BE CAREFUL WHO YOU’RE NICE TO
Take some Psycho, mix it with Carrie, shake it up, and you got the novel I Can Be Your Friend by Jessica Blade. It was so creepy, you’ll be wondering if your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, or anybody else in your life fits the main character’s personality profile because you never know if there’s a Natalie type of person around you, and that’s the eeriest part. So, if you like your young adult psychological thriller with a dash of horror, Ms. Blade’s novel is a must-read.
The portrayal of the high school experience is exceptional, and this has to, at least partly, result from Jessica being a young adult herself. The story is so authentic and well-written, I felt sorry for Natalie like some characters felt sorry for her too because Blade wrote Natalie as a perfect, unreliable narrator. By the end, the twists and turns astonished me; I swear they came out of nowhere! They had me rereading the beginning, especially the prologue, to see the clues that I missed.
When you read Jessica’s novel, you’re going to be affected by the creep factor that rises throughout, and this is without profanity or sexual content. To many readers, having no profanity or sexual content made this book better. As I read it, it never dawned on me that it did or didn’t have cussing or sexual behavior because the book’s pace didn’t let me ponder what’s not in the book since what’s in the book was enough to keep me turning page after page. Some nights, I even had to read past my allotted reading time because I had to know what happened next.
Focusing on what’s in the book, I was most impressed by Blade’s ability to creep me out. Each moment that this feeling increased, the reading experience went from creepy, to creepier, to creepiest, and this glued me to the book making me impatient to find out how far this eerie character’s going to go to achieve her “beautiful concerto” (1).
The main character’s creep factor simmers right from the start because it felt odd to read her opinion of Mandy. At first, it made me feel bad for Natalie since she was so down on herself, even comparing her hair to Mandy’s since, in Natalie’s opinion, “Mandy’s hair is silky, not dry like the bale of hay mine is. Only one of many reasons she is so incredible” (6). Fawning this way over someone else seemed odd, but the oddness of Natalie’s first-person narration grows further down the page, especially after Natalie finishes describing her own appearance and how every change to it counts toward helping Mandy; clearly showing Natalie has an obsession with Mandy that goes beyond a normal friendship. This only increases as you read chapter one, and soon you find out Natalie has created a fake account on a social media site that everyone at her high school uses, but what makes it strange is the fake account’s purpose, which is to become friends with Mandy and her friends, who Natalie despises. At the least, you’ll realize this infatuation with Mandy is unhealthy. By the end of the chapter, you’ll be fully creeped out since Natalie reveals she knows things about Mandy’s clique, whom Natalie nicknames The Phonies, that only Natalie knows. The chapter ends with the main character’s haunting foreshadow; “Everyone thinks Mandy’s life is perfect. It isn’t quite yet, but it will be soon. I promise to make it perfect for you, Mandy. I won’t let a single one of them get away with their lies” (8). Not only was it eerie to read this, it was also what hooked me to read the rest as fast as possible.
After turning the page to chapter two, we meet Mandy. The chapter starts off innocent, just an introduction to the high school Natalie is going to for her senior year. But as soon as she brings up Mandy, it gets strange again. This happens when Natalie thinks, “Not only do I get to be a part of the nation’s best school, I have a chance to befriend Mandy Wright. I’ve waited longer than most people would… there she is, shining brighter than anyone here. No one can see how special she is, how undeserving they are. Nobody but me” (9). Reading this was like seeing a waving red flag on the school’s flagpole, but the problem is Mandy can’t see it. Then it gets more intense when you read about Natalie taking Honors English, “not because [she loves] to write, but because Mandy is in it and she sits in the next seat over. It’s the closest [Natalie] can get to her. For now” (11). At this point I stopped feeling sorry for the main character and wanted to warn the target! And it was definitely creepier than what you read in chapter one while simultaneously giving off stalker vibes.
By chapter three, the eeriness of Natalie’s character is heading toward full volume, and you’ll feel like she’s a psychopath, but you’ll also be so into the story that you’ll read the book faster than before. This becomes undeniable by the time Natalie is practicing for her audition, because she’s telling herself she has her own way of making her Christmas wish come true. Then she whispers to herself, “I wish to be Mandy Wright’s best friend. Forever” (22), which is weird enough, but then we find out, soon after making her wish, she fell asleep repeating the wish to herself because upon waking up Natalie thinks, “They’re too far to have heard me speaking to myself” (22). But the volume of crazy doesn’t stop increasing because when the author shows Natalie interacting with a male student at the audition, it becomes apparent she’s creeping him out, too. The apparency appears when he asks Natalie if she’s okay after hearing her mumble mean things about the person auditioning, and then he gets more weirded out when she reveals, “I mutter under my breath as I clutch the sides of the chair. ‘All is well. All is well. All is well’” (23).
Later in the audition, when a student Natalie doesn’t like is up, the spookiness hooks you when she narrates, “The darkness descends upon me. Sometimes, it’s suffocating. Sometimes, it feels like it will drown me” (24). Then Natalie explains how it’s all “dark and wiggly like the serpent in the… garden, the blackness curls inside of me like a mini reptile, squeezing the walls of my stomach.” Next, Natalie consoles herself, coping with the darkness, how it becomes a snake inside of her body, until finally “the black roles away, the snake slithers off” (25). All this happens during the unliked student’s audition, which leaves Natalie worried about how she missed the last twenty minutes, sending her into an internal panic about missing Mandy’s audition as if she slept through it all.
THE SHOW’S OVER
After this, it just gets better! There are so many more fantastically creepy examples, but you’re going to have to experience them on your own because if I wrote about them, I’d spoil the surprises, since the best part was naturally experiencing them and seeing it all come together in the end. By chapter nine, I had to read a little of the next chapter because the curiosity it caused was hypnotic. At the end, you’ll want to reread the novel since the knowledge you’ll have about the complete story makes it fresh the second time around.
For readers who love young adult psychological thrillers mixed with a bit of horror, Jessica Blade wrote a great story to entertain you and keep you reading until you have to pull yourself away. And for the readers who don’t normally read this type of book, the author will convert you with her well-written creepy tale. Because it’ll make everyone who reads it question themselves about the people inside and outside their social group.
Thank you for reading our book review about I Can Be Your Friend by Jessica Blade. We are not affiliated with the publisher, but here’s the link to pick up a copy.
E. R. Sanchez is the author of Fried Potato Press’s first young adult thriller, Petaco Dreams, which will be released fall 2023. He also has poems and stories published online and in print. If you’d like to read his work that was published online, please click here to go to his Stories and Poetry Section.