Synopses & Reviews
From the bestselling author of Bee Season
comes an astonishingly complex psychological drama with a simple setup: two eleven-year-old girls, best friends and fierce rivals, go into the woods. Only one comes out...
Leaders of a mercurial clique of girls, Celia and Djuna reigned mercilessly over their three followers. One afternoon, they decided to walk home along a forbidden road. Djuna disappeared, and for twenty years Celia blocked out how it happened.
The lie Celia told to conceal her misdeed became the accepted truth: everyone assumed Djuna had been abducted, though neither she nor her abductor was ever found. Celia’s unconscious avoidance of this has meant that while she and her longtime boyfriend, Huck, are professionally successful, they’ve been unable to move forward, their relationship falling into a rut that threatens to bury them both.
Celia returns to her hometown to confess the truth, but her family and childhood friends don’t believe her. Huck wants to be supportive, but his love can’t blind him to all that contradicts Celia’s version of the past.
Celia’s desperate search to understand what happened to Djuna has powerful consequences. A deeply resonant and emotionally charged story, The False Friend explores the adults that children become — leading us to question the truths that we accept or reject, as well as the lies to which we succumb.
Goldberg's unremarkable latest a neatly constructed if hollow story of memory and deception begins in the woods surrounding a small upstate New York town as 11 year old Celia watches her best friend Djuna get into a stranger's car never to be seen again. At least that's the story Celia gives to the police. Twenty one years later Celia returns to her hometown to tell her family and old friends what really happened that fateful day but her new version of the disappearance is met with disbelief by family and old friends. Meanwhile Celia's image of her childhood identity is shattered as she listens to descriptions of herself as a child: she was sweet to some cruel and bullying to others. Goldberg successfully evokes the shades of gray that constitute truth and memory but her tendency toward self conscious writerliness and grand pronouncements ("The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight unschooled by consequence and endowed with a biblical sense of justice") prevents the narrative from breaking through its muted tones. Goldberg misplays the setup trading psychological suspense for a routine story of self discovery. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
"Goldberg's unremarkable latest, a neatly constructed if hollow story of memory and deception, begins in the woods surrounding a small upstate New York town, as 11-year-old Celia watches her best friend, Djuna, get into a stranger's car, never to be seen again. At least that's the story Celia gives to the police. Twenty-one years later, Celia returns to her hometown to tell her family and old friends what really happened that fateful day, but her new version of the disappearance is met with disbelief by family and old friends. Meanwhile, Celia's image of her childhood identity is shattered as she listens to descriptions of herself as a child: she was sweet to some, cruel and bullying to others. Goldberg successfully evokes the shades of gray that constitute truth and memory, but her tendency toward self-conscious writerliness and grand pronouncements ('The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight, unschooled by consequence, and endowed with a biblical sense of justice') prevents the narrative from breaking through its muted tones. Goldberg misplays the setup, trading psychological suspense for a routine story of self-discovery. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Picking up the current concerns about bullying and "mean girls," Goldberg follows a young woman tracking down a guilty memory from her childhood....Complex, compelling characters who defy pigeonholing." Kirkus Reviews
"Goldberg uses beautiful, emotionally descriptive language to keep us with one ear to the ground, listening for the slow, quiet footsteps of creeping tragedy." Booklist
"Fascinating and fresh...Goldberg does a crackerjack job of showing a former factory town on the wane; a family, like the town, that hasn't moved forward; and a character, also stagnating, trying to discover an elusive truth....With psychological shrewdness, generosity and a sure hand, Goldberg circles her way to an ending that is both satisfying and unsatisfying. Like life." The Washington Post
"The term mean girls is elevated to a new level in Goldberg's moody novel...this is a layered, understated novel about the complex, ambiguous nature of memory and its effect on the dynamics of relationships. Great fodder for reading groups." Library Journal, starred review
"A compelling exploration of the fallibility of memory, explored through richly drawn characters." San Francisco Chronicle
"Fans of Goldberg's first novel, Bee Season, will love The False Friend...[A] brisk, unforgettable story. The False Friend leaves us wanting more, as all good fiction should." BookPage
"One of the most emotionally rich novels I've read this year....Intellectually rigorous, psychologically astute and beautifully written, The False Friend provides the truest accounting of the way memory can be a burden." Jonathan Messinger for TimeOut Chicago
Two 11-year-old girls, best friends and fierce rivals, go into the woods. Only one comes out. The lie Celia tells to conceal her misdeed becomes the accepted truth, and when Celia returns to her hometown to confess the truth, her family and friends don't believe her.
About the Author
MYLA GOLDBERG is the author of the bestselling Bee Season, which was a New York Times Notable Book in 2000, later made into a film; and Wickett’s Remedy. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Reading Group Guide
The False Friend is set into motion when Celia remembers her friend Djuna after having managed to block out those memories for twenty years. What is it about where Celia is in her life or her relationships that may have brought this memory to the surface? Does this sort of sudden recollection make sense to you, or was it difficult for you to accept the book’s opening premise?
2. Why are Celia’s parents so reluctant to talk to Celia about Djuna? Does this seem representative of their larger relationship with their daughter? Representative of their relationship with each other?
3. How common is the sort of friendship Celia and Djuna had as girls? In what ways did their friendship and their clique seem strange or familiar to you?
4. In what ways does Celia’s relationship with her mother differ from her relationship to her father? Is one relationship healthier than another, or are they just differently functional/dysfunctional?
5. To Celia, Jensenville is a place that she can only bear to visit briefly and seldom. To Celia’s parents and to people like the town librarian, Jensenville is a fine place to live. What do you think of Jensenville? What makes some people want to flee their hometown and others want to stay?
6. Do you agree with how Noreen and Warren dealt with Celia as a girl in the aftermath of Djuna’s disappearance? Do you think they could or should be blamed for Celia’s subsequent repressed memories?
7. Though Jeremy’s drug addiction and recovery is only addressed indirectly in the novel, in what ways is it an important aspect of the larger story of this family?
8. Huck liked to tease Celia that “they could have been spared years of heartache had they met earlier, but Celia disagreed. Her prior love life had been too binary, the replication or repudiation of her parents consuming its earliest daisy petals.” In what ways does Celia’s relationship with Huck resemble the relationships within her family? In what ways is it different?
9. When Celia spontaneously arrives at Leanne’s house to apologize, she is told that her appearance there is only “more harm done.” Was Celia right to attempt to apologize to Leanne in person? Both Jewish tradition and the 12-step program (just to name two) assert that true forgiveness can only be achieved when we apologize to the person we have wronged. Do both parties always benefit equally?
10. What does the future hold for Huck and Celia? How do you think Celia’s trip to Jensenville will affect their relationship?
11. When Celia visits Djuna’s mother as an adult, it is very different from the experiences she remembers as a girl. Who do you think has changed more, Celia or Djuna’s mother?
12. No one agrees with Celia’s version of what happened to Djuna on the wooded road twenty years ago. Who is right? Can that question be answered?