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When You Were Everything
Cover of When You Were Everything
When You Were Everything
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For fans of Nina LaCour's We Are Okay and Adam Silvera's History Is All You Left Me, this heartfelt and ultimately uplifting novel follows one sixteen-year-old girl's friend breakup through two...
For fans of Nina LaCour's We Are Okay and Adam Silvera's History Is All You Left Me, this heartfelt and ultimately uplifting novel follows one sixteen-year-old girl's friend breakup through two...
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  • For fans of Nina LaCour's We Are Okay and Adam Silvera's History Is All You Left Me, this heartfelt and ultimately uplifting novel follows one sixteen-year-old girl's friend breakup through two concurrent timelines—ultimately proving that even endings can lead to new beginnings.

    "Stunning." —Nic Stone, bestselling author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out

    You can't rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again.

    It's been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla's friendship imploded.

    Nearly a month since Cleo realized they'll never be besties again.

    Now Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex-best friend. But pretending Layla doesn't exist isn't as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she's assigned to be Layla's tutor. Despite budding friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo's turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.

    Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.

    "Breathtakingly beautiful....Woodfolk has a way of making words sing and burst with light." —Tiffany D. Jackson, award-winning author of Monday's Not Coming and Let Me Hear A Rhyme


  • From the book

    A Theory & A Snowman


    When the train finally shows up, it’s so crowded that I end up smashed into a corner between a stroller and the doors, and the guy in front of me is wearing a backpack he refuses to take off. One of the buckles is pressing against my boob. 

    I want to growl at this guy to put his bag on the floor, for everyone to give me some goddamn space, but I don’t, because I don’t do stuff like that. If Layla were here, she’d tell the dude off. 

    But she isn’t! I shout inside my own head. For fuck’s sake, stop torturing yourself. 

    So I imagine a clean sheet of paper. Mentally, I start making the list I need to rid myself of thoughts like these. The steps I need to take to rid myself of Layla . . . for good. The systematic way I’m going to unhaunt my whole life. 

    I get off a few stops later when we reach Layla’s station—the one where she’d hop on the train every morning and find me. I’d always sit in the first car so she’d know to walk to the front of the platform to wait. When the train pulled in, I’d look for the smear of her black hair, or the blur of her hand as she waved at me. We met and rode to school every day that way. 

    I follow the flow of bodies toward the stairwell, push my way through the turnstile, and step out onto the sidewalk. I slip my earbuds back in, put on Ella Fitzgerald, and look left and right, making sure no one who knows me is around. The coast looks clear, so I turn my music up, cross my fingers, and keep moving. Something about skipping school makes me feel like I’m actually in control of my life. 

    I walk down Layla’s block, taking in all the familiarities of the street. The way the door to the bodega on the corner doesn’t close all the way. The ragged rainbow flag hanging from the fire escape of the building beside hers. The same yellowed flyer’s been taped in the window of the deli advertising their “new” kosher salami since I was twelve. 

    We always got Popsicles at that bodega in the summer. We challenged each other to jump and touch the hanging threads of that flag whenever we walked past it. We never tried the salami, but we’d get sandwiches and ninety-nine-cent Arizona iced teas at the deli almost every time I slept over. If it was warm out, we’d eat on Layla’s stoop. 

    I keep walking, past Layla’s building and into the park where we first met. Its lawn is wide and still a little green even though it’s February. The grass is dusted with snow and it’s still falling fast. I go to the exact spot where I was sitting the day I met Layla—the exact spot where she saw me crying about Gigi and where she started singing to make me feel better—and I text my dad. 

    Daddio, I send. You’re off today, right?

    His response comes almost instantly. Yep.

    Can you meet me? 

    Cleo . . . 

    Daddy . . . 

    You better be on your way to school.

    Not exactly. 



    I start typing another response, but then my phone starts to vibrate with a call. 

    “I . . . fell on the subway platform,” I say to him instead of hello. It’s a low blow, but I’ll say whatever I need to get him here. “The trains were delayed and my leggings are ripped and it’s snowing, and you know how the snow reminds me of Gigi. I just had an awful morning, okay? Please don’t give me a hard time about this, Daddy. Not today.” 

    He sighs, long and low. “Cleo, this seriously has to be...

About the Author-

  • Ashley Woodfolk has loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University with a BA English and currently works in children's book publishing. She wrote her first book, The Beauty That Remains, from a sunny Brooklyn apartment where she lives with her cute husband and her cuter dog. When You Were Everything is her second novel. Find her online at ashleywoodfolk.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @AshWrites


  • Kirkus

    January 15, 2020
    Relationships are complicated, but what happens when the bond that brought you solace unravels just when your parent's marriage falls apart? Cleo Baker wanders the streets of New York City, drowning her sorrows in jazz-age music and the words of Shakespeare as she mourns the loss of her best friend, Layla, a pain reminiscent of the grief felt for her late grandmother. It felt like fate when they met, and she thought it was in the stars for them to be together forever, but in sophomore year, Layla joined chorus and, over time, chose those girls over Cleo. Cleo was hurt but tried to give Layla her space...until she no longer recognizes her and instigates a vengeful feud. Now Cleo urgently wishes to overwrite the memories of their friendship, but that's difficult when she's assigned to be Layla's tutor. Feeling adrift, she works through the crumbling of her family, navigates a friendship that has grown apart, and learns to trust new friends and see them for who they are, not who she expects them to be. Told in the first person, Woodfolk's (The Beauty That Remains, 2018) novel seamlessly interweaves alternating timelines while making Shakespeare relevant to teens. The author skillfully voices the pain of unexpectedly losing a close friend and explores the choice to remain open despite the risk of future heartache. Cleo is black and Layla is Bengali. A well-crafted story of resilience. (Fiction. 13-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    February 1, 2020

    Gr 9 Up-Cleo met Layla in middle school shortly after losing her beloved grandmother. Her first memories of Layla are interlaced with a favorite song, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and the same song plays when she realizes that their friendship is gone. References to jazz and literature are sprinkled liberally throughout the story. The themes of betrayal in Macbeth are woven into the dual time lines of then and now, reflecting story events. Layla was Cleo's everything, but the friendship has caved. They both say and do things that hurt each other. Now, they are forging new friendships and courageous first endeavors without each other. Change is a terrifying thing, but Woodfolk tackles it honestly. Cleo and Layla are flawed, but both have heartfelt moments that keep them both likable despite the horrible things they do to each other. VERDICT Teens need to learn empathy and recognize the effects of thoughtless words or actions on their peers, making this novel all the more important. Those who enjoy Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun, Julie Murphy's Dumplin', or Brandy Colbert's Little & Lion should enjoy this novel.-Claire Covington, Broadway High School, VA

    Copyright 2020 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 3, 2020
    Ever since she and her best friend stopped speaking, Cleo has felt “haunted” by the past. Things started going wrong sophomore year, when Layla, who stutters except when she’s singing, auditioned for chorus. The glossy girls in chorus don’t think much of dreamy, Shakespeare-loving, decidedly casual Cleo, and as the girls grow apart, they both behave badly, exchanging harsh words and spreading tit-for-tat rumors. Woodfolk (The Beauty That Remains) depicts an inclusive group of teenagers (Cleo is black, Layla is Bengali, other key characters are black, white, and Asian) with complicated lives: Cleo’s parents are splitting up; there’s a cute, smart new guy in school she might like; she gets stuck tutoring Layla; and making—and trusting—new friends is a challenge. The richly detailed first-person narration moves back and forth in time, opening with Cleo’s realization that she has to start living in the present. It’s a satisfying coming-of-age friendship story, with Cleo learning to stop seeing people as all good (her father, past Layla) or all bad (her mother, current Layla), and that change can be exhilarating rather than disastrous. Ages 14–up. Agent: Beth Phelan, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (Mar.)■

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2020
    Grades 9-12 Cleo makes all the wrong choices, but she aches to be wanted despite her mistakes. So when her ex-best friend Layla makes friends with the popular choir girls, Cleo finds herself lashing out, only for it to backfire in the worst of ways. Eventually, the two decide that the friendship is irreparable, forcing Cleo to reevaluate just how fiercely she loves and to reflect on the ways she refuses the love of those around her. That describes the plot sequentially, but Woodfolk's novel moves back and forth through a short, occasionally overlapping time frame, documenting how actions of even the smallest size can end with catastrophic results. Readers will relate to the messiness of Cleo's life and narration, as she tucks into the not-so-nice thoughts that she has about some of the people she loves most. Family life, romance, and Shakespeare complicate and thicken this plot, giving reprieve from the intensity of Cleo's friendship struggles. There is a pleasantly mature ending here though, offering a perspective on friendship drama often missing in YA.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Nic Stone, New York Times bestselling author of Dear Martin and Jackpot "A stunning story that speaks to the deeply human need to love and be loved in myriad ways."
  • Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always "This book has everything I want.... Wise and melancholic, gorgeously nostalgic, Woodfolk's stories pummel your heart and make you stronger for it."
  • Tiffany D. Jackson, award-winning author of Monday's Not Coming and Let Me Hear A Rhyme "A breathtakingly beautiful and intimate story."
  • Jennifer E. Smith, author of Windfall and Field Notes on Love "A hugely evocative and deeply relatable elegy to friendship, heartbreak, and love, this book is gorgeous in every way."
  • Mark Oshiro, award-winning author of Anger is A Gift "Digs in to what makes a friend break-up feel life-shattering. Exquisite, intimate, and vulnerable, this story will surely stick with readers long after they finish it."
  • Brandy Colbert, award-winning author of Little & Lion and The Revolution of Birdie Randolph "Ashley Woodfolk's When You Were Everything is a nuanced view of the complicated layers of teenage friendship. In gorgeous, evocative prose, Woodfolk explores the different types of love that feed, wound, and heal us."
  • Publisher's Weekly, starred review "A satisfying coming-of-age friendship story."
  • Kirkus Reviews, starred review "Skillfully voices the pain of unexpectedly losing a close friend and explores the choice to remain open despite the risk of future heartache.... A well-crafted story of resilience."

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