My Last Best Friend, Julie Bowe's debut novel, focuses on a fourth grader named Ida May. Her best friend moved away and didn't keep in touch. Feeling lonely and left behind, Ida decides that she'll never have another best friend.
When a new girl named Stacey comes to school, the popular crowd snatches her right up. The most popular girl in Ida's class is a bit of a brat, to put it lightly, and they don't get along very well. Ida watches the giggling girls from afar, alternately wishing she was one of them and glad that she isn't part of a pack.
Ida writes a note to Stacey but doesn't sign them with her actual name. Stacey responds, and before they know it, the two become secret friends, complete with codenames and a special hiding spot for their notes. Stacey's kindness makes Ida re-think her policy. Maybe having a new best friend wouldn't be so bad after all.
Julie Bowe's debut novel is something that many elementary schoolers can relate to, as they know best how friendships can be fickle. A cute story to share with kids, especially those who have had their neighbors or best friends move away or who have recently moved themselves.
Author Julie Bowe now shares some stories from her childhood.
Who was your first best friend?
My best childhood friend was my cousin, Elisebeth. When we were grade-school age, I only saw her during the summer when her family stayed at a small cottage across the meadow from my house. I remember how sad I felt when she had to leave at the end of each summer, and how excited I was each June when she returned. When we were in our early teens, her family moved back permanently and so we were neighbors and friends all through junior high and high school. As kids, we rode imaginary horses, camped out in tents and haymows, put on talent shows with other neighborhood friends, devoured Tiger Beat magazine, and shared a deep, secret desire to marry David Cassidy.
Do you feel as though you still have best friends now, in your adult life? (If you'd like to tell readers who you hold near and dear...)
Along with close family members/neighborhood friends, I have a group of college friends I've kept in touch with for twenty-some years. Even though we only get together occasionally, each time we do we fall right back into that same rhythm we enjoyed in our dorm-room life, all those years ago. I couldn't ask for better lifetime friends than those Luther gals!
What advice do you have for kids that find themselves stuck in a big lie?
I think a big lie becomes more manageable when the weight of it is shared with a trusted friend. Talking with a caring adult (family member, teacher, neighbor, etcetera) is one way to lessen the burden and, hopefully, provide a pathway out of the lie.
Throughout the book, the girls send notes back and forth to each other. They have codenames and a secret note-hiding spot. Did you ever do the same with your friends?
My friends and I sometimes created clubs with secret clubhouses and stashes of trinkets, but the idea to have Ida and Stacey hide secret notes came about when I saw several loose bricks in the wall of an old building located in the town where I live today. I thought, "What if Ida hid something behind one of those bricks?" After that, I knew I had my hiding spot for the notes the girls share in the story.
When writing secret notes, what color pen do you use? (I pick purple!)
Good choice! Of course, purple IS the best color for secret notes, but in a pinch, blue will do!
In earlier drafts, did you ever have Ida reunite with her last best friend?
No, I didn’t. In the first chapter of the book, Ida talks about writing every week to her last best friend, Elizabeth ("Even though I'm a better drawer than writer," she says), but she never receives a reply. When Ida has the idea to write secret notes to the new girl, Stacey, their note-writing becomes the focus of the story and, I hope, helps to propel it along. Having Ida try to reunite with Elizabeth, yet again, seems like it might have taken away from that focus.
Did you write stories as a child?
Actually, my main interest growing up was art. I remember sitting in my bedroom and just staring at my drawings, imagining the stories that were going on within each scene. I really didn't start writing stories for pleasure until high school.
What was the plot of your first story?
When I was fourteen, I wrote a story about a girl and her dog (which tragically dies – the dog, not the girl!) and later letting an adult friend read it aloud to her book group. Someone told me afterward that my friend began crying as she read the story to the group. I remember feeling in complete awe that my writing had stirred up the emotions of another person.
You are the youngest of four kids, and now you have kids of your own. Do any of your family members double as editors and promoters?
My sixteen year old daughter and my eleven year old son are both big supporters of their writer mom! In fact, my son drew the picture that appears on page 66 of the book (he thinks he should get some royalties for that!) My daughter and I designed my website (www.juliebowe.com) and my brother-in-law maintains it. My whole family is supportive, but my sister, especially, has been a HUGE supporter of my writing all along. She read early drafts of the book and offered helpful feedback. Now she’s busy front-facing copies of My Last Best Friend in bookstores across the Pacific Northwest, where she lives.
What are your ten favorite books of all-time?
Here's a smattering of favorites from various stages of me:
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather
The Stand by Stephen King
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel
Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott