Tuesday 12 July 2016

When Friendship Followed Me Home

When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin (Text Publishing)
RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-192535549-9

Reviewed by Wendy Fitzgerald

Every now and then I read a book that I know I will not forget. When Friendship Followed Me Home is special.

Young Ben Coffin is a foster child. At age 10 he is adopted by a loving mum, Tess- a kind-hearted speech therapist. For the first time Ben feels loved and starts to hope that things will go well for him.

But at school he’s the target for a bully named Rayburn. Ben avoids Rayburn by taking refuge in the library with the kind librarian, Mrs Lorentz. It’s in the library that Ben befriends Mrs Lorentz’s daughter, Hayley (like the comet). And it’s in an alleyway beside the library where Ben finds a small abandoned dog he calls Flip.

Ben and Flip have a strong connection. They embark on a training program to make Flip into an assistance dog. Ben and Hayley start a fabulous reading program called ‘Read to Rufus’ where kids who struggle with reading can read to a trained companion dog- in this case Flip.

There is a beautiful scene on Page 131 where Ben is encouraging a young reluctant reader, Brian, to read to Flip. The interaction between Flip and Brian is precious. I think Flip is the real hero in this story.

I have not heard of a program like this in Australia. Maybe we should try it?

When Friendship Followed Me Home explores some tough issues- abandonment, domestic violence, homelessness, illness, grief, family, friendship, first love, acceptance, loss, pets, imagination and magic.

But all the way there is a wonderful innocence about Ben. In spite of all the terrible things that happen to him and Hayley- I was left with an overwhelming feeling of hope.

I also loved the idea that Ben and Hayley were writing a story together. It is called ‘The Magic Box’ - a time-slip story set in Luna Park in 1905. Often this story mirrors what’s happening in their lives and ties beautifully into the ending.

I like that there are many literary references throughout the book. In particular Griffin refers to ‘Feathers’ by Jacqueline Woodson. I want to read this ‘Feathers’ and I think kids would like to as well.

Paul Griffin is a talented writer. He is a teacher and a devoted helper of at risk and special needs teens. He works with organisations like ‘Behind the Book’ and ‘Literacy for Incarcerated teens’. 

Griffin is the author of several novels for YA – Ten Mile River, Stay with me, Burning Blue and Adrift. Paul lives in Manhattan.

When Friendship Follows Me Home - published in 2016 is Griffin’s first middle-grade novel. His next middle-grade novel, Marty comes out in 2017.

I strongly recommend When Friendship Follows Me Home to kids 11 and older. It will spark terrific discussion with parents and teachers. I loved it.

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