Author Carol Dines joins us today to talk about the inspiration for her latest YA novel, The Take-Over Friend. The idea of BFFs forever and the media’s portrayal of friendship, particularly those of teenage girls, often sets up the expectation that you find your lifetime best friend early and you grow old together, weathering the storms of life’s ups and downs. But the reality is, a lot of best friends break up. Today, author Carol Dine talks about what she has learned about friendship, why friendships sometimes end, and how it all inspired her latest book.
What I remember best was the last fight we had. She said to me over the phone, “I just feel like you keep putting up walls, and I don’t know why.”
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I told her, “You expect so much. I just need more space.”
“We never spend time together anymore,” she blurted. “Maybe I just care about you more than you care about me.”
Our conversation left me shaking, and all I could reply was, “I can’t have this conversation. I need to get off the phone.”
After we hung up, I wrote her a long note, explaining that I still loved her and would always care about our friendship. I also wrote: We’re too close, and I don’t think we can undo our closeness. I need an ending.
She was my best friend, and ending our friendship was one of the hardest moments in my life. All through high school, we’d been inseparable. Everyone around us assumed our friendship was a forever-friendship. We assumed that too. We had our routines, the places we liked to meet, the same friends, artsy notes we left in each other’s lockers, clothes we often traded. We were a tiny safe bubble within a larger bubble of friends. We knew each other’s insecurities, and we built each other up:
You’re so beautiful.
No, you’re so beautiful.
You’re so smart.
You’re way smarter than I am.
But change was inevitable, subtle changes that were hard to read. We’d grown so close, the line between our lives—where my life ended and hers began—had begun to blur. I didn’t see that at first. I didn’t see that our emotional lives had become intertwined. We talked every night before bed, about our families, our classes, ups and downs with boyfriends and friends, fears and hopes. We talked about where we wanted to go to college, too, and we promised we’d always be there for each other.
We never ran out of things to say. And yet, something ran out in me.
What began as shared routines that had bonded us, now felt like duties. We both pretend we had to talk each night, and so we did. But I knew talking to her no longer felt like a choice.
Did I want to call her tonight?
Not really. I wanted to read my book.
Interest, she’d be hurt if I didn’t call, so I called, and then I felt irritated because she didn’t want to end the call. But I didn’t tell her that. I let the irritations grow inside me.
I didn’t see my own part in the problem. It never occurred to me that I had a right to make my own choices, to cultivate the friendship I wanted, to break the habits embedded in our friendship. I wish now I’d spoken my mind, right from the beginning. I wish I’d said, “I’m just not into big parties.” Or, “Can we talk tomorrow instead?” But I was only beginning to understand I had boundaries, and I didn’t know how to communicate them without hurting her, so I ended up putting her needs ahead of my own.
She felt the change in me. “What’s wrong?” she asked. “You seem distant.” But instead of being brave enough to tell her our friendship needed a reset, I told myself she was demanding too much.
My unspoken criticisms of her justified the wall that I grew between us.
It came to a head just before spring break of our senior year. All through high school, we’d planned to go to Florida with her family. Now I didn’t want to go. I loved her family, and I still loved her, but I didn’t want to spend a week with anyone, even my best friend.
I told her I couldn’t leave my sick dog. She knew it was an excuse.
I stayed home and did art projects, played my guitar, and lay next to my old dog, looking at the catalog of the college I would attend in the fall. Mostly I enjoyed not being in an intense friendship. It wasn’t that I didn’t love her, or that she’d done anything to me. It was deeper and far more subtle. Our life together had begun to feel small. I wanted to shed my old self, and our friendship reinforced our old selves. I wanted the freedom to be someone different, but I didn’t know how to break free of her expectations, expectations I’d helped to cultivate, and still stay close friends.
Now, decades later, I think about her still, always with gratitude for the friendship we shared. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned what it takes to keep a healthy friendship, and I know boundaries are hugely important in lasting friendships. I’ve gotten braver about expressing my needs.
Sorry, I need some time alone. Sorry, I hate big parties. Sorry, I don’t like camping. Could you please not always be thirty minutes late?
Recently, I told a friend, I’d really appreciate if you didn’t keep looking at your phone when we’re having lunch.
I also know the warning signs of a friendship that isn’t working: I’ll feel pressured to do things I don’t want to do. I’ll realize my friend wants to spend more time together than I do. Or only calls when she needs me. Or pries into my life when I’m not ready to share. Or has a different set of political controls that I don’t respect. Or never initiates getting together.
Or never has time.
I’ve also learned that friends inevitably disappoint each other. That’s part of life, part of friendship. But when disappointment becomes a pattern, it’s time to look at a friendship closely. Sometimes it’s a phase, and the phase passes, and the friendship regains its balance. Other times, friends outgrow each other, and it’s time to let go. But for those friendships that matter most, it’s worth the effort to know your own boundaries and communicate them openly. Only then does a friendship have a real chance of lasting over time.
ABOUT CAROL DINES
Carol Dines writes novels and short stories for adults and young adults. Her latest YA novel, THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND, will be published by Fitzroy Books in October 2022. She’s also written two additional YA novels: Best Friends Tell the Best Lies (Delacorte) and The Queen’s SopranoHarcourt), as well as a collection of YA short stories, Talk to Me (Delacorte.)
Her collection of short stories for adults, This Distance We Call Love, was published by Orison Books in 2021. Additionally, her fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals including Plowshares, Narrative, Colorado Review, Salamander, Nimrod, as well as anthologies Someone Speaks My Language, Love and Lust, and Voices of the Land.
Carol Dines is a recipient of the SWCA’s Judy Blume award and the Eric Hoffer Award, as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin State Artist Fellowships. She’s a graduate of Stanford University and has an MA from Colorado State University. She was born in Rochester, Minnesota and currently resides in Minneapolis with her husband and standard poodle.
Visit her website: https://www.caroldines.com/
More Information on The Take-Over Friend
Award-winning author Carol Dines is passionate about writing characters who find greater meanings in small, everyday moments. Her novels and short stories are authentic and moving narratives that illuminate how the relationships we forge and sustain both connect and challenge us. This fall, Dines explores the power and the pitfalls of young female friendships in her novel for young adults, THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND, which Fitzroy Books will published September 27, 2022.
The story centers on the instant and intense friendship bond between shy and introverted Francis and witty, outgoing newcomer Sonja when they meet on the second day of their freshman year of high school. The two teens are euphoric about their blossoming
relationship; Frances is charmed by Sonja’s energy and worldliness, while Sonja adores
Frances’s sense of calm and dependability. She’s also taken with Frances’s close-knit family,
especially her older brother, Will.
Family crises impact both girls—Sonja’s parents are caught in a bitter divorce, and Frances’s
father suffers from bipolar disorder. When Sonja’s mother attempts suicide, Sonja
moves temporarily in with Frances and her family. Sonja’s dominating personality begins to
overwhelm Frances, causing her to doubt herself and her own talents. And when Sonja’s
infatuation with Will becomes obsessive, Frances feels manipulated and attempts to set
some boundaries. For Sonja, there is no middle ground, and she sees Frances’ efforts to
regaining her independence as the ultimate betrayal.
Carol Dines shares the real-life inspirations for her book: “When my daughter went through
a devastating break-up with her childhood friend, I recalled my own pain over having to end
things with my best friend when I was her age. We knew each other so well that we could
Intuitively read each other’s feelings, but then it became difficult to give each other the space
to grow independently. I tried to set boundaries but loosening expectations in a friendship
is a difficult task, and she felt hurt and angry.”
THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND powerfully explores themes of guilt, jealousy, possessiveness,
and the difficult task of staying true to oneself. In the same vein as Hayley Krischer’s The
Falling Girls and Anne Fine’s The Tulip Touch, Dines’ new novel weaves together the beauty
and pain of friendship and growing up. I urge you to include the novel in your fall book
coverage and will be in touch soon to discuss the possibilities.
“This book is for everyone who’s ever longed for, loved, lost, or been betrayed by a
friend.”—Margi Preus, Newbury Honor author of Heart of the Samurai, Village of
Scoundrels, and Lily Leads the Way
Additional Advance Praise for THE TAKE-OVER FRIEND
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“The Take-Over Friend rings with authenticity”. It’s an honest and moving look at the
Difficulties and rewards of friendship, the love and complications of family, and the joy and
uncertainty of growing up. Carol Dines treats challenging subjects like mental illness and its
impact on friends and family members with nuance and depth. I read the whole book in
one totally immersive sitting, rooting for Franny. She’s a character you hold close in your
heart.” —Eve Yohalem, author of Escape Under The Forever Sky and The Truth
According to Blue
“Equal parts wry and heartbreaking, The Take-Over Friend deftly and seamlessly weaves a
compelling story about the complex nature of adolescent friendship with a deep and
thoughtful dive into the impact of mental illness on one family. A timely, moving, and
thought-provoking novel.” —Gary Eldon Peter, author of Oranges and The Complicated
Calculus (and Cows) of Carl Paulsen
“Carol Dines perfectly captures the intoxication and relief that can be found in an intense
new friendship, along with the little warning signs that are easy to dismiss when all one
wants is to be swept up in the thrill of that bond. Narrator Franny is both vulnerable and
wise, self-doubting and self-aware, and her family, with its imperfections and unshakable
love, will quickly become as real to readers as their own. When charismatic Sonja finds
their fissures and worry uses them as points of entry, it’s hard not to for everybody and
impossible to stop turning pages. The Take-Over Friend is a beautiful, layered novel about
what can happen when we ignore our own inner wisdom. It will live inside readers long
after they reach the last page.” —Ona Gritz, author of Present Imperfect and Tangerines
and Tea and Starfish Summer
“How many of us have fallen for that teenage friendship, alluring and dangerous all at
once! The Take-Over Friend is engaging and heart stopping — wonderfully written about
trusts broken and boundaries crossed…” —Judith Katz, author of The Escape Artist and
Running Fiercely Toward A High Thin Sound
Filed under: Teen Fiction, YA Lit