Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review of The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O'Roark Dowell

The Kind of Friends We Used to Be by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Atheneum, 2009)

In this sequel to The Secret Language of Girls, Kate and Marylin have started 7th grade. At first this seems to be Kate’s story – feeling like the odd girl out at Marylin’s cheerleader-and-ballplayer-filled party, Kate realizes that she wants to be different. Specifically, she longs to play guitar. In short order, she has borrowed a guitar from her old nemesis Flannery and has acquired a pair of clunky black thrash boots.

However, Kate only appears intermittently after this. Clearly, she is at peace with her boot-wearing, guitar-playing, song-writing self, and so even when she finds a kindred spirit in a cute guy named Matthew, not much needs to be said. The focus then shifts to Marylin, new cheerleader and therefore newly part of the in-crowd of 7th-grade girls. Her dilemma is that while in some ways she feels that she belongs with this group, in other ways she feels hemmed-in and inhibited, afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and calling down the scathing disapproval of the other cheerleaders.

Luckily, Marylin may be a pretty, clothing-obsessed girl but she is also, above all, a nice and sensible person. When she finally comes to terms with the fact that being nice and sensible might mean making friends of whom her cheerleader friends disapprove, she goes ahead and does the right thing (though not without some trepidation), opening her mind to new and fascinating people and ideas.

There isn’t much new territory broken here – stories of friends changing and growing apart abound in books for tweens. What is tremendously appealing about this book and its predecessor is a simple and timeless feeling. Sure, the kids text each other (a bit), but otherwise this story could have taken place forty years ago. And that’s the point – friendships are often the most intense and important elements of a girl’s life just before and during middle school, and so that is the focus of this story. The simple, slang-free language is also timeless, and reminds me a bit of Ann M. Martin’s Main Street series (although that is for younger girls) and some of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books.

Give this book and The Secret Language of Girls to girls who love Judy Blume’s Just As Long as We’re Together, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice series, and other books about friendship and learning who your true self is.

Grades 4 - 6

No comments:

Post a Comment