A funny story of friendship and finding yourself that’s perfectly pitched for pre-teen girls.
Erin and Grace are about as different as it possible to be. Erin is quiet, shy and lacking in confidence – unable to even stand up for herself with her friends. Grace, in contrast, never doubts herself and is the (mostly) acknowledged leader of a large group of girls. Erin is poor, living squashed in a tiny flat with her mum and her sister and frequently surviving on the left-over food from the meetings held at her Mum’s office. Meanwhile, Grace has everything she could ever want. She and her dad rattle around in huge house and regularly eat at exorbitantly priced restaurants. The only thing Erin and Grace have in common is a talent for English and a love of Charlotte Brontë. When their teacher pairs them up for extra-curriculum creative writing, it’s either going to be a huge success or an unmitigated disaster.
I read a lot of funny teen books about friendship and finding yourself. Whilst hugely entertaining and suitable for secondary school readers, these often contain just the odd scene or reference that parents of younger girls might feel inappropriate. Catherine Wilkins, however, has successfully managed to fill this gap in the market. The Weird Friends Fan Club has the same vibe as all those funny teen books but the content is entirely suitable for girls in the 8-11 age bracket.
The story is told largely through the diary entries of the two girls along with a few emails and samples of their creative writing efforts. The choice of two such opposing characters certainly makes for interesting reading with lot of potential for conflict and character development.
If I’m honest, I found the sections from Grace’s perspective a little harder to read. This is partly because I think author, Catherine Wilkins, intends Grace to be deliberately irritating. It’s probably also because I found her use of hashtags and references to social media a bit beyond me. #confusedbyinsta #notthetargetaudience
Erin and her insecurities are much easier to identify with. I was also pleased to find a principal character in a book from a poor background (outside, that is, of a Jacqueline Wilson novel). There’s a particularly strong scene where Erin plucks up the courage to invite Grace to her tiny flat. As the scene unfolded, I was slightly concerned that this scene would be played for laughs. Instead, I was impressed to find thoughtful and sensitive writing with the reaction of Erin’s Mum and sister to Grace being used as the plot point in place of Grace’s reaction to Erin’s obvious poverty.
If you enjoyed this, there are lots of similar books by Catherine Wilkins that you might want to try such as When Good Geeks Go Bad, My Great Success and Other Failures or My School Musical and Other Punishments. Alternatively, if you’re looking for less blatantly funny but still light-hearted and uplifting story of friendship that’s suitable for this age range, I’d also recommend you check out Summer of No Regrets by Kate Mallinder.
Publication date: August 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Catherine Wilkins