Saturday, December 24, 2011

Keeping Friends: The Hard Kind of Promise by Gina Willner-Pardo

Sarah Franklin had been best friends with Marjorie Fingerhut for eight years. She couldn't imagine life without Marjorie.

They had met in preschool, when Marjorie told everyone at show-and-tell that she was a leprechaun. But it was in kindergarten, when they were five, that Sarah had really come to understand how it really was with her and Marjorie. They were coloring at the Fingerhut's kitchen table.

"We should be best friends forever," Marjorie had said.

Now, remembering that afternoon filled Sarah with a longing that was both piercing and inexplicable, and a little bit like dread.

But seventh grade changes everything, everyone says. Marjorie was still her best friend, the friend who just knew how she felt about things without having to be told, the friend who always accepted everything about her, who never argued with her.

Marjorie hadn't changed. The thing was, everything else had. Suddenly there were rules that you had to follow, rules that suddenly Sarah just knew, like how to dress like the cool people, and which boys were cute, and which people to stay away from because their weirdness was, like, catching, somehow. But Marjorie didn't get the rules, or if she did, she didn't care. She still wore tee shirts with cartoon characters and ate embarrassingly smelly peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches out of embarrassing grocery sacks at lunch, and was increasingly absorbed with the embarrassingly geeky film production class kids. Then, at the ballroom dance class's Cotillion, she shows up in an elaborate Victorian outfit with a huge hat, and high-buttoned shoes. "I love to dress up," she says, unconcernedly, seemingly oblivious that everyone is whispering about her weird clothes, about how strange she is
Sarah wants to be a loyal friend, trying to include Marjorie in a lunch group with her new chorus class friends, Carly and Lizzy, and even agreeing to be a green alien in her film project for class. But when the shooting date for the film conflicts with Sarah's required Saturday rehearsals for the annual choral competition, Sarah has to choose between her promise to Marjorie and her membership in the choir, and she suddenly realizes that she really loves, not just being with her new friends there, but the actual making of music. Singing really matters to her.

Gina Willner-Pardo's The Hard Kind of Promise (Houghton Mifflin Clarion), deals honestly with the pain of separation, the inevitable growing apart of childhood friends that adolescence sometimes brings. As Sarah begins to find who she really is, forming new bonds with her choir buddies on their successful competition in San Francisco, she also begins to see that her choice of music is no different from Marjorie's love for film making: they just have different passions which will take them in different directions and which change their friendship in ways they cannot yet know.

Sarah knew it was a lie to try to pretend that nothing was different, nothing had changed. Sarah knew it, and she knew Marjorie knew it, too. Marjorie always knew.

"I don't get why this happened," Sarah whispered.

"Maybe it's just supposed to happen. Like getting taller," Marjorie said. "Only no one told us."

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