My Best Frenemy by Julie Bowe, 234 pp RL 3

With My Best Frenemy, Julie Bowe continues her Friends for Keeps series and the story of Ida May and her year in fourth grade. In the first book in the series, My Last Best Friend, we learn why Ida is cautious when it comes to friendship after her best friend moves away and watch as, over the course of the novel, she decides to open up and share herself and her creativity with the new girl, Stacey Merriweather. In My New Best Friend, Ida finds that her friendship with Stacey is not "easy cheesy," as the kids in Mr Crow's class say. Stacey has a tendency to lie and withhold the truth to get what she wants and Ida finds herself caught up in Stacey's lies, wanting to hold onto her friendship but not wanting to disobey her parents. On top of this, Queen Bee Jenna Drews is buzzing around, trying to be the center of everything while also vying for Stacey's friendship.

My Best Frenemy Ida returns to fourth grade after the winter break to find that Stacey and Brooke, the occasional beauty pageant contestant and former BFF of Jenna's, have bonded over sparkly new outfits from the popular (and excellently named) clothing store in the mall, Mish Mosh. In her own quiet way, Ida is disappointed but accepting of the situation. However, when Stacey cancels their regular Thursday afternoon visit to the Purdee Good cafe where they always share a giant cookie, Ida grows concerned. Ida's chances of hanging on to Stacey are complicated by the fact that Brooke seems to be even more of a Queen Bee than Jenna and Stacey has so much in common with her. In My New Best Friend, the group of girls bonded over the club Jenna started called the "Do Good Nymphs." In My Best Frenemy the girls come together to play Jenna's new board game, Truth or Dare, during recess at school. When the girls decide to make up their own, more exciting dares for each other, Ida feels pressured to take the dare she is given even though she knows it will get her in trouble. When it does, Jenna tries to help her out of her situation but Ida still ends up in the principal's office where she tells Ms Steven's everything, despite her best attempt to "think up a story" like Stacey does so that she cankeep out of trouble with the other girls.

Art by Jana Christy
Ida does find herself in trouble with her friends and ostracized for a brief and not terribly harsh time. When Brooke comes up with the idea to give Ida a "triple-dog-dare" to perform as a way of making up for tattling, the dare she comes up with is one that will get Ida into even more trouble, this time with her parents. As with being party to Stacey's lying in My New Best Friend, Ida finds herself in some difficult situations, stuck in between following the rules at school as well as her parents' rules or doing what it takes to hang on to her best friend, Stacey and stay in good standing with the rest of the group. While the stakes are a little bit higher in My Best Frenemy than they were in My New Best Friend, the situations Ida finds herself in seem everyday ordinary and very realistic - parents do not need to worry that the negative behaviors of any of the characters will give young readers ideas or influence them unduly. What I admire most about Julie Bowe's books is that, in Ida May, she has created a thoughtful, respectful character who is navigating her way though a genuinely challenging time in her life. For most kids, the age of 9 or 10 is a time when they have a little bit more freedom and become aware of the habits and interests of older kids and, in some cases, are influenced by friends to make decisions that are not always what we, the parents would hope for. Sometimes you have to make the wrong choice to see what the right one is, and Bowe's books can be read as gentle object lessons for readers along these lines - although they are also highly entertaining.

Bowe's characters all have different backgrounds and come from families with different sets of values and it is gratifying to watch Ida encounter these differences and think about how to work with or around them. For me, it was especially satisfying to see Ida reconsider her feelings for the prickly Jenna, who, in her own icy way, lets Ida know that she is feeling the loss of her best friend. While Ida turns to Stacey to help her get out of the triple-dog-dare and remain part of the group, it is Jenna who helps Ida the most in the end, and it is Jenna that Ida turns to when Stacy is busy with Brooke. As Ida says in her eloquent, nine year old way,

I think about how much I like meeting Stacey and sharing a cookie after school and talking about best friend stuff. But sometimes plans change. Sometimes friendships do too. Even mine and Stacey's has been changing lately. Not in a bad way, like Brooke and Jenna's. Just in a different way. Maybe even a good way. Because even though I still like Stacey, I know I'm not exactly like her. And that's okay.

I was the kind of kid who was always searching for a best friend and feeling hurt and jealous when old friends made new friends. I know that, had I had a book like My Best Frenemy to read as a 9 or 10 year old, those bumps that are a normal part of friendship, growing up, and life in general might not have been so bruising to me.

Keep up the great work, Julie Bowe, and I can't wait to see what challenges and excitement Ida faces next!

The rest of the series is as follows:

And that is where we find Ida May and Stacey in Fourth grade in Mr Crow's class is half over and Ida May and Stacey have found a mermaid night-light that seems to grant wishes. They form the "Secret Mermaid Club" and make wishes while dealing with bigger issues familial issues like divorce, as well as school problems like jealousies, misbehavior and consequences. As with My Last Best Friend, Bowe tells a believable and satisfying story, handling real life issues realistically, balancing realistic, engaging characters with larger themes appropriate for third and fourth grade readers.

The five books in the series are as follows:

My New Best Friend by Julie Bowe: Book Cover

Book Two: My New Best Friend

Book Three: My Best Frenemy

Book Four:  My Forever Friends

Book Five:  My Extra Best Friend

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