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Thursday, April 09, 2020

Here To Stay: Friend or Fiction by Abby Cooper

We were stuck in a town that had a different mailman every three days.

Tiveda is a town of transients. Someone leaves or is enrolled in Jade's class almost every week. Since she moved there, she's had three best friends, and all three have left. They didn't even write.

And then her father falls ill and has to have chemotherapy that makes him sleep most of the time. Jade is stuck in Tiveda, and she longs for a friend.
Maybe there wasn't a perfect best friend there for me. Maybe I'd be better off if I created one... here to stay.

I opened my notebook.

Zoe and Jade and the Best Lunch Ever!
I wrote at the top.

In her yellow notebook Jade creates Zoe, the perfect best friend, one who giggles with her at lunch and one who likes everything she likes. But then a strange boy in her class called Clue takes her notebook, but when he returns it, it looks the same... except that after she writes a chapter describing Zoe, something wonderful happens.

A moving van appears at the house across the street and and a girl her age comes out of the house and sticks some big red letters on the empty mailbox.
Z O E

And when Zoe turns up as the new student in Jade's class, she and Zoe became friends immediately. Jade can't believe how perfect Zoe is. She likes everything Jade likes and wants to do all of her favorite things. When Jade invites her to dinner, Zoe even likes carrots just like her. Except that...she calls them "orange sticks." Suddenly, Jade realizes that she's never mentioned carrots by name in her stories. At that moment Jade sees that somehow her new neighbor has a life only in what she writes about her.

At first Jade is excited to write about fun things for her and Zoe to do together. They walk to school together, eat lunch and spend recess together, walk home together, and go to the mall and eat ice cream together. Zoe has dinner with Jade's family every night. Zoe is the best best friend ever.

But slowly, drawn by the fun Jade and her friend are having, the other girls in the class, the "sparkle girls" who had ignored Jade, become friendly with Zoe. Jade tries to write them out of Zoe's life, but she's not quite successful. And when her family goes away for a weekend at the Grand Canyon to celebrate the end of her dad's chemo, Jade is afraid of losing control of her best friend.

Then she thinks about something Zoe said.
"I have no idea what I am doing in this weird world of yours."

Jade suddenly realizes it's not good to create a character totally under her own control, and she also sees what she has been missing with her absorption with Zoe, in Abby Cooper's, Friend or Fiction (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2019).  In a strangely sweet and moving story of a "Franken-Friend" who is and is not real, author Cooper has a real tour de force of a middle-reader novel that explores fear and loneliness, family love and friendship, and the magic of friendship in an inspired blend of realistic and fantasy fiction.  Says Booklist, "An endearing story, with a pitch-perfect "tween" voice and a touch of magic about what makes a friend."

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