Saturday, 8 December 2012

My Best Friend and Other Enemies, by Catherine Wilkins

This book is brilliant; I absolutely loved it. The title alone is utter genius, and the story inside is perfectly balanced, completely living up to expectation.

My Best Friend and Other Enemies tells the story of Jess. She and Natalie have been best friends for ever, but since new girl Amelia came along, Jess finds herself increasingly pushed to the sidelines. This, understandably, is pretty hurtful, especially when she learns that Natalie and Amelia have started a secret club to which Jess is explicitly not invited to join. What do you do when your best friend suddenly stops being particularly friendly? And, worse, when she starts hanging out with someone who is only capable of being nasty?

God, this is such familiar territory. I can remember pretty much exactly the same thing happening to me at school, as I am sure it has happened the world over to girls of the ‘tween’ and early teen age. Jess suddenly has to endure taunts in the classroom, being ousted from after-school activities, and even has dirty tricks played on her. While these events get Jess down she manages, somehow, to not actually let them get her down. Not only does she bite back, developing tentative friendships with some other girls and forming their own club, but she remains upbeat and positive about herself throughout the book. “I am brilliant,” is an Jess’s oft-repeated refrain, both in good times and bad times, and is really something I should learn to tell myself more often. It certainly seems to work for Jess.

“I knew this would be brilliant,” she tells herself. “I should listen to myself more often. I’m brilliant. I knew I was. What was all that worry about glasses being half full and half empty before? The rule is: I’m brilliant. That should just be a rule.” (pg. 68)

Jess is not big-headed, though, far from it. Surrounded by her quirky family - overactive little brother Ryan, anti-capitalist older sister Tammy, and parents on an economy drive - by being herself and sticking to her guns she makes friends with a whole variety of people, girls and boys alike, ultimately making a name for herself through amusing cartoons as well as sorting things out with Natalie and Amelia without too much of a massive and hideously unhealthy showdown. Everything works out in the end, though it is a bit of a struggle along the way.

It probably helped that I really, really related to Jess, but I do think this is one of the most awesome girls books I’ve read all year. I don’t imagine for a moment that either Jess or I are alone in feeling the things we do and having the friends trouble we’ve had; as such it’s a book that is likely to appeal to a huge number of readers. Let’s face it, girls can be really mean. It’s also incredibly funny, with a style strongly reminiscent of Louise Rennison, except aimed at younger readers and with more focus on friendships than on boys. It was so natural, with a beautiful flow, and it really made me snigger. Cartoons scattered through the pages are a nice touch, but the positive attitude that Jess maintains throughout - and the positive ending - are what really stands out. Catherine Wilkins is definitely an author to watch out for.

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