The False Friend

( 91 )


Twenty years after Celia’s best friend, Djuna, went missing, memories of that terrible day come rushing back—including the lie Celia remembers having told to conceal her role in Djuna’s disappearance. But when Celia returns to her hometown to confess the truth, her family and childhood friends recall that day very differently. As Celia learns more about what may or may not have happened, she becomes increasingly uncertain whom she should trust....

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The False Friend

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Twenty years after Celia’s best friend, Djuna, went missing, memories of that terrible day come rushing back—including the lie Celia remembers having told to conceal her role in Djuna’s disappearance. But when Celia returns to her hometown to confess the truth, her family and childhood friends recall that day very differently. As Celia learns more about what may or may not have happened, she becomes increasingly uncertain whom she should trust.
In The False Friend, Myla Goldberg—bestselling author of Bee Season—brilliantly explores the cruelty of children, the unreliability of memory, and the unpredictable forces that shape our adult selves.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

When she was ten years old, Celia Durst did something that would seem logical only to those who can still think like a child. Out on a walk but still feuding with her best friend Djuna, Celia watched her close rival fall into a deep crevice. Instead of reporting her missing, young Durst fabricated a story of a drive-away kidnapping. Responding equally inexplicably, three other girls also claimed to have witnessed the crime. Now twenty years later, Celia decides to come clean, but she learns to her consternation that such erasures are not easily achieved. A nuanced character study by the author of the Discover Great New Writers selection Bee Season.

From the Publisher

“Haunting. . . . A compelling exploration of the fallibility of memory, explored through richly drawn characters.”
San Francisco Chronicle

—Richard Russo, author of That Old Cape Magic

“Suspenseful and smart. . . . A timely take on the fraught emotional terrain of American schoolgirls.”

“Fascinating and fresh. . . . Written with psychological shrewdness, generosity and a sure hand.”
—The Washington Post

“Goldberg’s intelligence and psychological acuity are evident on every page. . . . She’s a smart, witty, highly observant writer, and in her latest, the author’s prose is as exceptional as ever.”
The Dallas Morning News
“Cinematically weaving together Celia’s uneasy present with her disturbing past, Goldberg explores the intensity and volatility of friendships between young girls as well as the slipperiness of fidelity and memory.”
The Village Voice
“Personal and authentic. . . . Deep and emotionally complex. . . . Goldberg’s portrayal of Celia and Djuna’s friendship is insightful and powerfully resonant.”
—Associated Press
“Goldberg does a scarily fine job describing the mean dynamic in a clique of five 11-year-olds. . . . Tense and marvelous.”
Entertainment Weekly
“There is nothing as obsessive and cruel as the intimate friendships of young girls. Myla Goldberg’s magnificent new novel mines this terrifying but exhilarating territory with precision, insight, and honesty.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of Red Hook Road and Bad Mother
“Wondrous. . . . A constantly surprising story. . . . Goldberg draws readers into a world in which people don’t have single, lifelong identities. They morph.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina)
“Captivating. . . . Pitch perfect. . . . An irresistible story of a woman trying to reconcile her ever-warping memories, memories that ultimately are proven to be the most ‘False Friend’ of all.”
Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
“Celia’s journey causes us to examine the impact of our words and deeds, the reliability of our memories, and how these things shape the people we ultimately grow to be.”
Bay City Times (Michigan)
“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)

Mameve Medwed
…Goldberg…uses her circling, stop-and-start narrative to approach this subject in ways that are both fascinating and fresh…[she] 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…Though Celia is not always likable…she is consistently real…[Goldberg] is a master of ambiguity. The hole at the heart of Celia's mystery waits to be filled in. 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
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Library Journal
The term mean girls is elevated to a new level in Goldberg's moody novel. Is there anything uglier or more damaging than the well-honed bullying techniques of middle-school girls? There's always a natural leader, and newcomer Djuna Pearson wields the power. Choosing Celia as her acolyte, Djuna designates second-tier friends, and outsider Leanne gets the brunt of their cruel teasing. For 21 years Celia manages to lock away the memories of that time, fashioning an enviable life for herself in Chicago. One day she's overwhelmed with the need to confess the lie she once told about Djuna, a falsehood that shook the solid foundation of her small town. With a deep sense of unease, readers accompany Celia on her return to Jensenville, NY, where she hopes to make amends for a transgression only she seems to be aware of. VERDICT The authenticity of the author's voice is evident when she describes the uncomfortable emotions and forgotten details that assault the adult Celia as she goes back to her childhood home. Different in theme from Goldberg's Bee Season and Wickett's Remedy, 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. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/10.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews

Picking up the current concerns about bullying and "mean girls," Goldberg (Wickett's Remedy, 2005, etc.) follows a young woman tracking down a guilty memory from her childhood.

Celia, 32, works as a performance auditor in Chicago, where she lives with her boyfriend Huck, a teacher who is growing impatient with Celia's unwillingness to commit. Then Celia is overcome by her suppressed memory of the disappearance of her best friend Djuna in fifth grade. Eleven-year-old Celia told authorities that Djuna got into a car with a stranger, but now Celia remembers that she lied; Djuna actually fell into a hole in the woods while they were arguing. Overcome with remorse, Celia returns to her childhood home in New York, to set things right. But her shyly loving parents, who still carry their own parental guilts, assure Celia that her despair at the time of Djuna's disappearance was too real to be phony. Celia goes online to look for three other friends, Josie, Becky and Leanne, who were walking near the woods with Celia and Djuna that day. As Celia talks to each, she begins to realize that her memory may be confused. Becky saw the car pull away, and Josie saw Djuna get in it. Meanwhile other memories of her childhood come back in snippets, forcing Celia to acknowledge that her culpability may have to do with more than her friend's death. Celia notes that the mercurial friendship of arguments and reconciliations she had with Djuna was more intimate and intense than even her relationship with Huck. And their friendship centered on their tyrannical domination over the three other girls, especially Leanne, who was poorer than the others and desperate for acceptance. It seems obvious that Djuna was the ringleader until Celia makes a final, painful visit to Djuna's mother, still mourning the loss of her only child, an outsider herself before Celia befriended her.

Complex, compelling characters who defy pigeonholing override Goldberg's tendency to map out the plot too neatly.

The Barnes & Noble Review

Myla Goldberg's third novel returns her to territory that might seem strikingly familiar, demographically speaking, to readers of Bee Season, her warmly received debut novel published a decade ago. But, although both novels painstakingly construct the world of eleven-year-old girls, The False Friend's Celia Durst and her best friend, Djuna Pearson, could not be more different than Eliza Naumann, the awkward heroine who finds deliverance from her drab place in her school and family by becoming a spelling bee champion. Celia and Djuna are queen bees of a different sort, the movie stars of the grade school playground, with a fan club of awestruck hangers-on, who willingly defer to their tastes (pink and lavender, unicorns, Tretorn sneakers) and submit to their tests. They are, in a word, bullies, until a shocking intervention from the adult world outside the playground transforms Djuna from tormenter into victim: one day, while walking with five girls near the woods, she disappears into a brown car and is never seen again.

Twenty-one years later, Celia, now 32 and living in Chicago, is struck by what she believes to be a repressed memory that suggests things might have happened differently than she described, and that she might actually hold some blame for Djuna's disappearance. The next day she books a flight back to her parents' hometown of Jensenville, a once-quaint town in upstate New York where the family-owned Victorians have now been turned over to drunken students, "the real estate equivalent of inviting caterpillars into a tree." Though Celia comes as a supplicant, all her attempts to confess are muffled by her parents' impenetrable layers of good will, propriety, and stiff New England reserve. Goldberg captures perfectly the frustration of trying to talk about passion and wrongdoing in a family where the parents find it unseemly to be seen in their pajamas in front of their children and a raised voice is considered "the vocal equivalent of public frontal nudity." Huck, Celia's handsome high school teacher boyfriend of nearly a decade, pines over Celia in her absence, while wondering when she might be willing to graduate from raising dogs to raising children with him, but shares her parents' sunny view of Celia's basic goodness. "The eleven-year-old girl she described to Huck was a stranger. Only Celia recognized what she'd done."

But, as further revelations unfold, the reader comes to understand that even Celia has yet to recognize what she has really done, and to whom. She begins to grapple with the depth of cruelty of which children are capable: "The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight, unschooled by consequence, and endowed with a biblical sense of injustice." Revisiting the territory of the past with Celia, Goldberg reminds her adult readers of the power of a claustrophobic girlhood friendship that "could only ever be a child's possession" because "only a child could withstand its stranglehold." But as she moves through the town, we see that Celia is unaware of the force field she once created in the minds of others: the unattainable beauty, the friend who left others behind, the villain whose former victims still seek vengeance, the child whose confidence boosts parental pride. These different sides, Goldberg seems to suggest, might themselves reinforce Celia's unconscious sense of the naturalness of her regal role, even as her nostalgic infatuation with Djuna blinds her to the childhood crimes for which she can truly atone.

--Amy Benfer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307390707
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/23/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,008,737
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Myla Goldberg

Myla Goldberg is the author of several books, including Wickett’s Remedy and the bestselling, critically acclaimed Bee Season, which was widely translated and adapted to film. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Myla Goldberg is the author of the bestselling Bee Season, which was named a New York Times Notable Book in 2000 and made into a film, and of Time's Magpie, a book of essays about Prague. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and failbetter. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Author biography courtsey of Random House, Inc..

Good To Know

In an interview with her publisher, Goldberg discusses the spark for her debut novel, Bee Season:

"In 1997 I went to D.C. to visit the National Spelling Bee. I interviewed the kids and I sat in the auditorium and watched the whole thing -- it was intense! If nothing else, that was what made me realize that I could write a novel about this. It's an alternate universe; there's just so much there.

"For me it became a microcosm of the childhood experience, for just about everyone that I know. You grow up, you have parents who have expectations of you, who want certain things, and you try really hard to fulfill them. And then you realize that you can't always. That kind of moment is defining for a lot of people. The spelling bee functions in two days to sum up that entire childhood experience."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 19, 1971
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A., Oberlin College, 1993

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

The sight of a vintage VW bug dredged Djuna Pearson from memory. "Ladybug," Djuna said into Celia's ear as casually as ever, as if this were not the first time that voice had been heard in twenty-one years. Downtown Chicago streamed around Celia in a blur of wing tips and pumps. She stared, seasick, at the gleam of a discarded foil wrapper. When Celia shut her eyes, Djuna materialized behind her closed lids, the two of them sharing the backseat of Mrs. Pearson's Volvo, posting lookout for their favorite car. "Ladybug," Djuna called, and at the sound of that familiar, long-forgotten voice, a false wall crumbled to reveal a maze of other rooms, Djuna standing at the center of each one.

Djuna Pearson had appeared at the desk in front of Celia on the first day of fifth grade, the new girl's dark ponytail tied back with ribbon, stray hairs feathering a slender nape like enameled porcelain. Djuna had excellent posture, and for this Celia decided to hate her. By the second week of school they were friends of an intensity that summoned hangers-on. Their three most ardent satellites were Josie; Leanne; and Becky, the best friend Djuna had replaced. At any given moment Djuna and Celia were a party the others were desperate to attend, or a traffic accident too spectacular to avoid.

As the last pedestrians left the curb, the walk sign counted three, two, one. Celia remained in place, replaying the culmination of a playground argument as if it were a home movie.

It had been windy and Celia was wearing her favorite hat, the one with the yellow pompon. With each gust the pompon shifted--a slight, ticklish feeling, as if a bird had chosen the top of Celia's head to make its nest. Djuna had stood facing Celia, the tips of their noses not six inches apart. It must have been Djuna's turn to be outraged because her face was so contorted that her chapped bottom lip had started to bleed. When she yelled, "Your hat is stupid!" Celia heard the words, felt the heat of Djuna's fury, but had been more interested in watching the fissure in the stretched, pink skin at the bottom curve of her best friend's mouth turn a darker shade of red. Celia remembered the pause, her utter calm before replying, "Your lips are ugly," as if it were a fact to be memorized for a test later on. Djuna spun away, her ponytail slicing an angry arc through the air. When she turned around to scream, "I hate you!" bodies stilled across the blacktop, recess paused to pay homage to a greater power.

Their reconciliations involved passed notes and the pretense that nothing had happened. During the lulls between storms, they spent hours playing in Djuna's room, pretending at belonging to a vast family of orphaned sisters drawn on successive pages of a spiral-bound notebook. Djuna designed the clothes, elaborate ensembles of petticoats and lace that resembled wedding cakes. Celia drew heads that were mostly hair and eyes. One of these afternoons returned to her, a sensory snapshot. She had been staying for dinner and could recall the scent of Mrs. Pearson's cooking wafting upstairs. Residual light from the fading day had cast Djuna's features in pale grays, making her seem like a statue of a girl brought temporarily to life. They sat on Djuna's bed contemplating a notebook page thick with sisters, the pair meant to represent them the most beautifully drawn of all. "We will never be closer to anyone than we are to each other right now," Djuna vowed, to which Celia had agreed with all the certainty eleven years of life could provide. Twenty-one years later, she realized it was still true.

When the walk sign returned, Celia crossed with everyone else, then stopped at the opposite curb to stare at the corner she'd left behind. It was the same instinct that drove others to mark the scenes of accidents and crimes with homemade wooden crosses, with photos and candles. Memorials created the illusion of a sympathetic landscape. Celia looked for some fresh stain, or a crack in the pavement, but saw nothing to mark the demise of her previous self.

Spring had scrapped the need for a jacket, and a breeze snaked inside Celia's sleeve. In the heat of the afternoon, she and Djuna had fashioned their coats into capes in order to streak downhill from the bus, arms outthrust, their coat capes flapping behind them. When Celia didn't slouch, they were the same height but Djuna's arms were longer. Djuna had double-jointed fingers and could waggle each fingertip at its top knuckle. At the bottom of the hill they would throw themselves onto the nearest lawn. Djuna insisted that she could hear the grass grow when she pressed her ear to the ground.

It was not yet nine a.m. and Celia wanted to close her eyes and be draped over a shoulder to be carried home like a sleep-clobbered child. Instead she used her reflection in a storefront window to examine a softer, more impressionable landscape. Her nose and chin had sharpened, and her hair was darker than it once had been. She had lost the baby fat that had once made her cheeks pinchable, but her eyes were the same pale blue. Djuna could have dowsed from those features a smaller face now outgrown. Celia searched the opposite corner one last time, hoping to conjure Djuna from that single remembered word, but the voice she had heard was light from an extinguished star.

Above the doors of Celia's destination, state of illinois building was carved in stone, those words a former title belt worn in reverse reflection by the mirrored facade of the new champion across the street. The Thompson Center contained an El station, a shopping mall, and most of the state agencies that had once endowed its older neighbor. Celia's building was called the Bilandic now, demoted to glorifying a former mayor, the Illinois Auditor General's office the most distinguished among the agencies it had retained. Celia had always preferred her building, but had the Auditor General's office moved with the rest, she would not have been on the street that morning. Like the personnel of the Lottery Department and the Elections Board, she would have traveled from the El station to her office door without ever having to step outside. She would not have seen the red car. For the rest of her life she might have enjoyed the illusion that she was no more monstrous than anybody else.

I think, therefore I am is too vague. We are, because we remember. As each new present blinks out, its heart is weighed and then judged, preserved in mental amber or consumed. Before, Celia's memory had functioned present but hidden, as necessary and neglected as a pancreas or a spleen. Now it had revealed itself to be a twenty-one-year cheat.

Celia crossed the lobby, rode the elevator, and arrived at her office the way it is possible to drive for miles hypnotized by the highway, then found herself standing at the receptionist's desk with Helene, Gary, Gloria, and Steven all staring at her.

"Celia?" Helene asked. Celia felt a hand on her arm. "Are you okay?"

Celia turned toward the voice as five fugitive words came out of hiding. "My best friend is dead," she said.

Chapter 2

By the next day, Celia was on an eastbound plane. Her window seat represented the culmination of Helene's instruction to go home, to take compassionate leave for the funeral it had been assumed she would need to attend. Every intervening moment--the previous morning's backward commute on the outbound El; the moment Celia told Huck about Djuna; the awkward phone call to her parents; the last-minute purchase of her plane ticket home--all these had felt unsurvivable until she had survived them. The dogs had helped. During the dim, empty hours leading up to the time of Huck's return, Celia had lain less asleep than in a state of suspended animation, succored by the sound of Bella's steady breathing and Sylvie's warmth beside her on the bed. The dogs had met Huck at the front door, then lain at Celia's feet as she told Huck what she remembered, speaking into the crook of his arm as if to protect her words from exposure to light.

All five of them--Celia, Djuna, Becky, Josie, and Leanne--were supposed to have gone home on their respective buses, but walking had been that day's buried fulcrum, the shared secret around which the rest of the day had turned. Jensenville Elementary lay along a wooded, curving two-lane road with no sidewalks, its sole pedestrian the occasional doomed possum. Rumors of the woods abounded. The forest was said to conceal an abandoned stable with a haunted horse skeleton; a derelict quarry filled with glowing water; a moldy mansion from inside which a warlock lured children with promises of candy and then beat them with his belt. They had refuted these stories and then repeated them word for word. They were frightened of the woods and in love with being frightened. To walk along Ripley Road was an unthinkable transgression that could not be denied once it had been conceived.

Celia and Djuna had been fighting, their anger so sharp that after twenty-one years the memory still made Celia flinch. The force of their argument had propelled them past the others and around a curve, nothing but road and trees stretching in either direction. The gravel shoulder along the road's edge was just wide enough to walk two abreast, but Djuna pulled ahead of Celia and veered into the woods. They had fought so often, over the littlest things, that the cause of that day's fury had merged in Celia's mind with the sound of fracturing underbrush as she threaded her way between trees in an attempt to follow. So much could have happened differently. If Celia had taken the same path as Djuna, she might have seen what was coming. Had Djuna entered the woods at a different point, she might have avoided the danger. Had they not been fighting to begin with, they might not have left the road. In any of those instances, the afternoon would have been indistinguishable from countless others.

Instead, Celia watched Djuna fall. One minute she was there, and the next the earth had swallowed her up.

Celia may have called into the silence. She may have stood there, waiting for Djuna to rise from the undergrowth. Maybe she meant to teach Djuna a lesson. Perhaps she thought her most secret, shameful wish had just come true. The unadult mind is immune to logic or foresight, unschooled by consequence, and endowed with a biblical sense of justice. The only thing more appalling to Celia than these excuses was the child's act they contrived to explain. When Djuna failed to reappear or make a sound of any kind, Celia had not tried to help. Instead she'd retraced her own path through the trees to return to the road, then back around the curve to where Josie, Becky, and Leanne were still waiting. She told them that Djuna had gotten into a stranger's car, and they had nodded like a trio of marionettes, the first in a town of fifty thousand to believe her.

Celia had envisioned a spectrum of doomsday scenarios to accompany her confession. None were remotely fulfilled. Huck certainly didn't leave her. Instead, at the moment she had been dreading, he became very still. "Oh dear," he had said like a nineteenth-century schoolgirl, surprise making him demure. It had taken only a few seconds for the Huck she knew to return--sensible, fast-thinking Huck who specialized in contingencies--but the immediate effect of Celia's words was to render him rudderless, a sight almost as frightening as anything she had forecast. Not until she was lying insomniac in Huck's arms did she realize why she had gotten him so wrong. The eleven-year-old girl she had described to Huck was a stranger. Only Celia recognized that girl and what she had done. Neither the sound of Bella nor the cradle of Huck's exuded warmth had trumped the loneliness of that knowledge, a secret she did not wish to keep.

On Celia's annual Christmas trips home with Huck, the packed holiday plane felt like a multifamily station wagon, the stewardess dispensing extra packets of snack mix to stave off are-we-there-yets. Today's flight was half empty, and rather than bartering with Huck for the window, Celia had a row of seats to herself. The first time she had ever flown back east had been with him, her solo drive condensed to a trip the length of a Hollywood movie. She'd been reluctant to give up seven hundred miles of highway, her progress measured in tanks of gas and cans of Dr Pepper, her thoughts ordered incrementally with each dashed yellow line. That yearly road trip had been a natural extension of her local driving expeditions, weekend explorations of her adopted state that had become as much a habit as the Sunday paper. Celia savored charting a course on a map to steer by, a simple objective stated and then achieved. Framed by a windshield, details of landscape caught her eye that she otherwise might have missed: a hand-painted billboard, a dry-stacked stone wall. Sometimes the sound of her tires against different surfaces--smooth bitumen, weathered asphalt, the metal grid of a bridge--had even suggested new poems.

She and Huck had met when he introduced himself after a senior reading. He'd praised, a sonnet whose beginning had come to her while she'd been driving over a covered bridge in Long Grove that seemed to say, No songs, no songs, no songs. The reading had been held at the Reynolds student center, where Celia's ubiquity often got her mistaken for an employee. That semester, she'd been treasurer for two student advocacy groups, co-editor of the campus literary journal, and Urgent Action Coordinator for the campus chapter of Amnesty International. Huck had been a stranger to Reynolds. A hazel-eyed, strong-jawed creature without her cluttered schedule, he'd sparked in Celia the same detached, appreciative desire she felt for the grace of an animal observed in the wild--until she discovered that he had not learned to drive until his sophomore college year. This exotic, absurd fact made him seem attainable. Instead of acquiescing to Huck's interest, she began courting him with her car, wooing him with careful itineraries: old routes west of the lake that passed woods and prairies; a pilgrimage to Calumet's smiley-faced water towers. Her solitary car trips came to an end, the obscure poetic utterances of the road replaced by boundless miles of two-way conversation, though even after she had won Huck he remained impervious to the more subtle charms of a twelve-hour drive. To quell her nervousness on their first flight--their relationship had never traveled so far or so fast--she had packed their traditional roadside picnic, complete with red-checkered napkins for their seat-back trays, their plates of cold chicken sparking longing and envy across the aisle.

This morning Celia had given no thought to even basic airplane comforts--a water bottle, a mindless magazine--but when she reached into her carry-on, there was the familiar red-checked napkin, wrapped around a bagel. Huck would be at school by now, charming a room of teenagers into caring about the Louisiana Purchase or the Great Migration, but in that moment she felt him inviting her to enjoy the pleasure of a picnic at thirty thousand feet, and the sight of cirrus clouds outside her oval window.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

When I was in fourth grade, I threw a pair of scissors at a girl. Granted, they were safety scissors, but they managed to hit her in the leg and make a small cut. Two strange things happened next: she didn’t tell on me, and I managed to forget having done it for a good fifteen years. The reason she didn’t tell on me, as best as I can guess, is that we were best friends. If you’re a ten-year-old girl, being best friends with someone often also means being their worst tormentor, the good and the terrible accepted as a package deal by wordless, mutual agreement. I can think of two reasons why I may have blocked it out: A) I was horrified by what I had done, or B) the scissor incident quickly receded into triviality, my friend barely having been hurt, and there having been no consequences for my actions. Choice A is the nobler reason for forgetting, but I suspect it was only my mature self who, on recalling what I had done, was as horrified as I should have been at age ten. What makes this slightly more interesting is that I am a pathologically non-violent person: as far as I know, the time I threw those scissors was the only time I ever hit anybody with anything. So, is it possible that the act of throwing those scissors did horrify me on some deep-seated level, helping to make me into the person I am today? To what degree do our adult selves depend upon what we embrace and what we disown of ourselves as children? This is how The False Friend began, though the events of the book are much larger. The neat thing about fiction is that it only takes something like a pair of scissors to start a new story into motion. Every novel is its own Big Bang, starting with a small speck and expanding into a new universe.
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Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of The False Friend, the astonishingly complex psychological drama from Myla Goldberg, bestselling author of Bee Season.

1. 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?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 91 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 91 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 31, 2010

    Don't bother

    Don't waste your time. What a disappointment! The characters are not worth knowing and the writing is trivial and shallow.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    True Friendship

    What is a friend? What does a friend look like and act like? How do we judge whether we are a true friend or not? What do we look for in a friend? These are questions we ask ourself from the time we first enter school.

    After reading the summary of this book I knew I wanted to read it. The False Friend is the story of a young woman,Celia, who believes she is responsible for the disappearance of her childhood friend Djuna. She is remembering her childhood friendships and she doesn't like what she sees. She is convinced that after having a terrible argument with her best friend Djuna that she watched her run into the woods and fall into a hole. She also believes she left her there. She returns to her home town to find out if she was this terrible person. The only way to do this is to confess to her parents and her friends. The problems is no one believes her. They all believe that Djuna got into a car with a stranger and was never seen again. Who is right? Is it possible that things were so horrible that she has blocked out the truth? What is the truth?

    This story kept me reading from beginning to end. I could not put it down. As Celia confronts her friends she learns that she was not what many of us would call a good friend. Why do people hang around those who bully them or put them down? Celia describe several arguments she'd had with her friend Djuna. It made me recall a time in high school when another of my friends and I were after the friendship of another girl. She would take turns having us over. One day I was her best friend and the next the other girl was. We would argue to the point that teachers would step into the hallway. The difference was I was just shy enough and lacked enough self confidence that I would do just about anything for her friendship.
    Miss Goldberg has done an awesome job with her characters. She shows us the human side that is often lacking in a book. We see their flaws. We can identify with them. There is something here for everyone. This is one book that I will definitely recommend to all of my friends. I look forward to more work by this author.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2010

    Just so-so

    I heard the author on NPR and thought the book sounded really good. I wanted to love it, but in the end, I felt it was WAY overwritten and sort of boring.

    Don't waste your time or money, unless you have more than you know what to do with both!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    This was my second e-book purchase and is so disappointing. I am halfway through it and I am forcing myself to finish it by skim reading. Halfway through and the book has barely touched on the storyline of the friend who went missing 30 years ago. This book had the possibility of being exciting but I found it to be boring and not worth the money I spent on it.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Short but gripping

    Celia Durst was eleven years old when she lost her best friend Djuna to an abductor on the side of the road. Now she is thirty-two and heading home to tell the truth about what really happened that day. Unfortunately for her, this is not as simple as it sounds. Her other friends from that time don't believe her story, and not even her parents think her memory could have actually occurred. Add in a stale relationship with her long-time boyfriend and coming back to the place where she grew up is not going to be an easy trip.

    I read Myla Goldberg's Bee Season, but didn't fall in love with her writing until her second work of fiction, Wickett's Remedy. THE FALSE FRIEND a little depressing by comparison. The story is short and not a whole lot happens. I found it hard to swallow the fact that Celia still used the terms "Mommy" and "Daddy" at age 32, instead of the more adult versions like "Mom" or "Mother". Also, I never felt it was clear why Celia needed to go back and finally reveal the true events from her childhood. I liked that as a reader I wasn't entirely sure if Celia's memory could be trusted. However, there was still the same engaging writing style from Goldberg to keep me turning pages furiously. The way she interspersed Celia's memories into her daily life felt very real, the way memories spring up in true life. Plus, having the few moments from another point of view (boyfriend Huck) were a welcomed respite and helped to round out the characters. Perhaps I was just looking for more action.

    Overall Rating: 4 Stars

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Thought Provoking

    I was disappointed by the ending. It ddn't have closure to the sory line, which I believe is the author's intent. It does stir interesting thoughts and conversations on the topics it hits on, so I would consider it a good book club read. It was a quick read, I read it in a weekend, though it was a bit slow. The characters are realistic. The book will stay with you a bit after reading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    For the love of all things DO NOT buy this book. You will be ex

    For the love of all things DO NOT buy this book. You will be extremely upset that you wasted any amount of money on this. I borrowed this from my local library and I am irritated that I wasted any amount of time on this garbage. There is absolutely NO resolution to the storyline. The story just ends. This had potential to be a thrilling novel - instead it's a bunch of crap. I have never been so annoyed with a book in my life. I hope I can save someone else from wasting their time on this.....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Bridget's Review

    I love psychological dramas and I was blown away by The False Friend. It's one of those books that will stick with you for the rest of your life. It's powerful and brilliant!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2012

    Pmls Pmlw

    Hoity toity unessesary use of words, delves into unrelated subjects, kept looking to see how many more pages to finish, no wonder celia did the things she did considering her stepford type parents, depressing weak attempt at sartre style

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 2, 2012

    Don't waste your time or your money

    There was absolutely no reason this story should have led to a full length novel. The same story could have been told in a flash fiction of about 20 pages. It's lengthy for no apparent reason and then just ends abruptly. So you're strung along for 200 pages that could've been summarized into a few paragraphs and then left with no ending. Extremely disappointing.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 29, 2012


    Too many unaswered questions.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    Disagree with bad reviews

    I disagree with all of the bad reviews for this book, particularly those stating that the book lacks a clear ending. I almost did not get the book based on the reviews, but was glad I decided to trust my gut feeling. The plot is realistic and believeable, and the characters well-developed and relateable. If you are looking for black and white fluff with a happily ever after then this book is not for you. However, if you possess some degree of literary genius, you will find this book resonating with you long after you read the final page.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Too many loose ends

    Too many introduced but unresolved story lines and the switching between third person limited and third person omniscient didn't help

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 21, 2011

    Disappointing ending

    I thought the idea for the plot was good but it never really developed into anything. I am still not even sure what actually happened.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Don't recommend

    This story was very interesting up to the end...but the end was awful.The author never really tied up the ending or if she did I missed something.Very disappointed.I would not read another by Ms Goldberg

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2011

    Waste of time and $$$$$

    I have read free nookbooks that were way more interesting than this. The only thing that keeps me reading is so that my money isnt COMPLETELY wasted. Although this should have been a quick read for me (only 191 pages)most of the book is filled with long, confusing, over detailed sentences that serve no purpose in the story. Dont throw way your $ on this book. You'll be very disappointed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 18, 2010

    Not worth the time

    My first ebook and very disappointed. This was not worth the time. There was no ending to the story. Characters were well developed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2010

    Never delivered

    I wasn't terribly fond of this book as I was reading it, but there was just enough to it that kept me reading to see if some sort of compelling plot would unfold - never happened. I would never recommend this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 12, 2010

    Interesting Plot, but seriously overwritten

    I love when an author has different ways a saying something; it makes me think and that is good. However, that should be a standout sentence. It was done so often in this book, that it is almost laughable. Mostly, it becoame tedious. This would have been a nice short story if it had been written more plainly.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 22, 2010

    Forget It!

    Although the premise is interesting, False Friend is very disappointing. It is full of long, twisting sentences that sometimes make no sense or do little to add to the context of the story or plot. The ending is vague and frustrating. Time and money is too precious to waste on this book. I can not recommend it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 91 Customer Reviews

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