Frankie & Bug, by Gayle Forman
Frankie & Bug is simply a wonderful book.
Geared to middle-grade readers, it still is a wonderful book for adults to read, mainly because it reminds us of how authentic children can be, even in the midst of change and social upheaval.
It’s 1987, Southern California, and Bug is ten years old. It’s almost summer, and she loves summer, mainly because she and her older brother Danny spend almost every day at the beach, and Bug loves the beach – the water, the sand, the sun, the people. Bug lives for the summer, and the beach.
But this summer, things are changing. First, Bug has to move out of the big room she’s always shared with Danny, into a tiny little room of her own. And Danny isn’t Danny anymore – he’s Daniel. Daniel, her mama says, needs his space, needs to spend more time with friends his own age. He’s not going to be watching over Bug this summer – which means no beach. And that’s just not fair.
When Bug hears that Frankie is coming to spend the summer with Phillip, the man who lives in the apartment upstairs, she thinks her summer might be saved. Frankie is eleven and from Ohio. But then she meets Frankie and finds out that he doesn’t like the beach. Doesn’t even own a swimsuit. Suddenly Bug’s summer isn’t just bad – it’s totally ruined.
Reading this book is a true delight. Bug is a wonderful character, and the way she moves from the understandable selfishness of childhood to an opening understanding of those around her is handled openly but without cloying sentiment. As Bug discovers the complexities that have touched those she loves – Daniel, Philip, their downstairs neighbor Hedvig, her mother, and especially Frankie – her growing awareness is a blossoming that is not only effective but genuine.
This is also a very important book to read, not just for middle schoolers, but for us adults. Middle schoolers, to see sensitive issues as such as prejudice (both casual and overt), familial crisis, violence against “the other”, attitudes towards homosexuality and the AIDS crisis, struggles surrounding gender identity, dealing with awareness of family history, the lingering effects of being a refugee – unfolding with a growing understanding rather than being cracked open kicking and screaming, or without being ponderous and heavy. And for us older folks, for seeing how resilient children can be when treated with respect and sensitivity, even while balancing the unfairness of life with how each of us can make a difference in the lives of the people we love. As Bug’s mama says, “Life isn’t fair. The most you can hope for is that it’s just.” And it’s up to us to move it towards justice.
But along with all these big issues being dealt with, it’s a fun book to read! It’s full of humor. Bug is not a perfect character, sometimes stubbornly so, and that makes her endearing. Her honesty – as she sees it – is so fun. (I especially loved how Philip teaches her to make “real” lemonade, and she ends up drinking it by the gallon until she tires of it.)
So, bottom line – read this book. And if you have a middle school reader in your life, here’s the perfect holiday gift for them, or for anyone who loves a good, fun, endearing story. Then buy a copy for yourself, too. Totally worth it.
— Sharon Browning