That's What Friends Do

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A heartfelt and powerful debut novel for fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and John David Anderson, That’s What Friends Do is a book for anyone learning how to have the hard conversations about feelings, boundaries, and what it means to be a true friend. 

Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s comments make Sammie feel uncomfortable—but all David sees is how easily Luke flirts with Sammie, and so David decides to finally make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on.

Soon things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened.

As rumors start flying around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.---from the publisher

352 pages                          978-0-06-288893-8                 Ages 8-12

Keywords:  friends, friendship, crush, understanding others, respecting others, relationships,  consent, sexual harassment, alternating perspectives, Jewish, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, Middle School Book Club 7th Grade, conduct, conduct of life, middle school, Character Building Curriculum

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SAMMIE:

“So, first because he’s funny. But also because he’s nice. Funny and nice.

Okay, scratch all of that. David Fischer is my best friend because five minutes after I walk into my dark, silent home on the first day of a very long winter vacation, he texts me and asks, Want to come over? You can tell me more about your goals for vacation and I can make fun of you.

I look at the clock on the microwave. Dad’s still at the office and won’t be home for hours. My mother’s probably showing houses, so who knows when she’ll appear. And Rachel and Becca, aka the Peas, are guaranteed to be MIA until after dinner because they’re in high school, and presidents of half the student clubs.

Sure, I text back.

When? David asks

Leaving in 15. Then I have a great idea: Meet me at the fort! I’ll bring snacks.”

DAVID:

“Meet me at the fort! Sammie says. With an exclamation point.

‘Ugh,’ I say out loud. The Fort is our special place, our secret, so I get why Sammie wants to meet there. But it’s not a real fort, just a giant cement drainage tunnel underneath the Greenway. In the summer, it is always cooler than outside. Which is nice. In the summer. Today, when the weather app says forty degrees, the Fort will be freezing, and probably dark, but we’ll be alone there. And maybe we’ll have to huddle together for warmth, and maybe--

I text back and say okay to Sammie’s crazy Fort idea.

Then I head to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and spritz some of Pop’s Binaca breath spray in my mouth just in case

I stare at myself in the mirror, focusing on my eyes, which are at least green and are the least embarrassing part of my face. ‘Sammie,’ I say, pretending the green eyes in the mirror are her brown ones. ‘There’s something I want to tell you, about my feelings for--blech!’

I shake my head no and try again, pretending I’m holding a cup of hot chocolate. ‘Mmm, this hot chocolate is sweet and creamy, just like you.’ No way. I try again, putting one hand on a hip to look cool and relaxed. ‘Hey, Sammie, there’s something I want to tell you--’

‘Who’re you talking to?’

I jump, startled, and bite my tongue.

Inez, my babysitter. is standing at the bathroom door, holding a bunch of folded towels. ‘Who’s in here with you?’ she asks.

‘Inezzz,’ I whine. ‘You made me bite my tongue.’

Inez makes a pfft sound. ‘I didn’t make you do anything. The door was open. I was heading to put away these clean towels, which I just washed and dried and folded, thank you very much, and I hear you in here, talking. Who’re you talking to?’

‘Not you,’ I say, my tongue throbbing.

Inez steps further into the bathroom and looks around. ‘Who then?’

‘No one,’ I say. I was just...practicing.’”

David and Sammie are seventh graders. They have been best friends since playing on the same Little League team in kindergarten. They both seem to be good students, but David enjoys needling his friend over her obsession to get her work done.

After a half a century-plus, I retain vivid recollections of how tough seventh grade was socially: A new school. Changing classes. Hundreds of unfamiliar kids, with a dozen elementary schools feeding into the junior high. Big kids slamming me into lockers for no reason or knocking my looseleaf and textbooks out from under my arm in the stairwell. And boys and girls walking around school holding hands. I was so not in that place in seventh grade. And neither is Sammie.

It’s sweet to overhear David working up the nerve to tell Sammie that he likes her in that way. But how will the pressures and urges of adolescence affect the relationship between these longtime bffs?

It’s tough to recall another coming-of-age tale that portrays the utter sense of loss encountered in THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO. One may argue that it’s simply natural and necessary for puberty to fuel transitions in boy-girl relationships. But whether one blames what ultimately happens between these friends on the media and popular culture, on a middle school bullying culture, or simply on hormones, I found this to be a heartbreaking story.

Their friendship becomes strained because of another boy. A family friend, Luke has been an occasional visitor to David’s house. But then he transfers to David and Sammie’s school and starts hanging out with them. He even plans to go out for the school baseball team, along with Sammie and David.  Plenty of the junior high girls think Luke’s hot.

Luke’s growing interest in Sammie, although unreciprocated, leads David to a greater sense of urgency to have his best friend also be his girlfriend.

It climaxes with David’s part-deliberate, part-accidental, and incredibly awkward behavior on the school bus which causes a schism between him and Sammie. The damage to their friendship does scab over but never really heals. In the long run, David ends up becoming more friendly with Luke and a group of guys, and Sammie develops a new, female, best friend.

In large measure, the loss has to do with David’s shortcomings. He initially seems like a great friend to Sammie, but he does something he shouldn’t, and is thoroughly clueless about how badly he’s hurt her.

David’s failure to gain her consent before acting, brings a powerful #MeToo aspect to the story.

Instead of ineptly coming on to Sammie, David could have talked to her about his feelings and asked whether she was also interested in him in that way. Having failed that, he could have apologized for his behavior, and shared his feelings. But he takes neither of these paths and comes off as a thoughtless creep.

THAT’S WHAT FRIENDS DO is not a neat and tidy tale, but it’s a compulsive read that has kept me thinking long after turning the last page. I’d like to get this story into the hands of fifth through seventh graders, and hear their reactions.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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