By Megan Frazer Blakemore
Available now from Bloomsbury
I first became aware of Megan Frazer Blakemore through THE WATER CASTLE, which was a Cybils Awards Finalist. I am a huge fan of her books. They're big on the power of friendship and the importance of finding answers, with casual diversity and stories the slowly come together into a surprisingly fantastic whole.
Her books, including THE FRIENDSHIP RIDDLE, do have one big flaw: they tend to have very slow starts. You have to push through to be rewarded. It might be harder for someone in the target age group (about late elementary) to keep reading even though the start isn't instantly gripping.
Ruth is a sixth grader and a bit of a loner since her best friend Charlotte ditched her for popular Melinda. But that's okay; she's find being alone like her favorite book character (or so she tells herself). When she finds a riddle, she starts having to reach out to others to find the answers leading to the next clue. She also befriends Coco, a boy who offers to help her study for the spelling bee. Making friends is something many middle school students struggle with (because middle school is a terrible time of life), so it's a very sympathetic plotline. So is Ruth's frustration with her mothers, one who is away for work and another who keeps embarrassing her by setting up playdates or campaigning to improve some aspect of the school.
I thought Ruth was a great main character. I'm sure many readers will connect to her bookishness and her surety that she's not ready for romance yet. I quite liked many of the supporting characters too, especially the friendly Coco and gregarious Lena. I liked that Blakemore even found a way to show likeable aspects of Lucas, an extremely competitive nerd.
I think THE FRIENDSHIP RIDDLE is a wonderful book. The story ties together in a way I would role my eyes at in an adult novel, but that is perfect for middle grade. I do wish it started with more momentum, but that's a small complaint.
I do have to note that the kids play Fuzzy Bunny in THE FRIENDSHIP RIDDLE. (That is, seeing who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth.) You might want to advise any young readers in your life not to copy this behavior, since the game has resulted in choking deaths.