The Power of Foundational Friendships, a guest post by Anne Rellihan
Friendships are at the heart of my debut middle grade novel Not the Worst Friend in the World because they’ve been at the heart of my life.
My memories from fifth, sixth, and seventh grade are vivid, and centering most of those memories are my friends. In the middle grades, the shift in the importance of adult approval to peer approval is notable, and I fell into this pattern completely. What my friends said, did, and thought mattered to me more than anything. I sought belonging and connectedness, and I was lucky enough to find it. I have friends from that time in my life who are still my friends today, and it’s not lost on me how rare and special that is.
We spent our days at school passing notes and our weekend nights sleeping over at each other’s houses. We stayed up late watching movies we probably shouldn’t have been watching, sharing our secrets and fears, and talking about what life would be like when we were older.
One night, which really stands out in my memory, we found a tape recorder, and we recorded a series of tapes. On the tapes we each shared the things we liked best about the others, what we thought the others would grow up to be (my friends predicted I would be an author!), and we shared our secrets. We then covered a shoebox in pictures of us together and placed the tapes inside for safe keeping. We envisioned ourselves as old ladies years down the road listening to the tapes together, still the best of friends. Those tapes are long gone, but what they represent for me has lasted—the beauty of belonging and the power of friendship.
That’s not to say that these friendships were perfect. We were learning how to be true friends and how to experience change along side someone else. We fought, we broke each other’s trust, and at times, we drifted apart. But we were also there for each other through some of our first experiences with major life changes—death, divorce, realizing that our parents were imperfect people. We were figuring it out together.
My middle grade friendships weren’t perfect—we were imperfect kids making mistakes, experiencing change, and trying to figure out what it means to grow up. But these friendships were important, and they were foundational to who I am today.
As my childhood friendships have morphed into adulthood friendships, I see that all those same things are true. My friends are the ones who help me figure out life, because we’re going through the same things at the same time. What was once navigating relationships with our parents, experiencing first crushes, and seeking independence has now become navigating marriages, raising kids, and defining ourselves in middle age.
My own friendships were a huge influence on the writing of Not the Worst Friend in the World. It was important for me to create the relationships between Lou, Francie, and Cece in an authentic way, and to not fall into the “mean girl” narrative or “good” vs. “bad” that we so often see depicted when it comes to female friendship.
While the book is in no way autobiographical, I did steal plenty from my own friendship stories. Some of what I stole was from the tiny details—folding notes into intricate origami shapes, snooping through older sibling’s rooms, riding the school bus home to one another’s houses. And some of it was the bigger stuff—dealing with imperfect parents, breaking each other’s trust, growing up at different speeds.
There’s a scene in the book where Lou and Francie sneak out late at night to meet up with a group of boys. That scene was stolen right from my memory bank, and just like Lou, I was uncomfortable, unsure, and trying desperately to make sense of why my friends seemed so ready to move on to the next stage of life when I wasn’t.
I hope readers take the same thing from that scene that I was able to make sense of eventually. There’s no right or wrong pace to grow up, but change is inevitable, and so we have to surround ourselves with the people we want to go through it all with.
I wrote Not the Worst Friend in the World so that young readers can see themselves and their friendships in these characters. And I hope they see that friendship is so powerful and important, even when it’s messy and imperfect.
Meet the author
Anne Rellihan is a former elementary school teacher and an alumna of Teach for America with a master’s degree in education from Columbia University. She lives in Kansas with her husband and four children. When she’s not writing, Anne volunteers as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. Not the Worst Friend in the World is her debut novel. Find her online: @anne.rellihan and www.annerellihan.com
About Not the Worst Friend in the World
Can Lou Bennett keep a secret? She’ll do just about anything to prove herself to her new friend—and the best friend she betrayed—in this debut novel that is a modern-day Harriet the Spy with high emotional stakes.
It’s the thirty-fourth day of sixth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School in Missouri, and eleven-year-old Lou wishes she could rewind time.
Lou wants to go back to the ninth day of sixth grade—the day before she fought with her best friend Francie and said the terrible, horrible things she can’t unsay. Or better yet, she would go back to fifth grade when Francie was still the Old Francie.
Then the new girl, Cece Clark-Duncan, passes Lou a mysterious note. It says she was kidnapped. (!) If Lou can help Cece, maybe she can prove she’s not the world’s worst friend.
But as observant Lou uncovers the complicated truth about Cece’s family, she starts to panic. Can she help Cece without hurting her? Or will Lou end up losing another friend instead?
Anchored by an outstanding voice and a page-turning mystery, this remarkable debut novel honors the powerful middle school friendships that can both break and heal a tender eleven-year-old heart. Perfect for fans of Fish in a Tree and My Jasper June.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/06/2024
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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