Book: The Friendship Riddle
Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore
Age Range: 9-12
The Friendship Riddle is the newest book by Megan Frazer Blakemore (see my review of The Spycatchers of Maple Hill). The Friendship Riddle focuses on Ruth, the only girl with two moms in her small town on the coast of Maine. Ruth has been abandoned by her long-time best friend, Charlotte, after Charlotte went the popular route at the start of middle school. Ruth tends to immerse herself in fantasy novels, and views herself as a lone wolf.
One day Ruth finds a clue in a dusty library book that sends her on a riddle-solving quest. Her quest is set against a backdrop of middle school drama (friendships as well as very preliminary boy-girl "like" interactions), and some mild tension at home (centering around one Mom's extensive travel). So it's like Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library or The Mysterious Benedict Society crossed with a realistic "starting middle school" drama like Shug or No Cream Puffs, but with more diversity. And there's a spelling bee, so there are plenty of interesting vocabulary words.
This is a lot of ground to cover. Blakemore pulls it off, for the most part, though I did feel that a couple of plot threads weren't wrapped up a bit abruptly. Things I liked:
- Blakemore's treatment of diversity is well-done. Ruth's two moms are an integral part of the story. And they are individuals, with faults, not cardboard cut-outs so that the author could check a box regarding diversity. Ruth's initial friendship with Charlotte evolved because Charlotte's gay dads are friends with Ruth's gay moms, which I found realistic. Charlotte was adopted from China, and this comes up periodically in the way she interacts at school, too, and in who she is.
- Ruth is a delightful character. She goes her own way, and is not to be pushed into middle school girl stuff. She refuses to wear a bra that she doesn't need, for example, even though the other girls in her class do. She has to be dragged into new friendships, but she does eventually follow.
- Many key scenes of the book are set in the library, and/or center around books.
- There are nods to other books, including a reclusive author whose last name is Wexler (surely an homage to The Westing Game).
- The Friendship Riddle is an unabashed tribute to geekdom, from the quest to the spelling bee. The popular girl is mean and scheming, and the odd boy (apparently on the autism spectrum) turns out to be a good friend. But they aren't stereotypes, either. Charlotte, in particular, is a complex character, as is Ruth's new friend Lena.
- The small town Maine setting is perfect for this story. Various town locations play a part in the quest, and the small-town (and small school) give everything a cozy, safe feel.
The Friendship Riddle is not going to be for everyone - the kids looking for puzzles and riddles may not be as interested in the relationship dynamics, for example. I personally got impatient when the riddle quest went on hold for a while early in the book, even though books about adjusting to middle school are a particular interest for me. I think it's just a bit tricky to balance both types of story.
But I also think that 11 year old Jen would have adored The Friendship Riddle, and would have longed to live in Ruth's small town. It's a perfect read for slightly geeky, word and puzzle-loving kids, especially girls. Recommended, especially for library purchase.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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