I had always meant to read The Secret Language of Girls by award-winning author Frances O’Roark Dowell and somehow never got around to it, but I did finally read its sequel, The Kind of Friends We Used to Be, last week and enjoyed it very much, despite missing the first book.
This middle-grade novel, like its prequel, is about two friends, Kate and Marylin, who are coping with all the changes and growing complexities of life in middle school. The two girls have been friends for many years but are finding that their interests are no longer the same:
The night before [Kate] decided to learn how to play guitar, she’d gone to a Back-to-School party at Marylin’s house. Throwing a Back-to-School party was a very Marylin thing to do, which Kate would know, since she and Marylin had been friends since preschool and had managed to stay friends, even though Marylin was now a middle-school cheerleader and cared too much about her hair.
As Kate and Marylin enter 7th grade, they find themselves drifting apart, even though they still like each other and want to be friends. Kate has a new interest – playing guitar and writing music – and she meets new friends through that interest, while Marylin has a whole new set of friends on the cheerleading squad. Marylin senses that some of her new friends aren’t very nice, but she loves being a cheerleader.
Their story is told in alternating chapters from both girls’ points of view, as they discover new interests, meet new friends, and try to retain their cherished old friendship. They are both struggling with common issues for middle-schoolers: how to fit in, how to be true to yourself, and how to negotiate the complex and confusing social landscape of middle-school.
I really enjoyed this novel and came to care for both main characters. They felt real to me, and I’m sure their problems will be familiar to kids of this age. The novel didn’t wrap up in a nice, neat conclusion, but real life is seldom nice and neat either. Instead, it came to a satisfying end, giving you the impression that both girls were well on their way to finding their places in the world.
234 pages, Athenenum (imprint of Simon & Schuster)