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by E. R. Frank
Atheneum, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 18th 2003

Friction

E. R. Frank's novel Friction is a powerful novel for teens and young adults dealing with difficult issues.  Alex is a 12-year-old girl who goes to an "Alternative" middle school.  She's a bit of a tomboy and she does not like girly things, but she is aware of puberty and coming changes in her life.  She is the only girl on the school soccer team and her best friend is Tim, who is 13.  Her friendships are close, and she has a good relationship with her parents. She even has a strong bond with her teacher Simon, who is also the soccer coach, and leads the class on camping trips.  Her whole world is thrown into turmoil when a new girl, Stacy, arrives in the school.  Stacy is 14 and has a tongue-ring.  Stacy confides in Stacy about the death of her father, and the two become friends.  But then Stacy starts making accusations about Simon and Alex -- she says that Simon is interested in Alex, is a pervert, and that Alex likes Simon.  She starts to get other people in the class to believe this too, and Alex's friendships are thrown into doubt.  Alex tries to talk with her parents about it, but they are very busy and she can't tell them the whole truth.  When she tries to tell them a sanitized version of the truth, they just encourage her to be understanding about her new friend. 

Soon Alex is losing sleep and is very confused about what to do.  She becomes even more confused by a number of events -- when Simon tussles with her head in a friendly way and accidentally brushes against her chest, when they go on a camping trip and she gets up in the night and sees Simon urinating, and other events.  She knows that Stacy is a liar, but she starts to wonder whether Simon might really want her.  If he does, then how should she react?  Is he really a pervert?

Frank's writing does an excellent job at conveying the way that the sexually suggestive and forward Stacy throws a group into turmoil, while at the same time paying careful attention to the need to understand how teens can act out in destructive ways when they are having difficult emotional problems.  Alex is a very sympathetic character, and narrates her story well.  Frank's depiction of relationships is convincing.  This is a psychologically complex book with a gripping plot.  Highly recommended.

The unabridged audiobook is read very well by Jessalyn Gilsig.  Also highly recommended.

 

© 2003 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.