My Last Best Friend, the first book in what has become the "Friends for Keeps" series by Julie Bowe, is one of those books. Written for the 8-12 age bracket, it has a near perfect balance of content and read-ability; it can be enjoyed by either end of the demographic without dumbing-down for the youngest reader or feeling outgrown to the oldest.
The rest of the series has proven to be just as popular, so when I had the opportunity to preview the fourth book in the series...I had to ask! I have many fans of Ida May, Stacy, and even Jenna to report back to, as they wait for their chance to read the book themselves. I'm pleased to say that they will not be disappointed.
The action of the story has shifted away from the still developing relationship between Ida and Stacy and is centered on the feud between Jenna and Brooke. These two girls, who at times seem like they could only be likable to each other, have fallen out, and the repercussions are felt throughout the class as their fight becomes a power grab for the support of their classmates. Ida--kind, perceptive Ida--feels stuck in the middle; she is spending more time with Jenna and her younger sister Rachel, due to the fact that their mother is on bed-rest with a difficult pregnancy and the girls are sent to Ida's house after school. Her increased exposure to the habitually controlling Jenna has helped Ida learn how to deal with her. (Jenna's transformation from class bully to complex individual which the reader can care about is one of the most impressive accomplishments of this series.) At the same time, Stacy is becoming chummy with Brooke. Ida soon finds herself losing one friend because of her loyalty to another. In the end, she doesn't care who is right or wrong in terms of Jenna and Brooke; she simply wants the feud to end before the all-round damage is beyond repair.
Throughout the series, Ida May has shown herself to be a sensitive girl juggling the ups and downs of friendship with thoughtfulness and wisdom--and the occasional aid of Choco Chunks. In My Forever Friends she exhibits a level of maturity which is simultaneously admirable and bittersweet (I say "bittersweet" as a parent, because if she was my little girl I would be proud of her but sorry that I had not been able to spare her the experience.) As an adult reader I sometimes found my heart filling up at the responsibility Ida felt to be the peacemaker in a feud which was not even her own. Young readers, possibly dealing with similar friendship trials, will see a girl they would like to emulate and love to be friends with themselves.
Julie Bowe reports on her blog that she has been contracted for two more "Friends for Keeps" books. This is news that will delight many girls. Not to mention this librarian, who repeatedly falls back on this excellent series when it comes time to place a quality book in eager hands.
My Forever Friends is due for release in July 2011. Thank you to Julie Bowe for providing me with an ARC to review.