Saturday, 11 June 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin (Intermediate/YA fiction)

When Friendship Followed Me Home
By Paul Griffin
Text Publishing, 2016
Originally published by Dial/Penguin
ISBN 9781925355499

I read this book in an evening, a late, late evening. I loved it, It made me cry. It has an overdose of all those things that make for an irresistible book: a boy and a dog, an orphan, a rescuer, someone with cancer, a bully, a best mate, a library with a great librarian, homelessness, and a bit of magic...
The main character, Ben Coffin, tells the story. He's 12, but seemed older to me. He was an orphan until he was 10 when he was adopted by the woman who had been his speech therapist. This is a champion mother. She's encouraging, she's accepting, she asks the tough questions and gives great advice. When he finds a stray dog and wants to keep it she immediately says yes. The dog is the best friend Ben has never had - his life in foster homes meant no-one was around long enough for it to be worth investing yourself in someone. He does have a few friends at school, but is also the focus of a bully boy and the girls who back him up. The library is his refuge, the librarian is accepting of him and the source of much good advice and book recommendations. She also has a daughter who Ben makes friends with. They decide the dog should become a library reading dog (such a great idea that's being put into practice in many places now). Things start to fall apart... I don't want to give details, you should read the book and find out. Thoroughly wonderful. Could be read by a good 10 year old reader, but loved by anyone older, if you don't mind a few tears along the way.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: A Memoir by Jacques Papier as told to Michelle Cuevas [Junior fiction]

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend: 
A Memoir by Jacques Papier 
as told to Michelle Cuevas 
Illustrations by Michelle Cuevas
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781471145506
Paperback $17.99

I'm amazed by the number of books have come to my notice in recent times about imaginary friends. It's as if the idea of writing about them has been buzzing around the ether for a very long time, then suddenly bitten many authors at the same time. The intriguing thing is that there are many common ideas about the nature of imaginary friends. They can change form and move from one person to another; there's a kind of 'holding zone' where they go when they don't have someone to imagine them. Some are better than others of course, one of my favourite novels was The Imaginary by AF Harrold & marvellous illustrator Emily Gravett. Then there's the superb picture book Beekle the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat which won the Caldecott Medal in 2015.

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend took me in with its lovely beginning. Jacques and his twin sister Fleur have a marvellous time together, parents never interfering in their games, doing well at school etc, until Jacques meets a roller-skating cowgirl in the park and discovers the truth... he doesn't really exist - he's Fleur's imaginary friend. Her parents have gone along with Fleur's conviction that Jacques is part of their lives, to the extent of setting him a place for dinner and buying him a ticket when they go out somewhere, but finally a trip to the psychiatrist is called for, where Jacques meets an odd assortment of other imaginary friends who invite him to Imaginaries Anonymous meetings. He decides he wants to be real so asks Fleur to set him free - but freedom's not really possible, he only exists when he is someone's friend... quite a lot to think about here. He goes through a number of incarnations, some for rather unpleasant children who are eventually improved by his being in their life, until again he's not required. 

I loved all the different games the children played, the way everything seems possible when you are young, until the inevitability of growing up happens. There are many challenges to be overcome and clever ideas explored, as we whisk from one incarnation to another. Jacques is lucky to hang on to his name and there's a nice circular conclusion to the story.