Friday, April 22, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home

When Friendship Followed Me Home
Paul Griffin
Dial, 2016  246 pgs
Grades 5-8
Realistic Fiction

Ben Coffin is a former foster kid, who was miraculously adopted by a kind, yet older, social worker. He and his Mom live in Coney Island, where he attends school with his sole friend Chucky Mull (aka Chunky Mold), get constantly hassled by the school bully, and retreats to the library, where he enjoys reading science fiction and the company of the kind librarian. He quite accidentally befriends the librarian's daughter, Halley, who is currently undergoing Cancer treatments and the two become fast friends.One day, when leaving the library, a grungy dog follows him home and Mom allows him to keep the mangy guy. Ben names his new friend Flip and the two become inseparable. Flip is smart and loyal and it is he who discovers a terrible tragedy which rocks Ben's world and forces him to begin again. Luckily, he has his old friendship with Chucky and his huge and loving family and his new friendship with Halley. Ben and Halley decide to train Flip to be therapy dog for children to read to in the library. They also decide to write a story together featuring time travel, science fiction, friendship, magic, and the Coney Island of yesteryear. Ben harbors a distrust of magic, stemming from a bad experience as a foster child and Halley's Dad, Mercurious, a professional magician, helps him work through his fear, rediscover the wonders of magic and find healing. Flip also offers comfort and healing as yet another tragedy strikes Ben's life and he has to pick up the pieces all over again.

This book begins with a breath-taking photo of Coney Island at night from 1905 followed by a quote from Yoda, so you know that this book will be special: and it does not disappoint. Griffin, an established teen author, pens this first novel for the middle grades. It reads quickly, moves along nicely without dragging, and adds plenty of plot twists and heart ache. 
I always say that there is no such thing as a perfect child or a perfect dog. Ben and Flip seem to be exceptions to that rule. Ben is such a sweet character that he seems almost too good to be true. He has gone through terrible times repeatedly, yet he remains kind, trusting, and generous. Flip, except for his bad breath, is a perfect dog, although that could be Ben's perception of him. Maybe with all of the unpredictability of Ben's life he hasn't felt secure enough to allow himself a temper-tantrum. At any rate, the reader won't care that Ben and Flip are practically perfect. They will fall in love with both of them and be cheering for their success and well-deserved happiness. Halley and Chucky are both interesting characters. The librarian in the story is a "superstar" and is instrumental in making a big difference in Ben's life. This of course I applauded, as well as the fact that books were both a comfort and a life-line to himself and Halley. I also loved the role of magic and Griffin's big reveal at the end of the "most magical thing of all". The adults in this story were both wonderful and flawed, but always present and part of the plot. Fault in Our Stars-light, this book will be the perfect choice for kids who enjoy sad books and my library hosts plenty of them. It would serve as a great title for kids who loved Wonder and are wondering what to read next. There is hint of romance, but it is innocent and takes a back-seat to the friendship. Friendship is at the core of the story, whether between humans or humans and animals. I feel like every other book I have picked up in the past year is set in Coney Island. My theory on this pattern is that Brooklyn is a Mecca for authors, so maybe they hang out there? Don't know, but it seems like more than coincidence. At any rate, When Friendship Followed Me Home is heartfelt, sad-yet happy, thoughtful-yet full of plot, more than just an animal story-yet features an adorable pooch and will be enjoyed by both boys and girls. In other words: a true winner that will make anyone happy if this book follows you home from the library!

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