Sunday, June 6, 2010

Friends Forever

The story Forever Friends, written by Mary Ann McRaney, opens with a terrified ten-year-old Cassie Bennett hiding in the darkness of her closet. With her alcoholic mother passed out on the couch and the strange man Mother brought home trying to break into Cassie’s locked bedroom, there seems to be nowhere else to go. And, since her father was killed in an accident, there also seems to be no one left to protect her either.

Unfortunately for Cassie, this situation is not new.

Worse, as bad as her home life has become, school is not much better. Since her mother is usually too drunk to do laundry or stock the refrigerator, Cassie arrives at class unkempt and hungry... which, in turn, makes her the target of bullies.

The one person Cassie can rely on is old Mr. Smits, who encourages her, sometimes feeds her, and often tells her about angels.

After spending one particularly harrowing night in the closet, Cassie remembers Mr. Smits' stories and cries out to God for help. The next day, a new student arrives in Cassie's classroom. Her name is Gabriella, or Gabby. Gabby is kind, uplifting, and, unbeknown to Cassie, a guardian angel. Gabby quickly befriends Cassie and, by offering words of wisdom and comfort, helps Cassie understand that no one is powerless against fear and evil. Gabby says, “ have the power inside of you to conquer your fear. Fear will drive you to make wrong choices and keep you from being all you can be. It’s not God’s plan for his creation to be fearful and give in to evil. God wants you to stand up and let your light shine. You are here to be part of the goodness and light in this world. Don't let evil win."

The two girls soon discover that the man stalking Cassie is a pedophile. With newfound strength, Cassie alerts the police and saves a younger neighbor girl from the man.

Then, just as Cassie's life starts turning around, she is killed in a drunk driving accident. The story ends with Cassie's mom recovering in the hospital, Mr. Smits tending her, and Cassie in heaven meeting her dad.

What I Like: I liked the main message of the book: Let your light shine by helping others and by standing up to evil. I also liked the author's description of Heaven. Also, throughout the story, Gabby offers many nuggets of wisdom worth reading.

What I Dislike: Although the idea for the book was good, the writing was inconsistent. Sometimes it was choppy. Other times the prose wandered off topic, which took away the intensity of a passage. I was also distracted by a few spelling and numerous punctuation errors. Toward the end, the focus of the story seemed to abruptly switch from Cassie to her mother—a character with a storyline that had not been well developed and with whom the reader had invested little emotional interest. (In fact, Cassie died right when she started getting interesting.) Also, while the situations faced by middle school students held authenticity, since Gabby almost magically solved every problem, the solutions felt hollow. Finally, although the author explored the idea of guardian angels, the role of faith in God was not truly addressed.

Because of the somewhat frightening opening (a pedophile trying to break into a child's bedroom) and the delicate subject matter (alcoholism, child neglect, and death), I believe parents should preview the first chapter before deciding whether or not to let their child read the book.

Overall Rating: Ho-hum

Age Appeal: No reading level is given. The main character is 10 years old, but I feel the story would be better suited for children ages 12-14.

Publisher Info: Xulon Press, 2009; ISBN: 978-1-60791-361-0; Paperback, $ 14.99

Buy it at for $11.69.

Special Info: While Gabby is in Heaven, the book describes God, Jesus, and archangels.

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