My Extra Best Friend by Julie Bowe, 215 pp, RL 3
My Extra Best Friend is now in paperback!
With My Extra Best Friend, Julie Bowe wraps up her Friends For Keeps Series that began in 2007 with My Last Best Friend. As always, the wonderful Jana Christy provides the colorful cover art and the fantastic illustration of the whole gang at camp on the inside.
With this, the fifth book in the series, Bowe brings the eventful fourth grade year of Ida May to a close and brings her series full circle with the return of Elizabeth Evans, the titular "last best friend" of the first book in the series. It was Elizabeth's move from Purdee, Wisconsin to Albuquerque, New Mexico, that upended Ida's world and sent her on a bit of a social roller coaster as she navigated new friendships and negotiated with old frenemies over the course of the year. Just when it seems that Ida has everything worked out with Stacey, her new best friend, she's learned that there are things to like about the bossy Jenna Drews and the sometimes-mean-girl Brooke and, along with Meeka, Jolene and Randi the seven girls are excited to be going to sleep away camp together. It turns out that a few boys from class, Tom, Rusty, Joey and Quinn will be there too. Jenna has been to the camp before, in fact, her parents met when they worked there as counselors, and, true to her nature, she is making up lists and organizing every minute of their time. Bowe throws a few wrenches into the works, some of them serious, some silly, all genuine and appropriate to the age and environment of the characters. In fact, that's one thing that I have admired about Bowe's series from the start. She manages to take instances from childhood that, in retrospect might seem trivial to us as adults, but are meaningful to children just learning to navigate social situations. Another thing I love about Bowe's series is that she keeps all the books between 150 and 200 pages, making them the perfect read (in content and reading level) for young readers ready to move beyond Magic Tree House and Junie B Jones.
While Ida has moved on and made new friends, despite her resolution not to at the start of the series, she has never really gotten over the loss of her first best friend, Elizabeth. This is especially so since Elizabeth never once wrote to Ida in the year that she's been gone, although Ida wrote often. When Elizabeth shows up at Camp Meadowlark with a new short haircut, new red glasses and matching cowboy boots and a new name, Liz, Ida behaves in a surprising way. Over the course of the series Ida has always been a bit introverted and thoughtful, kind and never one to be intentionally mean as she responds to her changing social world. In My Extra Best Friend Ida reminds me a bit of Harry Potter and the changes he went through in The Order of the Phoenix when he became an angry teenager, mistrusting his best friends and lashing out at them. When Liz shows up and, as far as Ida can tell, acts like nothing is wrong and she never left, Ida becomes angry. When some of the group, Stacey and Brooke especially, welcome her back, Ida can't take it. Jenna, always the firm believer in rules and consequences, sides with Ida and refuses to be welcoming or nice to Liz. Tensions escalate until Ida and Liz get into an argument that ends in a pushing match. When Liz finally reveals why she never wrote to Ida, the reason is satisfying and makes sense. And, knowing that Stacey doesn't like Ida's treatment of Liz and that Jenna will be jealous if she lets bygones be bygones, Ida is in a difficult spot. On top of that, Brooke thinks she's made friends with a pair of older girls but she's sorely mistaken. A trust-fall platform makes a nice literal and metaphorical centerpiece for this wonderful close to a great series.
The five books in the series are as follows:
Book One: My Last Best Friend
Book Two: My New Best Friend
Book Three: My Best Frenemy
Book Four: My Forever Friends
Book Five: My Extra Best Friend