Saturday, September 2, 2017

When Friendship Followed Me Home

When Friendship Followed Me Home
by Paul Griffin
Recommended Ages: 11+

One day, while trying to evade bullies on his walk home from school, Ben Coffin befriends an adorable little dog that he comes to call Flip. The two of them make friends with Halley, the librarian's fascinating daughter, who wears snazzy colors, makes up fantastic stories, and plans to beat cancer. They've even started training Flip as a service dog, to assist in a reading program for kids who are not reading at grade level, when Ben arrives home from school and finds his adopted mom dead.

Most of us would readily understand Ben's grief. But only kids who have made it out of the foster-care program can probably understand the fear that plagues him, as he lands with his mom's up-tight sister and her slob boyfriend. Ben even experiences guilt, as he sees tension and conflict growing in Leo and Aunt Jeanie's relationship; he blames himself for messing things up. But his next safest place to crash is with his best friend Chucky, whose parents have way too many kids already, and whose cats set off Ben's allergies. After that, all he seems to have is the street, where he can only last so long before someone will take him into state custody, and separate him from his beloved Flip.

Surprisingly to Ben, he finds a safe haven with the parents of Halley - even though her father is a stage magician, and Ben has a fear of magicians going back to a horrible incident during his foster-care years. But becoming a family with Halley and her folks means facing another heartbreaking loss, and more of that worry that he is messing things up for the family. Only by co-writing Halley's masterpiece story can Ben seem to learn what he has that the people around him need so much.

I was coming down with a cold when I read this book during a three-day holiday weekend, which I spent coughing and sniffling and feeling generally miserable indoors, while the weather outside was beautiful. So I can't blame all the blues or the Kleenex I went through on this book. Nevertheless, I think it deserves enough credit to score well into the "heart through a wringer" band of the emotional effect gauge. It is a really moving study of a young man struggling to find a family to belong to, learning to forgive and accept friendship, opening his heart and mind to trust and a kind of faith, and coping with different kinds of loss. Flu or no flu, something to blow your nose on is a definite prerequisite for reading this book.

Paul Griffin is a New York-based author who specializes in urban fiction for young adults. His other books include Ten Mile River, The Orange Houses, Stay With Me, Burning Blue, Adrift, and Saving Marty, which is scheduled to be released Sept. 19, 2017.

No comments: