As someone who came to East knowing legitimately three people, unlikely friendships have shaped my entire high school experience. My freshman year, I was resistant to form any true friendships and I focused my energy on maintaining the ones from grade school. When I had a falling out with my best friend from grade school, I felt totally alone and friendless. I finally realized that I had to put an effort into making friends, and when I did that, my limits for who I could be friends with vanished.
For Martin, Jess, JJ and Maureen in Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down, unlikely friendships save their lives. They are depressed individuals who happen to be in the wrong place at the right time; they meet on the roof of a building they are each contemplating jumping from.
The story is honest about depression and loneliness and love and heartbreak and shame and regret and helplessness and almost any other emotion you can think of. It’s honest about suicide. Martin had an affair with an underage girl, and his remorse for that honestly made me feel a little badly for any celebrity who’s gotten caught cheating. Maureen has a disabled son and, though she loves him, she feels like her life is empty because it will always revolve around him. Jess’ sister disappeared from their dysfunctional home and she doesn’t know if she’s even alive. JJ got dumped when his band became unsuccessful. Those are all some pretty rough situations, and they truly and honestly contemplate suicide because of them. Luckily, they found each other and they got through their feelings together.
This book showed me more than anything that it’s important to have people there for you that you aren’t necessarily best friends with. Martin would never have hung out with Maureen had they not both tried to commit suicide. Their relationship ended up being mutually beneficial, but it’s not like they were having slumber parties by the end of the book.
The bond formed between the four of them reminds me of a goal for one club at East that has so much potential. Last year, senior Matt Hanson started the Breakfast Club. Per the Facebook group, the club’s goal is to “[focus] on the development and promotion of social tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness, with the dual goals of breaking down walls of exclusion between social groups at East and teaching members and non-members these virtues and how to practice them in the modern high school social context.” How cool is that?!
I thought for so long that you needed a set friend group that you belonged in or could always go to. I realized that, while it’s always good to have that one friend you can count on, you don’t need to be exclusive. Opening yourself up to different people with different experiences can be invaluable, as Martin, Jess, JJ and Maureen find out. It’s something that Hanson is trying to promote at East, and it’s something that I’m a pretty big fan of.