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Saturday, November 12, 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home, by Paul Griffin. Dial, Penguin. 2016. $22.99 ages 8 and up

""Four years, Flip. Less than four. Three years, nine months and twenty days until I turn sixteen. We can hang in that long, right?" He cocked his head and licked my lips. He was the best study partner. He really did love when you read to him. Monday morning I dropped him off at the Mold house. He looked a little sad as I left. "Come on now, Flip bud. You know I'll be back soon. I promise."

Foster care has not been good for Ben. When he is finally adopted by a mother who loves him, the 10 year old is content. Living in Coney Island only adds to his satisfaction with life in general. He loves everything about his life there.

He finds comfort in time spent at the library with Mrs. Lorentz, a caring librarian who allows him a safe place, an occasional Chips Ahoy! cookie, and meaningful books to read. This time it's Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson, a favorite of her daughter. He's okay with most of it.

"But I had to stop when I read the next thing Frannie's teacher said about these so-called special moments. 'Some of them might be perfect, filled with light and hope and laughter. Moments that stay with us forever and ever.' This was a lie. Nothing lasts forever. It's scientific fact. Things happen and they're over and you can't get them back."

After one of his visits to the library, Ben befriends Flip, a 'shivering mess' of a dog who follows him home and whose main claim to fame is kissing on the lips any person who gets close enough. It is thanks to Flip that Ben meets Halley, Mrs. Lorentz's daughter. Flip is enrolled to become a therapy dog which will allow him help with the Reading to Rufus program at the library. Ben and Halley  become fast friends, spending their time together and working on a collaborative story. Through their relationship and the time spent writing The Magic Box we learn about the trauma in both lives, and their dreams for the future.

When Ben's mom dies suddenly, he goes to live with his aunt ... it is not a happy place. He's 12, and already quite sure that nothing that is good lasts. You can appreciate that this book could be so depressing; it is not. Reading the rest of Ben's story left with me with hope for a world where people  face unimaginable heartbreak, and come out of their experiences stronger. Everyone Ben meets impacts his life in ways that help him become who he will be. As misguided as some of them are, each helps him to understand that love and friendship trump the hardships. He can then learn to trust again, and to know that he deserves a place of belonging.

Honest, heartbreaking and hopeful, I am so happy to have read it and to share it with you.

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