Thursday, November 05, 2020

Friend Me

Averbuch, Sheila M. Friend Me
November 10th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Roisin has moved from Dublin, Ireland to the Boston area with her mother and older brother Michael. Her mother works long hours designing Artificial Intelligence programs like Jeeves, an all-knowing super assistant like Alexa, but better. Roisin (pronounced ROW-sheen) has struggled with being in the US because the school mean girl, Zara, has it in for her. This is most likely because Roisin's mother's boss is Lily's mother, and Lily had been understandably welcoming and nice at first. Since she was Zara's best friend, Zara starts to post mean things about Roisin on social media, and even goes as far as buying a bag of clothing at the Goodwill to taunt her, since Roisin wore uniforms in Ireland and hasn't quite adjusted to the US style of school clothes yet. An avid swimmer back home, Roisin gets the train to a pool in neighboring Lowell, but loses her wallet on the way. In order to make money to get back home, she takes part in a focus group about social media use at a university. The grad student who tests her, Jors, also asks her to enroll in phase two, and says that she will get more money. She agrees, and he installs tracking software on her phone. Things do not get better with Zara, but Roisin does make an online friend, Haley, who helps her through the worst parts. She also reconnects with Lily, who really is very nice, and the girls do get along. After a traumatic incident on a class field trip to the Isabella Gardner Museum that ends with Zara getting hurt, a trip to Old Orchard Beach with Lily's family is a welcome diversion, especially since that's where Haley lives! Roisin arranges to meet Haley at her middle school dance, and tries to sneak away. Lily catches her, and it's a good thing. Roisin meets a local boy, Jason, who tries to help her locate Haley, but no one has ever heard of her. What part did Haley have in Zara's accident? And is Roisin in more danger than she realizes?
Strengths: My goodness! I did NOT see the direction this was taking at all! I don't want to spoil the surprises in this one, which makes it a little hard to review. The moving to a new country and trying to fit in was appealing, but my favorite part was probably the two older brothers. More middle grade books should include siblings. The mean girl bullying will appeal to students, and there are some good riffs on the lessons that librarians and teachers everywhere give about social media. There's a nice sense of place both in Boston and in Old Orchard Beach. The artificial intelligence, which includes not only Jeeves but an animatronic cat, is intriguing, and more important than I suspected. 
Weaknesses: Zara was so ridiculously mean that it was almost unbelievable. My students won't care, but sneakier,  more nuanced bullies seem more realistic to me. 
What I really think: This was a fantastic mystery book with some awesome twists and turns. My only problem was that I was expecting more of a tween friend drama book (I think it was the chipped nail polish on the girl's nails on the cover!), so there was a bit of a cognitive disconnect. I really liked this one and will definitely purchase.

Ms. Yingling

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