Friday, January 22, 2010

What A Difference a Letter Makes: Friend or Fiend? by Judy Blume

"The name of this story is Ben," I said. I cleared my throat twice. "Ben is my fiend." Maggie laughed. I didn't know why. So I kept reading. "I'm glad he's my fiend because...."

Everyone but David laughed this time. Justin laughed so hard he fell off his chair. When he did, his chair toppled over too. That made everyone laugh harder.

"What?" I said to my group.

"Fiend?" Maggie said. "Ben is your fiend?" Even David laughed.

Judy Blume's latest installment in her The Pain and the Great One series, Friend or Fiend? with the Pain and the Great One (Pain & the Great One), is appropriately titled. First Jake, called The Pain by big sister Abigail, misreads a single word and becomes the laughingstock of his whole class. As far as Jake is concerned, even his best friend David is now a fiend with whom he refuses even to go trick-or-treating.

Meanwhile, sister Abigail, whom Jake nicknamed The Great One because of her superior attitude, runs into some peer problems as well. Best friend Sasha makes Abby's confidential story of a disfunctional visit with her surly teenaged cousins into a class writing project and refuses even to apologize for her plagiarism. Embarrassed and feeling her confidence betrayed, suddenly Abby is confronting the fiend-friend dilemma herself.

Siblingitis is the recurrent theme in this honest and hilarious series of beginning chapter books by Judy Blume, but exposure to their thoroughly unpleasant cousins' bickering brings Jake and Abby up short, and commiserating over their mutual friends crisis eventually helps them realize that their family has a lot going for it and that their friends, however imperfect, are still worthy of their loyalty. And as always, family cat Fluzzy writes the final chapter, revealing one of his own closely-kept secrets and showing why he continues to make his home with the Pain and the Great One after all. Occasional illustrations by the master, James Stevenson, add just the right touch to this realistic but upbeat addition to a charming series.

Even a sophisticated high school freshman I know was compelled to laugh out loud throughout this one, proving once more than Blume's got the right stuff when it comes to family stories. Add this one to the collection of beginning chapter novels!

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