Julie Bowe continues the story of fourth grader Ida May, her new friend Stacey Merriweather and her old nemesis, Jenna Drews in her Friends for Keeps series that began with My Last Best Friend. In the second book in the series, My New Best Friend, Ida feels secure in her friendship with Stacey, even if she doesn't avoid Jenna the way Ida does and maybe even likes her.
When Ida and Stacey are trying to decide what to dress up as for Brooke's costume party (they settle upon his & hers outhouses made from cardboard boxes) they come across an old mermaid night light with a creepy smile and decide to form a secret club. Ida likes the idea of having a secret club, something that only she and Stacey share, but Stacey quickly becomes caught up in the nightly wishing that the girls do before they plug in the mermaid. When the things that they wish for - something bad to happen to Jenna, a math quiz to be cancelled, and their wishes come true - Stacey raises the stakes. Her wishes to the mermaid begin to involve lies and secret plans that, while from an adult perspective are never dangerous, nevertheless go against the rules of both girls' families and their school at times. When Ida is finally forced to stand up to Stacey instead of going along with her, the fallout is not as bad as she feared. And, she comes to learn, Jenna Drews may not be as bad as she feared also.
Once again, Julie Bowe exhibits her masterful way with genuine childhood experiences, be they emotional, social or familial. She creates plausible situations for Ida and the rest of the characters in the Friends for Keeps series yet knows just when to heighten the reality of a scene to keep readers interested. One of my favorite themes in My New Best Friend was the Greek mythology that Mr Crow's class was studying. There were interesting facts sprinkled throughout the story and plenty of jokes on the subject matter as well. As in My Last Best Friend, Ida remains independent in her thoughts and actions, almost stubbornly so - as when she ends up trapped by her own costume at Brooke's party and mistaken for an end table while Jenna leads Stacey around in her outhouse box. But, this trait also keeps her from being bossed around by Jenna, who, after learning about Ida and Stacey's secret club, starts up the Do-Good Nymphs with rules that are reflect a nine year old's sensibility perfectly. Julie Bowe manages to make the seeming mundanities and trivialities of the life of a fourth grader vivid, interesting and most of all, meaningful, all the while validating the experiences of girls the same age and temperament as Ida.