cover image Secret Friends

Secret Friends

Elizabeth Laird, Elizabeth Larid. Putnam Publishing Group, $14.99 (80pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23334-0

The characters and situations in this novella will likely be painfully familiar to teenage readers. On her first day at Dale Road Middle School, narrator Lucy meets Rafaella, a girl who is shunned by the rest of the class (""What you noticed straight away was her ears. They were large, and stuck out away from her head like bats' ears""). Lucy, on the fringe of the popular crowd, invents the nickname Earwig--and foreshadows subsequent tragic developments (""I'm going to regret that moment till the day I die""). When Rafaella invites Lucy home for tea, Lucy is too shocked to decline the invitation. In spite of herself, Lucy enjoys Rafaella's company and is intrigued by her exotic family (""Rafaella's parents seemed like magic people to me, and their house was an Aladdin's cave, full of treasures whose meaning I couldn't understand""). The aura of impending doom grows as the camaraderie between the girls strengthens. Rafaella's brother accuses Lucy of being ""one of those stuck up kids""--another sign of what lies ahead. In 10 brief chapters, Laird (Kiss the Dust) crystallizes the mixture of insecurity, grief and guilt suffered by a young teen sensitive enough to understand another child's pain, but not strong enough to stop the chain of events. Although readers may wish for more details about the family lives of both girls, the few unanswered questions are surmounted by the author's ability to keep the novel within Lucy's purview--and by its realistic resolution. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)