May is Short Story Month, so a few weeks ago, I checked my library catalog for recent(ish) Juv/YA short story collections and discovered these two:
One is a collection of friendship stories targeted to middle-grade and younger readers, and the other is a collection of romantic stories for teens. Both feature that delightful rom com trope, the Meet Cute — normally a term reserved for that life-changing moment when you first meet your future lover, but I’ve decided it also applies to that life-changing moment when you meet your future best friend. It may be the tough girl who pushes you to stand up to a bully, or the guy you saw for just a second on a passing train, or even the person you thought was your mortal enemy. It may be the start of a lifelong relationship, or one that lasts for just a day, but either way, it’s a moment that changes your destiny.
On that epic(ally cheesy) note, the following are my favorite and least favorite stories.
Friends. New York: Scholastic Press, 2005.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 tin soldiers who are really disguised princes raised by wolves.
- “Squirrel,” by Ann M. Martin. The creator of The Baby-Sitters’ Club books certainly knows how to write a good friendship story. This time, she writes from the perspective of a dog. Squirrel has spent most of her life as a stray, picked up occasionally by humans, but never for long. And occasionally she makes another dog friend, but also not for very long. It’s a lonely life until she finally meets Susan, the one person who might keep Squirrel for good.
The moral of the story: Some people should not be dog owners, ever. Martin makes you really feel for Squirrel as she goes from being mistreated and neglected to finally being really cared for by someone who actually cares. Maybe have a few tissues handy for this one.
- “Shashikala: A Brief History of Love and Khadi,” by Tanuja Desai Hidier. It is the spring of 1946 in South Gujarat, India. Tensions are rising to a fever pitch between those who want independence and those who are loyal to the British government. Eight-year-old Anand wants to be like his brave older brother, who was arrested for setting fire to a police station. He wants to help his mother secretly distribute independence flags throughout the town. But most of all, he wants to be smiled on by Shashikala, the new girl in his neighborhood, whose own brother was killed helping the freedom fighters in Bombay.
Hidier tells a powerful story of India’s fight for independence from a child’s perspective, a child whose personal desires are mixed with the desire to be part of something bigger than himself. Anand is a very relatable eight-year-old who chases girls and thinks about his favorite treat (milk with crushed almonds) during morning prayers, but he’s also forced to be mature for his age and to think about the social and political divides in his country.
- “The Wild Prince,” by Brian Selznick. One day, the unnamed narrator discovers an old tin soldier buried in the weeds in his or her backyard, “the way others before…had discovered Egyptian tombs and sunken ocean liners.” At first the narrator keeps the soldier to themselves, imagining stories about his battles and adventures, hiding him in their pocket. Then, another fateful day, they discover a kindred spirit, a boy named Ezra who creates even wilder stories about the soldier. And together, the narrator and Ezra make the most amazing discovery of all about the soldier-prince’s origins.
These two kids really make me smile, reminding me of Martha and Ivy from Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling, making up epic stories in the woods behind their houses, turning everyday discoveries into moments of destiny. And they remind me of myself — I was the kid with the wild imagination back in grade school, but I didn’t find my own Ezra, someone to really share my love of mermaids and selkies and Faerie, until much later. It was worth waiting for, though.
- “Flit,” by Patrick Jennings. Monroe’s family moves a lot, so he never gets to make friends for long. The one exception is Flit, Monroe’s imaginary pixie friend who protects him from heartbreak by making snarky comments about any would-be new friends, lest Monroe actually get his hopes up. But maybe Flit’s protectiveness (or is it possessiveness) is getting a little old, and maybe leaving a place doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye forever.
Flit is really funny, even though he’s totally obnoxious. He reminds me of Erg the wisecracking doll, from Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night — full of snark, but with a deep-down vulnerability.
- “The Friend Who Changed My Life,” by Pam Muñoz Ryan. The narrator is the new girl at school, and hasn’t yet figured out all the rules for fitting in. The wrong hairstyle, the wrong clothes, nose in a book, she immediately attracts the attention of a bully. But it turns out that mean Theresa has her own insecurities, and maybe she, too, is just looking for a friend.
First of all, the title is way too on the nose. But this story was actually fine for the most part (though Theresa’s change of attitude seemed pretty abrupt), but it was the ending that really made me roll my eyes. Not to spoil anything, but the narrator suddenly launches into The Moral of The Story, which is a major case of Telling vs. Showing. I already watched her learn to stand up for herself while also learning not to be ashamed of her insecurities; I didn’t need the big wrap-up review at the end to tell me all the lessons I’m supposed to have learned from the story.
It’s a really sweet collection of friendship stories from well-known writers like Ann M. Martin, Brian Selznick, Meg Cabot, and David Levithan. I highly recommend this for a quick, feel-good read.