Thursday 16 April 2015

Childhood Friends by Paula Harrison

As a child, I couldn't imagine closer friends than Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Anne arrives in Avonlea longing to find a "kindred spirit" and in Diana she finds one. Re-reading it as an adult, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that Anne, with her wild imagination, is the one who gets the pair of them into scrapes. As a child though, I longed for a friendship as uncomplicated as theirs. They never seem to argue and the only thing that comes between them is the disapproval of Diana's mother when she believes that Anne has intentionally given Diana alcohol. At this age, a close friendship can seem even more important than family and her separation from Diana is particularly painful for Anne, especially as she is wrongly accused.

I recently came across the modern equivalent of this close and almost-perfect friendship when I read The Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen. Ade is an introverted character and is on the periphery at school. He finds a kindred spirit in Gaia, a girl who loves nature and likes to stand with her face turned upwards in the rain so that raindrops splash over her face. This time it is external circumstances in the form of the Bluchers that separate them. Ade holds on to a diagram that Gaia lent him - it's all he has to remember her by for most of the book.

Another memorable friendship in middle grade fiction is Bonnie and Sylvia in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. These girls come across as opposites, one impulsive and the other reflective. The strength of the writing reveals them as fully rounded characters without needing to fall back on a stereotyped portrayal of feisty or shy. They are very much brought together by the adversity they face both inside and outside Willoughby Chase.

It's a hard thing for a writer to depict the breakdown of a close friendship whilst maintaining the reader's sympathy and understanding for both characters, especially when one character is essentially at fault. The breakdown in the relationship between Auggie and Jack Will was the moment R.J. Palacio's Wonder came alive for me. I was reading it aloud to a child at bedtime and that was the point where they became keen on the story too. Palacio's use of different narrators is a huge advantage here, allowing us into both Jack and Auggie's thoughts.

So, what are your most memorable childhood friendships in fiction?

Paula Harrison is the author of Red Moon Rising, which is set in our everyday world with a fantasy twist. In the story, Laney Rivers finds an unusual friend in Claudia, a girl with very different gifts from her own.