Recently I complained about the seeming disappearance of quiet books for the Middle Grade reader. And, lo and behold, I received exactly the type of book I pined for in the mail the same week.
Cassie Was Here, by Longstocking Caroline Hickey, concerns the subject most important to preteen readers--friendship.* The novel opens as 11-year-old Bree plays with her best friend Joey. Bree's family has recently moved away from their home and from Bree's other best friend. It's summer, so Joey is Bree's lifeline in her new neighborhood. The problem is that Bree's family does not like Joey and forbids Bree to play with her. Why? Because Joey is Bree's imaginary friend from first grade who has reappeared to help Bree with this big transition in her life.
Bree's busy parents don't have to worry about Joey, however, because a new girl shows up in the neighborhood. Cassie is a precocious thirteen with many an intriguing secret. Her first act of friendship is to cut and dye Bree's long dark hair into a style matching Cassie's own. Now Bree's parents really have something to worry about: Bree's enthralled with Cassie and her rule-breaking ways.
Cassie Was Here is a quiet book. But it's also beautiful and true. The reader hopes Bree will make the right decisions and find an easier route into Middle School in a new town. Her struggles are so familiar, one sympathizes with Bree's flummoxed parents who wonder what in the world happened to their little girl. Most impressive about Cassie Was Here, is Hickey's characterization of Cassie. Cassie acts tough on the surface and her sheen is undeniably attractive to both Reid and Bree, but she's really a wounded little girl with a heart of gold. The lies and bravado are only her life jacket, and a deflated one at that.
Cassie Was Here is highly recommended for children ages nine to thirteen and is a must for the poor youngster heading off to middle school.
*I maintain that the reason the Harry Potter series is so popular is not because of the magic, the creatures, the school, and the danger, but because of the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Their finely-drawn friendship is what every child--heck, every adult--wants most of all.
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