Friday, July 8, 2011

Review: BFF Breakup

Taylor Morris
Brooke and Madeline have been best friends since the first day they met and they take their BFF status very seriously, sure that nothing will ever tear them apart. At least, until they start middle school and Madeline makes a few new friends -- girls that don't get along with Brooke. And when her new friend Susanna understands the drama in Madeline's family so much better than Brooke ever could, the BFFs find themselves in a fight that threatens to tear their best-friendship in two. This book is told through the POVs of both girls, making it easy to empathize with both of them and difficult to choose sides. Madeline is the more girly of the two and quickly makes popular friends in middle school while tomboy-ish Brooke finds these new friends insipid and annoying. Added to this is the fact that while Brooke has a Leave-It-to-Beaver-esque nuclear family, Madeline's parents fight constantly. While Brooke wants to help her best friend, especially when the fighting in Madeline's house reaches a head, she isn't quite sure how to -- and with Susanna around she really isn't given the chance.

While I was expecting the fight between Brooke and Madeline to be something concrete, over something specific, it's much more of a slow boil that starts at the end of the summer, when Madeline is grounded and can't spend as much time with Brooke. Things get worse after she meets Susanna and when it becomes clear that Brooke doesn't like the new friends, but it's hard to point to one clear incident as a reason for the rift that forms between the two. There are reasons (multiple), but they take place over such a long span of time and increasingly build on one another. Brooke is insulted when Madeline calls her out on being sarcastic while Madeline refuses to stick up for Brooke when Susanna makes fun of her. The fact that Susanna is better able to understand Madeline's home life only adds to her feeling that Brooke isn't the best friend anymore.

Despite a big focus on Madeline's parents, none of the characters aside from Brooke, Madeline, and a few school friends are very fleshed out. Their parents and siblings have a big effect on them, but reading this book I felt like I didn't know Madeline's parents well enough to really have an opinion or feel what she was going through and how their fighting hurt her. While I usually love a family focus in books, for this one it fell flat and when the book really came alive was during the conversations between Brooke and Madeline. The two (at least pre-fight) have the sort of relationship and language that only best friends have; one-word conversations, shared inside jokes and secrets. This makes it easy to root for them and to wish that they would just talk to each other throughout the better part of this book. Because, unfortunately, this was a story (and a fight) that could have been solved so easily with just a little communication on the part of the characters. It was easy to understand why they couldn't or wouldn't just talk to each other, but this didn't make it any less agonizing or annoying to read their many miscommunications. I liked these girls and wanted to see them work things out; honestly I wasn't prepared for the ending. This is to say that in this sweet, cute middle grade novel, I fully expected a happy ending and what I got was bittersweet, an ending almost as full of loss and regret as the rest of the novel. Or at least, that's how it felt to me.

On the whole, this was a cute novel that reminded me somewhat, at least in the basic premise and the way the story was told, of Rival. The minor characters weren't as strong as I wanted and the ending left me sad, but I have a sense that that's more my fault than the book's. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to junior high girls, especially since I feel like so many might be able to relate to the story.

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