Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #324: Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk

When I snagged this book from the library a few weeks ago, I had a snarky comment about "I don't think it's about a group of teen girls who decide to build the perfect best friend in science lab, but it would be awesome if it was." Well, guess what: I was more right than I expected, and Making Friends is more fantastic than I thought.

(Yes, "fantastic" can be taken two ways: either one works here.)

It's not a group of girls, but one: Dany. She's in seventh grade, early in the year, and is finding the transition to middle school tougher than she expected. Her old friends have a completely different schedule, and making new friends is not working like she hoped.

But she has a sketchbook from her recently deceased Great-Aunt
Elma. And when she draws in that sketchbook, what she draws appears in the real world.

That obviously makes more sense than my confused snark: who needs to make a friend the most? Not people who already have them. Someone who feels all alone, overwhelmed in a new place and wishes things would go back to the way they used to be.

So Dany draws Madison Fontaine, who will be her best friend, does all of the things she wishes she could (quick with a retort, expert at hair and makeup, cool and fun and comfortable with herself). Madison just moved from NYC, and will be in all of Dany's classes.

(Before that, before she knew what the notebook could do, Dany sketched the head of Sailor Moon Solar Sisters villain Prince Neptune, and so she also secretly has a manipulative, sneaky superpowered head lurking in her backpack and calling her Princess. Let's not forget about him, giving Dany advice that sounds good but will only turn her into another cruel bully.)

At first, Madison is perfect: she is Dany's best friend, and having her around helps Dany fit in better at school. But Madison starts to wonder about the things she can't remember -- surely she must have parents somewhere, and isn't supposed to stay at Dany's house forever, right?

Making Friends doesn't belabor the lesson. But Dany does learn that doing things the easy way isn't always right. Oh, and she also learns to turn her friends into a Solar Sisters team to stop a supervillain intent on destroying the school and conquering the world (in that order, obviously).

Kristen Gudnsuk has the same kind of sly humor and love for semi-cheesy media tropes here that made her supervillain story Henchgirl so much fun. In Making Friends, it's pitched at a younger audience, and she's pulled back on some of the random goofiness of the world (which I kinda miss, actually -- I found it a distinctive Gudsnukian [1] touch in Henchgirl) -- but it feels like the same kind of story, and Dany could grow up into a henchgirl herself, if things went really badly for her.

Luckily, things do not go really badly for her, though it looks dark a few times.

Making Friends is another one of those books designed and marketed right at an audience of middle-school girls. But, as I find myself saying a lot these days, that doesn't mean the rest of us need to ignore it -- and we shouldn't.

[1] I want to live in a world where Gudsnukian becomes a commonly used adjective for certain kinds of comics. And it could happen!

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