The Friendship War puts a unique spin on a timeless theme for middle-grade fiction.
The Friendship War by Andrew Clements. Random House, 2019, 208 pages
Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12
Recommended for: ages 10-14
When Grace’s recently-widowed grandfather buys an abandoned textile mill for development, he’s excited about getting into a project that will distract him from his grief. Grace, who’s visiting at the end of summer vacation, doesn’t see what the big deal is, until the two of them happen upon a stash of buttons left in a storage room—boxes and boxes of them. By the time school starts back home, Grandpa has shipped the whole pallet-load at her request. Who’s interested in buttons? Not best-friend Ellie, who has spent part of the summer shopping with her aunt in Paris—and always finds her own life more interesting than Grace’s anyway. But after other kids get interested in Grace’s collection, button fever germinates and grows and diversifies, and almost breaks a friendship—permanently.
This thoughtful, relatable story set an enduring middle-grade theme into the cross-threads of collecting, trend-setting, supply-and-demand economics and scientific data-collecting—all worthwhile and interesting excursions. The central questions of Who is a real friend? and What makes or breaks a friendship? sounds some familiar notes but takes off in unexpected directions. Grace is a sympathetic narrator with a sense of honor and fairness, but she can let anger get the better of her. Ellie appears self-absorbed and vindictive, but she has better qualities that could emerge with the right appeal. Without preaching, The Friendship War demonstrates how some broken relationships can be mended with patience, humility, and “a soft answer [that] turns away wrath.”
Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic/literary value: 4.5
For some solid “friendship tips,” see our review of Growing Friendships: a Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friend. Other excellent fictional treatments of the subject are The Season of Styx Malone, Somebody on This Bus is Going to Be Famous, and Save Me A seat.
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