Friends for LifeFall 2015 Fiction
Francis has gotten used to spending most of his time alone, but he doesn't mind when a girl named Jessica joins him unexpectedly during his solitary lunch hour. Jessica happens to be a ghost, but considering that she is the only friend Francis has ever had who appreciates his interest in fashion design, the small issue of her being dead seems like a petty impediment to their friendship. When an unhappy, fierce girl named Andi moves into the neighborhood, Francis's mother very nearly ruins Francis's quality time with Jessica by forcing him to entertain a flesh-and-blood companion. As it turns out, however, Andi is quite excited to spend time with a ghost, and soon the three are fast friends. Nevertheless, after Roland, who is tormented for his weight, joins their circle, he prompts them to wonder why Jessica remains a ghost. Jessica cannot even remember how she died, and the friends begin to search for the reason why she remains tethered to the human world. If Jessica has given them each new hope to live through bullying, could it be that someone else still needs help, too?
This middle-grade novel tackles thorny issues of childhood bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation, and does so with a grace and sensitivity appropriate for its target age group. Francis's friendship with a ghost allows the reader to navigate his closeness to death, at the same time as the focus of the story highlights his growing attachment to the land of the living. I was disappointed, by the end, in how Norriss handled the "differentness" of his characters. Francis, thankfully, is allowed to remain a quiet, fashion-loving, sports-averse boy when he recovers from depression. Andi, however, seems to need only a bit of Francis's fabulous fashion sense to jettison her gender-bending ways and embrace dyed blond hair and sparkly tube tops. Similarly, the formerly fat Roland becomes not merely more active and fit, but positively buff and trim; these two are not allowed to be relieved of their depression without also being cured of their visible differences. Many young readers, however, will read their transformations as part of a happy ending, and will justifiably feel satisfaction in this sweet, warm tale of friendship.