Teenage girls’ lives are filled with drama, especially when it comes to friends who may or may not be good for a young woman trying to figure out who she is and with whom she should share her most intimate secrets. And if the friendship goes wrong, the emotional toll can be devastating.
That’s the conflict Carol Dines explores in her involving and beautifully-written new young adult novel, “The Take-Over Friend.”
Dines, who lives in Minneapolis with her husband, Jack Zipes (the fairy tale expert), says she was inspired to write this book after supporting her own daughter through a devastating friendship breakup, which made her recall her own experiences with her best friend when she was growing up.
Francis is a shy, introverted girl whose best friend just moved away, but she finds a new friend in Sonja, who has been in school in France. Sonja is witty, worldly and outgoing and seems eager to get close to Francis when they meet on the first day of their freshman year of high school.
Soon the girls are inseparable and they share secrets about their families. Sonja’s parents are in the middle of a bitter divorce and Frances’ father suffers from bipolar disorder. Dines’ depiction of this man’s suffering, and his wife’s no-nonsense demand he take his meds, is as interesting as his daughter’s story.
Francis has second thoughts about her admiration for Sonja when her friend starts insinuating herself into Francis’ family. A frequent sleep-over guest, Sonja boldly works her way into traditions Francis cherishes, such as making pies with her older sister and mother on Thanksgiving morning. Francis also realizes Sonja is using her to get close to her older brother, Will, who is totally into sports. And Sonja spends long afternoons with Francis’ dad, which makes her mom very uneasy.
Both girls are impacted. Francis resents lonely Sonja for trying to become part of the family and ignoring boundaries. Sonja feels betrayed when Francis can’t understand her need for a loving home.
When there is a violent act of cruelty, the friendship is over.
“The Take-Over Friend” will be understood by girls (and maybe some boys) and their mothers, who try to support their teens as they deal with new experiences in their relationships. The story is involving, with both characters so clearly drawn the reader feels she knows them, or was one of them at one time. Francis, though, is more likable than Sonja, but Sonja is the most needy underneath her grown-up veneer. It’s clear who is the take-over friend.
Dines, born in Rochester, Minn., is the author of two previous novels and a short story collection for teens
She will celebrate the publication of ‘The Take-Over Friend” (Fitzroy Books, $16.95 paperback) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, in conversation with Minnesota author Patricia Cumbie at Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., and at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, in conversation with Gary Eldon Peter, moderated by Judith Katz, at the Red Balloon, 891 Grand Ave., St. Paul.