Author: Kristin Hannah
Macmillan RRP $19.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
‘We’ll be best friends forever,” Kate said earnestly. “Okay?”
“You mean you’ll always be there for me?”
“Always,” Kate answered. “No matter what.”
Friendship and mother-daughter relationships are dominant themes in Firefly Lane, a coming-of-age novel that spans three decades. The book’s been re-released (it was first released in 2008) ahead of up follow up novel, Fly Away, which is due for release shortly. I’ve read mixed reviews about it Firefly Lane – most gushing, a few more cynical. So what did I think? Call me a sucker, but overall, I enjoyed it.
Kate and Tully meet in 1974 aged fourteen. Kate’s two best friends have long since cut her loose and moved on to pot and parties; nowadays books are her best friends. So when she first sees gorgeous, tall, exotic Tully – ‘the coolest-looking girl in the world’ – she knows there’s not a chance they will ever be friends. And yet Kate feels ‘a desperate desire to be acknowledged by Tully’. Tully, on the other hand, knows that keeping busy – staying popular – takes her mind off the fact that her mother is different to other mothers. Everything she does is a protective mask, so no-one knows the real, hurting girl underneath.
A shared and terrible secret bonds Tully and Kate in friendship – over one summer they go from being neighbours to inseparable friends, making a pact to be ‘best friends forever’. Suddenly Kate is cool by association (although she never really feels comfortable in that skin) and Tully is validated by having someone (aside from her Gran) who gives her the attention she craves.
For thirty years Tully and Kate buoy each other through life, weathering the storms of friendship, jealousy, anger, hurt and resentment. Tully follows her ambition to find fame and success, but Kate casts aside that plan earlier, realising that all she wants is to fall in love and have a family. It’s an ambition Tully can’t understand; instead, she climbs the media ladder, doing whatever it takes to get to the top, to prove herself to the one person who isn’t watching. And just as this ruthless drive changes her, makes her want to be the centre of everyone’s world even more, motherhood and marriage changes Kate. Sometimes it seems like their friendship will not stand the test of time … but somehow it does. Until a single act of betrayal tears them apart. And when tragedy strikes, can they go back?
Recently, Miss Attitude (12) was telling me that she and her best friend would always be there for each other, even though they were at different schools. And then just the other day, she had a snarky message on Facebook (yes, we had a heart to heart about the use of FB) complaining that her friend was always talking about her other friends … remember those days? As I read Firefly Lane, I was sometimes surprised that Tully and Kate remained friends, because they really were different people, with different values and different hopes and dreams. Often Kate just allowed herself to be swept up in Tully’s grand plans (which were all about Tully, really) and put her own needs on the backburner. While on the one hand, I admired Kate for her loyalty, I felt frustrated when she didn’t stand up for herself.
Hannah has created two well-defined characters in Tully and Kate, though Tully, by nature of her attention-seeking, really did overshadow Kate for the most part. Tully’s character took a long time to mature; for most of the novel she was needy and narcissistic. I found myself frustrated by her selfishness at times and wanted to shake her and cry, “It’s not all about you.” Of course, I had the benefit of knowing where this behaviour stemmed from, as did Kate, so I was able to ‘forgive’ her and keep trying to understand her. In reality, I think Tully would be one of those women with few women friends because they would tire of her attention-seeking ways. In some ways also, she is a study in contrasts; she craves attention and love but shuns commitment. She wants attention from men, from the public; she wants love from a mother and since she doesn’t get that, she seeks it from her Gran, Kate’s mother Mrs M and her mentor Edna. In some ways, she wants what Kate has, and yet spurns it when offered. By the end of the novel, she realises that money and success doesn’t make up for family.
Kate, on the other hand, is relatively stable and predictable. Although as a teenager she had the typical heated ups and downs with her mother, and imagines a glittering career as a reporter, once she marries, she readily gives up her career to concentrate on marriage and motherhood (although she does still dream of writing). It surprises her how hard motherhood is, especially when her daughter becomes a teenager. She matures much faster than Tully, though never quite shakes the sense of inadequacy she feels in Tully’s presence (which leads to jealousy and resentment). While I think she is the stronger of the two, she has her weaknesses and at times, I wished she would do something. I found myself less frustrated with her though – I could relate to her much more because my choices have been more similar to hers. As she found her home turning into a mother-daughter battlefield, oh, I could relate (but with a wilful son, instead).
In many ways, Firefly Lane was an authentic, relatable read. When it comes to mother-daughter relationships and bonds, to women’s experiences of trying to have it all (career, family etc), I found it believable. I emphathised with Tully when her mother abandoned her, I know how deep and yet, challenging, mother-daughter relationships can be, and I know what it’s like to juggle many things. A couple of things niggled at me, like using the dismissive word ‘Whatever’ in the ’70s. It seemed out of place. Most of the time the pop culture references worked, but there were a couple of instances that didn’t fit. Small point, though. The main niggle was that I just don’t know if I really believed that TullyandKate could have survived as long as they did with some of the things that happened. I wanted to, because it’s just such a beautiful ideal, but …
It is predictable and stereotypical. Some people have compared it to Beaches. I can see why. But, like I said, I’m a sucker. I’m a softie and an optimist. And I liked Beaches (but don’t tell anyone). Despite the formula, despite the niggles, I still enjoyed this book. Hopefully, the follow-on, Fly Away, will see further development in Tully and answer some questions to do with her mother.
Available from good bookstores and Pan Macmillan. This copy was courtesy of Pan Macmillan.
Bookish treat: Marshmallows. It’s a sweet, toasty kind of read and I can imagine Tully and Kate sneaking out at night to toast them.