Sunday, April 05, 2020

Bad Best Friend

Vail, Rachel. Bad Best Friend
March 24th 2020 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Niki has been friends with Ava since they were very young, but now that they are in middle school, things have become strained. Ava has always been a little fancier than Niki, and Niki has always felt a little awkward in her presence. Still, their mothers are very good friends, and Ava is Niki's connection to the popular "squad". As the two drift further apart, Niki starts to reconnect with former friends like enthusiastic Holly and twin neighbor boys. Aside from the friend drama, Niki has to deal with a difficult home situation. While her parents are both very present and concerned, her nine year old brother Danny is becoming increasingly difficult at school. He throws tantrums, has few friends, and has recently gotten into trouble by disobeying the teacher. Niki's mother doesn't want the school to test Danny, because she doesn't want him to be labeled and treated differently. Niki's father, however, feels that if Danny's difficulties are understood, he might have more successful interactions with people. Niki tries very hard to hide Danny's troubles from her friends, but Holly remembers Danny from years back and is very sweet to him, even managing to get the local refuse collectors to come to his birthday party. When Niki blows off Holly to go to a party with Ava, things go badly wrong, and she knows that she will have to decide who her friends really are.
Strengths: Is it really middle school if you don't lose at least one long time friend? This is the cause of so much middle school angst, yet isn't covered all that much in the literature. Bonus points to Ms. Vail for making both Ava and Niki sympathetic, and for allowing them to talk to each other even when they are angry. I especially loved it when Ava tells Niki they can still be friends in private. The issues with Danny are realistic; we have an autism unit in our school, and there are a fair number of children who aren't diagnosed as being on the spectrum until 6th grade or later, so it's realistic that Danny's difficulties have not been dealt with. There are lots of good details about his behavior that Ms. Vail has drawn from her experiences with her brother, who is also on the spectrum. There's also a little bit of boy drama thrown in for good measure, making this a good choice even for 8th grade readers.
Weaknesses: The difference between middle grade and young adult is often the amount of time the characters spend in their own head. Niki overthinks everything in a much more YA way instead of her emotions being shown through the things that she does. This slowed the story down a bit for me.
What I really think: Even though this made me cringe a little bit, it definitely had ALL. THE. DRAMA, and is therefore perfect for a sizable portion of my readers who absolutely love to read about things going wrong with friends. Definitely purchasing, since this author's Unfriended and Well, That Was Awkward are popular.

Mlynowski, Sarah. Abby in Oz (Whatever After #13.5)
April 7th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby is in a treehouse with her friends Penny, Robin, and Frankie when the house gets sucked up into a tornado! Before they know it, they've landed... in Oz. Penny has traveled with Abby before and still remembers a little about how the stories work, but Robin and Frankie don't know what to think. Early on, the girls meet Dorothy and Toto, and try not to freak out the story book character who wonders why these strangers know her name. Abby knows enough to guess that the evil Gluck had something to do with her travels. Prince has come along, although her brother has not, and the story is not going the way either the movie OR the book progressed. Abby knows this is essential, so tries to get her friends to help. Oz is a dangerous place, and the girls are taken by the witch by flying monkeys, put into prison, do manage to meet the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion, but have to deal with both the Wicked Witch of the West AND the East. With the help of the Wizard (who has no magic), they manage to confront the witches in the Emerald City, but it is Toto and Prince who save the day and allow the girls to return home.
Strengths: Like the author, I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz, albeit only once a year. It was always a great treat. Abby and her friends faithfully recreate both the movie and book versions as much as possible, and Dorothy's confusion is understandable. Lots more details and action that the regular fairy tale installments.
Weaknesses: This got to be a bit plodding when Abby was trying to follow the story so carefully.
What I really think: I keep buying these because I always have a handful of readers who like them, but the series is getting to be a bit too long. The next book is set in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and we'll see if Abby can finally spring Maryrose from her mirror!

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