You may think it's nuts to write to a total stranger in the library but if you're the kind of person I think you are, you'll read this, anyway.
So begins the note Sam leaves in the study room, hoping she'll soon get a response from someone she has yet to meet.
Sam's father is an alcoholic, but he never says that word. Neither does any other member of his household. Not his quiet and patient wife, Ellen. Not his energetic and silly four-year-old son, Luke. Not his thirteen-year-old daughter, Samantha - but she's thinking it. Lately, she can't stop thinking about it. Sam is torn between worrying about her father and hating what he is doing to himself and to his family. She wishes she could confide in someone about everything. Though Sam has a nice group of longtime best friends, she has never told them about her dad's drinking problem. She doesn't want to ruin their comfortable discussions about school, boys, and life in general - or their perceptions of her family.
Then she gets an idea: write a note and leave it in the library (one of her favorite places) where a cool-looking high school girl is sitting. In the note, Sam asks the recipient to leave a response note between pages 32 and 33 of The History of Modern Whaling, a book that hasn't been checked out in 13 years - that is, if she's interested. She hopes the girl will read it and respond with all sorts of good advice.
Someone does respond, but not exactly as Sam expected - not even who she expected. The rather blunt return message is signed by A.J.K. Though Sam has no idea who that is, something makes her write back again. They become an interesting pair of pen pals, communicating only through notes slipped into the whaling book when no one is looking.
I am not all right. I am all wrong, and I need to talk to someone, even if that someone is a person who doesn't exist except between pages 32 and 33 of a book that hasn't been checked out in thirteen years.
Lush, written in first-person from Sam's POV, is a straightforward, forward-moving story peppered here and there with notes to and from A.J.K. Sam also delights in regular sleepovers at one of her best friends' houses and joyful moments at home with her little brother. She takes side steps to avoid her former friend Charlie and struggles through gym class, where her teacher always calls her the wrong name. Then her father does something unexpected, further damaging his family and leading Sam to act out at a rather unfortunate party.
Natasha Friend (Perfect) has once again created a realistic story with characters that are sympathetic but not stereotypical, led by a young lady unaware of her own strength. Friend's novel are pitch-perfect for middle school. Sam's search for a surrogate big sister leads her not only to a new friend, but also back to herself. By the time she discovers A.J.K.'s identity, she's also learned plenty about herself, her family, and her friends, both former and current, past and present. Recommended, especially for fans of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Related Post: Author Spotlight: Natasha Friend - Check out my reviews of all of Natasha Friend's novels to date!