo and Cedar do. (We did eat a lot of awesome candy, like Fireballs and Lemonheads and Cherry-A-Lets.) But all the feelings are real. The magic of meeting someone who understands and likes you and who maybe even loves you, in a way that’s rare both in middle school and in the years that come after—that was what I hoped to capture in the friendship between Leo and Cedar in SUMMERLOST.