Friday, February 11, 2022

Has Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?

Connor, Leslie. Has Anybody Here Seen Frenchie?
February 15th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Aurora lives with her parents and toddler brother, Cedar, in a small town in Maine. They are neighbors with classmate Frenchie and his mother Gracia, and Aurora and Frenchie have a devoted but unusual friendship. Both are on the Autism spectrum, but while Frenchie is nonvocal (an important distinction) and methodical, Aurora is overly talkative and struggles with impluse control. She understands his quirks, knows why he is so attached to the needlepoint purse he carries pictures of birds in, and advocates for him in school. She is alarmed when the two are not assigned to the same class, although Frenchie does now have an aide, Mr. Menkis, to help him navigate the new school year. Aurora tries to make some new friends (other than Darlene, who is also quirky and frequently thrust into Aurora's sphere, but whom she dislikes), but also tries to include Frenchie. It's an awkward balance, and when Gracia and Aurora's writer mother go to a spa in order to do an article, the daily routine is undone. Aurora is distracted going into the building, and Frenchie, who was right behind her, doesn't show up to class. The school goes into lock down, Aurora is questioned by the police, and the search begins. The book is told from the view point of Aurora, Frenchie, and many others in the town who come into contact with Frenchie at various times. The entire town gets drawn in to the search in the wooded surrounding areas, and Aurora tries to put herself into her friend's shoes to try to understand where he might be. Will Frenchie be located before he comes to grief?

Like Connor's The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (2018), Has Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? offers a bit of a mystery set in a particular landscape, concerning neurodivergent characters. Aurora's outbursts and Frenchie's wordless contemplation are both sides of the Autism spectrum I have seen in students in our unit classroom, and both are treated sympathetically. Like those in Martin's Rain Reign (2014) or Baskin's Anything But Typical, these representations offer a window into another way of seeing the world that is valuable to neurotypical students who might be trying to understand classmates who see the world differently than they do. 

The sense of community is also fantastic, and we see everyone from a neighbor who coaches baseball to a thrift store owner, to teachers and others in Aurora and Frenchie's circle. The methodical description of how to search for someone who is missing was oddly compelling, and the fact that the community rallied together was great to see. 

Throughout the story, a piebald deer appears as an almost mythical character, which goes along well with Connor's lyrical writing. I felt like there was much deeper symbolism to this animal, as well as with Frenchie's interest in birds, that I didn't take the time to sort out, but would make for interesting group discussions.
Connor is a strong writer who always puts an interesting twist on stories, from the parental neglect in Waiting for Normal (2008) to a world wide gas shortage in Crunch (2010) to a tween living with an incarcerated parent in  All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (2016), and Anybody Here Seen Frenchie? is also a nuanced examination of children living with and working through sometimes challenging experiences.

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